If you would have asked me a few years ago what issues concerned WeHo residents most, I would have said, traffic, parking, overdevelopment… but that’s changed. As the number of homeless has increased over 20% countywide this past year, the issue of homelessness has hit hard in WeHo.
Working to find solutions –
As a member of the city’s Homeless Initiative subcommittee, I, along with Mayor Heilman, am committed to finding solutions. Solutions will require working across our borders. I also serve as Chair of the Westside Cities Council of Government, which allows me to work directly with my peers in Beverly Hills, Culver City, Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Finding a solution to homelessness is a priority for all cities.
What we know –
The city’s homeless count showed a substantial increase since last year’s count — 87 to 105 according to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). Although 105 does not seem like a big number in the larger picture, for a city of our geographic size, the number is significant (55 per square mile).
The first step in dealing with any problem is to take a step back – to see exactly what it is that we’re dealing with. This is why I proposed a Homeless Needs Assessment study. With the support of my Council colleagues, the study was recently completed, and the findings will help us make smart decisions regarding funding allocations for social services, housing and public safety.
There is no easy fix –
You might think, “Yes, there is, we need more housing.” But for many of the homeless people in WeHo, permanent housing is not necessarily the first step – and that’s primarily because functioning in a traditional housing environment can be a challenge. Among our homeless, we have a fair amount of those who suffer from mental illness, others with substance abuse issues, or both. A living situation is needed that can provide or cope with all of the above.
What the city is currently doing –
Outreach efforts are key to getting our homeless people help, and the city’s providers are working, Monday through Friday, at the West Hollywood Library as well as our parks and main corridors. If you call us about a homeless individual, the outreach team will try to locate them in order to assess their situation and offer services. It’s not easy to convince a homeless person to go into rehab, or to see a physician or mental health professional. Everyone’s story is different, and the professionals who outreach to the homeless literally have to take a “one person at a time” approach.
The city works with organizations that specialize in providing shelter for homeless individuals:
2. Step Up on Second
3. LA Youth LGBT Center
4. Housing Works
Homeless people with substance abuse problems are offered detox treatments at:
1. Tarzana Treatment Center
2. A Safe Refuge
The city also:
1. Works with National Council of Jewish Women on homeless prevention
2. Contributes to the County’s rapid re-housing program
Progress we have made –
Fifteen individuals moved into permanent housing, six are in the process…
Ascensia moved 13 homeless individuals into permanent housing. Step Up on Second has moved two of their WeHo clients into permanent housing and six others are in process of finding housing. Tarzana Treatment Centers and A Safe Refuge provided detox and residential treatment to 36 West Hollywood community members who were previously homeless.
Outreach day: two people requested to be taken to a shelter, three accepted mental health services…
Recently, the West Hollywood Sheriff’s department conducted a homeless outreach operation throughout the city. The deputies collaborated and partnered with the LASD Community Partnerships Bureau – Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST), Department of Mental Health, County Mental Evaluation Team, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the City of West Hollywood Homeless Initiative Project Manager (Corri Planck). The outreach operation, lasting one day, resulted in the team contacting 25 homeless individuals and offering them a variety of services available such as: relocation to shelters, employment opportunities, mental health services and County social services. Of those 25, 5 of the individuals accepted resources, 2 requested to be taken to a shelter, and 3 accepted mental health services. The HOST team also provided West Hollywood deputies with ideas on how to sustain efforts and best practices that have proven to be effective in other parts of Los Angeles County. This will be an ongoing effort.
Measure H passage is expected to generate $355 million annually (for 10 years) for homeless programs. With the passage of Measure H, LA County is focused on building temporary, transitional and permanent housing and providing social services.
If the issue isn’t addressed countywide, WeHo will continue to see an increase in homelessness. I recently attended the County’s Homeless Summit and was impressed with their homeless initiative team and their plan moving forward; however, we must continue to be vigilant within our city borders.
What I am doing –
I’m continuing to research short and long term solutions.
1. I’ve suggested city staff review our municipal codes and state and local laws to ensure the city’s Code Compliance team, the Sheriff’s department and our providers are knowledgeable in what we legally can and cannot do. Also, if there are loopholes in our current codes and laws, we must work to close them. While I want us to continue to come from a place of compassion, we also need to protect our residents, our businesses and our visitors.
2. I’ve suggested to our Sheriff’s department that, while filling out their reports, deputies park in areas known to have homelessness issues in order to increase visibility and make police presence known.
3. I have asked staff to create a category on the West Hollywood Official City App to be able to report homeless individuals and transients to make it easier for our social services providers and deputies to offer assistance.
4. I’ve suggested to staff that retail businesses selling alcohol after 9 or 10 pm have a security guard onsite for late night hours and that it be a condition of their operations plan (and if it’s already a condition, it needs to be enforced).
5. I have asked staff to study the feasibility of partnering with LA County to create a temporary “drop-in” or service center at the Metro Division 7 site, and to vet the idea among residents and businesses as part of the Metro Division 7 property Visioning process. A drop-in facility could provide non-shelter services such as a restroom, shower, laundry and, importantly, access to medical and psychiatric services, legal services and case management. Right now, the West Hollywood Library is essentially acting as a drop-in center, and that’s not the best use for the only County library located in our city.
6. I’ve asked staff to look into conducting qualitative interviews among formerly homeless people — to learn what barriers prevented them from seeking help previously, and what factors ultimately influenced them to accept services and housing.
7. We need to educate our residents and businesses in terms of what they can do (and not do) to help. The city is rolling out the Homeless Services Meter Donation program, a program I recently initiated. In addition, the Communications team is creating an education campaign, for which Mayor Heilman and I are providing feedback.
8. I’m looking to other cities that have been successful in curbing and decreasing homelessness to see what’s in their toolbox. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel – we need to utilize what works.
What you can do –
I encourage you to call the West Hollywood Homeless Initiative Concern Line at (323) 848-6590 or the Sheriff’s department (310-855-8850) when you encounter a homeless person. What we recommend is not to give money or food. I know it sounds cruel; however, handouts only discourage homeless people from seeking help from our providers, who are trained in handling this complex issue. Remember, if you feel in any way threatened, you must call the Sheriff’s 911 emergency line.
I also encourage you to share your suggestions with me. Both the idea for a Donation Meter Program and the idea to conduct interviews with formerly homeless people came from members of the public. I’m listening…