written by Ruth Schwartz, Executive Director
Last week, the Los Angeles Times featured a 4-part series of articles on Project 50. The articles profiled a few residents who had been placed in Skid Row Housing Trust permanent supportive housing units. These residents had been selected for permanent supportive housing because the County-sponsored Project 50 deemed them most likely to die on the streets on Skid Row, a neighborhood in the City of Los Angeles.
Despite its length, the articles failed to provide context about homelessness in Los Angeles County or the roles played by our local government, including individual cities and the County, to make
it possible to end homelessness. We are attempting to address this lack of context through a series of blog posts. This blog post will describe the relationship between the County of Los Angeles and the various cities that lie within the massive region that make up the
Approximately 10 million people live in Los Angeles County, which is the most populous county in the nation. These 10 million people live in 88 different cities within Los Angeles County. The City of Los Angeles is just one of those cities.
It is important to realize that, at the local level, all of the funding for services such as mental health and public health are controlled by the County of Los Angeles. This means that most cities, such as the City of Los Angeles or Santa Monica, have no control or access to funds for services. For example, because the County of Los Angeles and the Board of Supervisors control funds for mental health services, the City of Los Angeles has to
depend on the County when it comes to funding services.
Within the County, each of the 88 cities is responsible for funding and providing housing for its residents. California State law requires that each city set aside land to build housing for low-income and homeless residents but only a handful of cities comply with State law and set aside resources to house the homeless. The City of Los Angeles along with cities like Santa Monica, Pasadena, Long Beach and a few others are among the small number of cities in Los Angeles County that have taken seriously the need to devote resources and political will to build housing for the homeless.
Over the last 25 years, the City of Los Angeles and a few other cities have provided the leadership required to provide affordable housing with services attached (permanent supportive housing) which has housed thousands of homeless families, veterans, seniors and chronically homeless residents. But apart from the cities mentioned above, very few of the remaining 88 cities in our region have contributed to solving homelessness.
This is a problem because we know that homelessness is not an issue that is generated in one city or a few cities. Homelessness occurs across the entire region – all 88 cities. When a family or individual becomes homeless or is at risk of homelessness, we know that it is best to provide services close to home, within the community where they have some sort of connection.
Unfortunately, because of what is sometimes referred to as NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) or “I would love to help homeless people, but I just don’t think that it is appropriate to have services or housing for my homeless neighbors in my community,” it is usually not possible for homeless individuals to receive help in their own communities.
Skid Row is the inevitable result of NIMBYism and a lack of interest in
devoting resources to solve the needs of vulnerable families and individuals throughout the County. Skid Row is a 10-block neighborhood within the City of Los Angeles. Over the last 25 years, nonprofit housing developers in the City of Los Angeles have converted the old buildings in Skid Row into affordable housing for the homeless with services provided on-site. At the same time, the Skid Row area continues to function as a residence of last resort for vulnerable homeless residents from all over the County who, lacking any help in their own communities, make their way to the City of Los Angeles and Skid Row.
If we really want to end homelessness, there needs to be a mechanism to fund services in housing across the entire region. While Los Angeles County is responsible for funding and providing services such as mental health services and public health services across the entire region, it was only a few years ago that there was a concerted effort to provide dedicated County funding towards services for homeless people. However, it is still the case that the City of Los Angeles and other cities that are meeting their obligations to fund housing for the homeless desperately need County funds for services to keep families and individuals in housing.
Within the City of Los Angeles and even within Skid Row, there are new permanent supportive housing projects that have been built this year but lack the funding for the services that are needed to help their tenants remain housed. It would be much more cost-effective for the County to provide the funding to experienced community-based service providers who have a track record in providing quality services to vulnerable individuals and families living in permanent supportive housing.
As the Times articles pointed out, we know what it takes to remedy chronic homelessness and it is not a new remedy but something that has been practiced for the last 25 years: affordable housing with services. This remedy has worked but the community-based agencies providing housing for the homeless have struggled to access the funding for supportive services. And in order to ensure a continued housing pipeline for people who are homeless and have major disabilities, this essential need must be addressed.