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Homelessness in LA: Living in a state of emergency

By Steven M. Hilton, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, September 30, 2015

LA City leaders have declared a state of emergency regarding the homelessness crisis in the region, but what should we do next? Our CEO, Steven M. Hilton proposes four things to keep in mind.

It’s no secret: We’re living in a time of crisis. While I’m encouraged by the bold leadership of Mayor Garcetti and City Council members in declaring a state of emergency over the problem of homelessness, their commitment of $100 million signals just the first step in combating one of the great scourges of Los Angeles, the City of Angels.

In an area home to such opportunity and wealth, it is simply unconscionable that we can go about our daily lives, as thousands of our fellow Angelenos live on the streets, in cars and tents, cycling in and out of shelters, hospitals and jails. As Pope Francis said recently during his visit to our nation’s capital, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.” As city leaders work to dedicate more resources toward the homelessness crisis, I urge them to keep in mind four things that we have learned over the decades we have spent working on the issue.

First, we need to dedicate our resources to known solutions that will end, not simply manage, homelessness. Housing, combined with services, must be at the center of any solution. Numerous studies have proven that interventions like permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing are not only successful in ending homelessness, but are also cost-effective, reducing expensive hospital and jail stays. Services alone will not end homelessness, neither will short-term fixes like emergency shelters. Given the tight housing market in LA, there will always be a need for temporary housing to help get people quickly off the street, but the ultimate goal should be connecting them to permanent housing and providing them with the services they need as soon as possible.

Second, the city needs to work in conjunction and partnership with other governmental entities, such as Los Angeles County, as well as both the private and nonprofit sectors, as this is a region-wide problem not limited to city borders. Based on the work we have done over the last decade and the results we have seen, we have found that forging strong public-private partnerships alongside organizations such as the Home For Good collaborative and the Coordinated Entry System, is one of the most effective ways to combat this issue. By joining with these and other efforts such as the County’s Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool, the City’s $100 million can go much farther that it would on its own. In order to achieve real change here, people and organizations need to work together. No one solution will solve this problem that has plagued our city for so many years.

Third, it is critical that resources be directed “upstream” to prevent people from ever experiencing homelessness. City leaders have pointed to increasing the minimum wage and funding the affordable housing trust fund as part of this strategy. In addition to these approaches, they should look to partner with the County on efforts to help vulnerable people in criminal justice, foster care and other systems transition into permanent housing. For example, working with the County Probation and Sheriff’s Departments can provide those coming out of prison and jail access to housing with the services they need and help them re-enter society, truly rehabilitate themselves, and thrive.

Last, but certainly not least, we need to remember that behind the images and statistics distributed in this state of emergency, there are real people: families, neighbors and coworkers; our sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. We need to listen to and take seriously the experiences and perspectives of people who have overcome homelessness. Organizations such as the Corporation for Supportive Housing build the leadership skills of formerly homeless persons through their “Speak Up” program, connecting their participants with elected officials in LA, Sacramento and Washington, D.C. to advocate for solutions to homelessness. By listening to and involving these experts in our plans, we stand a much better chance of overcoming this problem.

Homelessness won’t be cured overnight. It’s an issue that this city has faced for decades and will likely face for some time. Despite the scale of the problem, we can make a difference if we set our collective minds to the task and deliver on our promises. The announcement by our city leaders shines a new light on the situation and the pledged financial backing gives the city a place to start. We need to come together to ensure that we are building on one another’s ideas, lending help where it is needed and coming at this with a forward-thinking mentality. Every single person deserves a home and the chance to succeed, and we need to come together now, more than ever, to make sure that happens.

Steven M. Hilton Twitter

Chairman of the Board

Steven M. Hilton Twitter

Chairman of the Board

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