The effort to try and permanently house what is estimated to be as many as 34,000 homeless people is Herculean.
There are an array of reasons that can cause someone to be homeless in Los Angeles county. They include skyrocketing prices to buy homes or rent apartments, unemployment, domestic abuse or drug addiction, limited support resources and public indifference.
Outreach workers attempt-ing to access the needs of the homeless know that even a placement in temporary housing can jeopardize the opportunity to stay on the list for permanent housing. It is one of the constant, vicious cycles that homeless people can be caught up in.
But there are also success stories like Jamal Dunn.
He’s emotional in telling his story, and not just because he is speaking before all Los Angeles county Supervisors, dozens of activists and a plethora of TV cameras paying attention to every word he says.
Dunn’s story was the triumphant end to a press conference highlighting the virtues of Measure H, the quarter-cent sales tax approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2017 to help fight homelessness, before the Supervisors voted on allocating millions of additional dollars for the second year of the measure.
“It’s emotional seeing someone wanting to help you. I’m grateful,” he says as he wiped away tears.
It was a difficult two years for Dunn, 44.
In December of 2016, the former truck driver and short-order cook was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a disabling disease of the nervous central system that disrupts the flow of information with the brain, and between the brain and body. The ailment left him in a wheelchair and homeless.
He spent a few days at his sister’s home, but then had to leave.
For two months, he roamed the streets, sleeping wherever and with “whoever let me lay on their couch,” he recalled.
Then, he found a space in a shelter through Bridge Housing, a program of Los Angeles Family Housing (LAFH).
“I was sleeping with 10 other people in the room,” he explained. “They didn’t want me to be homeless with a wheelchair.”
But earlier this year, Dunn moved into a fully-furnished studio unit at the Fiesta Apartments of North Hollywood where he lives by himself. He has all kinds of supportive services, but most importantly has independence.
“I don’t have to depend on nobody. If I don’t want to talk to anyone, I can just go and shut off the world,” he says of his apartment where he’s put up photos of his mother and 16-year-old son.
Ed Farmer, Housing Stabilization Manager with LAFH, adds that Dunn has an on-site support staff ready to help him with any needs he may have, whether it be taking him to his doctor’s appointments, get his medicines or simply talk.
And that’s all thanks to Measure H.
“Measure H helps us have staff on hand to make sure the services are there for him,” Farmer said.
Millions More to Fight Homelessness
On Tuesday, May 15, after noting the success of Measure H, the Supervisors unanimously approved a $402 million spending plan for 2018-2019 to continue the fight against homelessness.
It includes $120 million for shelter and interim housing; $73 million for rapid re-housing; $49 million for permanent supportive housing; and $30 million for outreach.
Approximately 80 percent of the total dollars raised have been spent. Phil Ansell, who leads the county’s Homeless Initiative, called it an “extraordinarily fast roll-out” when compared with other new initiatives.
Despite some early problems with slow payments and understaffing at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Ansell said the pace of spending puts the county on track to meet its goal of moving 45,000 homeless families and individuals into permanent housing during the first five years of Measure H funding.
The supervisors beamed.
“As we enter the second year of this unprecedented effort,” said Board Chair Sheila Kuehl, “it’s encouraging to see this collaborative process going forward in ways that are literally saving lives.”
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas emphasized the importance of prevention and support.
“Thanks to Measure H, we are expanding and recharging our crisis response to homelessness while, at the same time, funding programs to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place,” he said.
“Measure H is funding everything you need to move people into housing, and all that it takes to make sure they stay in housing and thrive.”
Added Supervisor Kathryn Barger: “We are seeing despair transition to hope. From housing to mental health care, I look forward to continuing our efforts to address every facet of the homelessness crisis.”
In the first nine months that Measure H was implemented, the county is on track to meet the initial five-year goal of Measure H—to provide permanent housing for 45,000 families and individuals, while preventing an additional 30,000 from falling into homelessness, the supervisors said.
Measure H, and its Los Angeles City counterpart Proposition HHH, were approved in 2017 to help the nearly 58,000 people in the County lacking shelter.
Proposition HHH and Measure H are slated to generate $5 billion over ten years and those funds go toward housing and funding supportive services.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged $20 million this year to create temporary homeless shelters throughout the city in parks, motels and even parking lots.
But there’s already backlash over Nimbyism (Not in My Backyard). Soon after Garcetti announced a city-owned parking lot at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue in Koreatown would be the first site of these homeless shelters, neighbors began protesting the idea. They say that’s the wrong location because of nearby schools and are also upset they were never consulted.
“(Nimbyism) is going to be a problem going forward,” admitted Supervisor Janice Hahn on Tuesday. That’s why, she said, she supports “Everyone In,” a campaign launched in March by United Way of Greater Los Angeles that seeks to integrate communities around the idea of helping the homeless through volunteer opportunities and information.
Kuehl spoke of an affordable housing project on a once-vacant lot in the Valley Glen neighborhood adjacent to Van Nuys. The county shared the architectural plan with neighbors and also invited homeless people — “veterans, elderly people, people who were actually going to live there” — to meetings with local residents, who were encouraged to “just sit down and see who these people are.”
The community ultimately supported the 64-unit project, she said.
The board is awaiting the results of LAHSA’s point-in-time homeless count, expected to be released at the end of this month, to see whether the number of people living on the street is up or down and, if up, whether the pace of increase has slowed.
At Tuesday’s press conference, a giant blue door stood before the Supervisors and Activists symbolizing the “Everyone In” campaign.
It’s a door that opened wide for Dunn as he sought help.
“I realized I do need help and I thank them for that,” he said of the services he’s received, and adds that since having a stable roof over his head, “I’ve been able to focus more on my health” and mend relationships.
“They definitely gave me a second chance,” Dunn said.
The county is supporting this rapid expansion through an online hub linking job seekers to non-profits at JobsCombattingHomelessness.org.
City News Service contributed to this report.