OPINION: Homelessness in WeHo

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.

Lauren Meister

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:

1. Ascencia
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…

  1. i am new condo owner to the area. i go for a run everyday and it is surprising to see a homeless person on every block usually talking to themselves. most all of the bus stop benches are occupied by homeless. people waiting for the bus are always yards away from the bench waiting for the buses. today i witnessed an angry homeless man kicking on a business door. women walking on the steeet were very concerned for their safety.
    maybe offer business license tax breaks and incentives to doctors that can check in on the homeless once a month with police escorts. cleaning the streets is a great idea. start doing some preventative work. but start doing something. it seems out of control.

  2. @JF – I find your position heartless, ignorant, and placing the value of sheckles above basic human decency. Because the homeless have no home, your homeownership does not trump (pun intended) the rights to treating people with basic human decency. Likewise, buying out the recycling center lease is a hardship on many folks who need those refunds. Just because you are busy trampling on the homeless to protect your property value does not give you the right to disenfranchise those seeking convenient CRV refunds. How very very sad and tragic a mentality of entitlement.

  3. @ Lauren Meister – It’s an EXCELLENT idea that Craig has…pay off the lease and PLEASE get the Pavilions Recycle Center OUT OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD! It has brought nothing but PROBLEMS since it morphed into a full fledge center. With that center gone, you’re sure to see the number of homeless in and around our city dwindle. It draws them from all over.

    Also, I have to say again I don’t agree with putting a facility for the homeless that provides showers, laundry service etc. and I will organize my entire neighborhood against it.

    We have seen time and time again that the more free services you provide..the more the numbers increase. Cities that bend over backwards to provide free services see their city inundated – look at San Francisco and Portland to name two.

    It’s just like giving money to the homeless – all it does is make it easier for them to stay on the street and gives NO incentive to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The homeless that are down on their luck (lost a job, their house) and are not addicts or mentally ill already know how to find services to get them back on their feet and they use the shelters and the services they provide. We don’t want to encourage the drug addicts and the mentally ill by making life easier for them to live on the street. They have to hit rock bottom before they are willing to get the true help they need.

    And one last suggestion Councilmember Meister – adopt the program that Beverly Hills has – many business owners have on their front door (or in their front window) a sign that basically says don’t give money to the people on the street all it does is make their time on the street last longer. Give donations to organizations that actually provide services for the homeless. We need to educate the residents (and visitors) of our City who thing they’re doing a good deed by giving the homeless money that they are not and it makes matters worse for everyone. Start that campaign and get rid of the Recycle Center and you may just get another term in office because the people will overwhelming thank you.

  4. @JJ is right. Shutting down the recycling center is wise. It’s run by SoCal Recycling Industries. They are a tenant of West Hollywood Retail Owner Inc, who owns the Pavillion’s shopping center. WHROI is a company based in Dallas, Tx and lists David Farmer as the company contact. (if my Googling is correct)

    The city should pay off their lease and get them out of here!

    The streets should also be power washed. They need it. If the streets are being sprayed regularly it will force many homeless to move — hopefully into a shelter. They’ll have to move for the washing and won’t want to sleep where it’s wet.

    I also encourage businesses to step up their enforcement of No loitering. Their blind eye isn’t helping.

  5. Council Person Meister, Herding the homeless over to the MTA Division 7 facility is outright crazy. Yes, they have restrooms and limited shower facilities but Division 7 is NOT open to the public for many reasons including safety. There is no way the MTA could stop the homeless from entering the actual bus yard if they are allowed to use the shower room, it has direct access. There are very stringent rules employees must follow while in the yard including where they can walk and the requirement to be wearing Safety Vests. How many deaths would be acceptable as they try to navigate the yard on foot to and from West Hollywood Park for instance or to find an empty bus to sleep on? Although the speed limit within the yard is five or ten miles per hour buses do not stop on a dime. Employees who are full aware of the dangers have been injured and killed within sevens yard as well as the others. No, the MTA yard is not an safe alternative. Perhaps the Sheriffs Station, Fire Stations 7 & 8 or City Hall would be better facilities.

    You listed several agencies the City of West Hollywood contracts with but there is one agency in Hollywood that serves young adults in not only providing housing, but also job training and moral training. It’s name is Covenant House located on Western Ave. between Sunset and Fountain.

  6. At the time in history the city has no heart and no compassion and I think that will be shown tomorrow at the Gemmel Moore meeting.

  7. Can you please explain, if all these things are being done to deal with the homeless in the City of West Hollywood, why does city contractor Block by Block (security ambassadors) constantly ask the homeless to move? I’ve personally witnessed Block by Block enforcing West Hollywood City Municipal Codes (they are not law enforcement or code enforcement), and even demand identification from some of the people they encounter while “patrolling” the street. It seems to me that The City of a West Hollywood’s own contractors are not trying to help the homeless, but forcing them to either leave the city, or relocate to an area of the city not patrolled by Block by Block. It doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe Block by Block should be utilized by the city as a method to reach out to the homeless in West Hollywood rather than as a method to harass them to leave.

  8. Work with the neighborhood to get the Pavilions RECYCLE CENTER CLOSED! This has been a huge draw for the homeless from all over and the Norma Triangle in particular has felt the impact of its prescence! And we DO NOT NEED the Hilton of Homeless drop-in facilities a block from our homes! I do agree with adding to our city app to be able to report a situation with the homeless. Mental health and drug treatments are most needed. Until they get on meds or sober up there is no path. Tax payer money (in part) should be spent on mental health facilities and drug rehab centers. When a homeless person exhibits signs of mental health issues or is an addict, they should be placed in a facility where they can get the help they need to get their lives back on track and be productive citizens again. And we should be power washing our sidewalks and public benches. The hepatitis outbreak has not reached our city as of yet but the way things are going, it’s just a matter of time.

  9. Thank you for keeping us updated Lauren. Residents need to realize that the City is working on this issue. A drop in center – as suggested above #5 – sounds promising and makes sense. All of the suggested solutions offer avenues of hope to lessen the situation. Yes, there needs to be spaces other than the library. There is minimal area at the WeHo Park for residents to gather at this time – and much is occupied by homeless. Thank you again.

  10. There is a big empty lot on the Corner of SMB and Crescent Heights just sitting there. The City should buy that property, if it doesn’t already own it and build a homeless intake shelter. A transitional place where the homeless can get a shower, clean clothes, get checked out by a Dr. and a Psychiatrist and have a place to sleep for a few days until they are placed in a facility that that can provide the long term help they need. It is not enough to push them down the street to another City. Someone has to have the Leadership, Integrity, Courage and Compassion to make the first move. Why not West Hollywood? We have a very god tax base. We have the money. We could shave a great deal off the City Budget spending and even increase property taxes to help the homeless. I don’t mind doing my part. There could also be a West Hollywood City Sales tax to help pay for the project.

  11. Councilwoman Meister, with all due respect, the solution to homelessness is a home … and permanent supportive housing (PSH) at that. The County and City of Los Angeles have poured significant resources into developing PSH housing, in which the services needed to support and treat the causes of homelessness are handled in conjunction with the stability a home provides. This costs far less than the actual cost of a person living on the streets, which it is why it has become ‘the solution’ to this crisis. City of LA’s Prop HHH initiative will fund such housing in their City over the next ten years, was passed by well over 2/3 of LA’s voters, who agreed to a hit on their property taxes to support such housing. I urge you to check out such organizations as The Skid Row Housing Trust (www.skidrow.org) the largest provider of housing to the chronically homeless in LA, and an organization whose Board I am proud to Chair, along with my service as a Board Member of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation. Creative and effective solutions are available – West Hollywood needs to commit to do its share to house the homeless living on our streets and in the doorways to our businesses.

  12. If I am understanding correctly, the only option, whether we call the sherriff or other resources, is to politely offer, albeit helpful, services which (as per the article) the individuals refuse in the vast majority of cases? Thus very little change happens. So being taxpayers, homeowners, and residents who are continuously having to deal with dirt and danger and crime and having homeless in our yards and are unable to have our children simply walk to school or play in the park does not avail us of any rights? It seems there must be a solution that puts the residents first and then secondly (but not unimportantly) tries to help others. It doesn’t seem appropriate that the only apparent concern is for the regard of the homeless and their needs and not those who LIVE WORK PLAY in WeHo. Is anyone working on a better and immediate solution to make sure the homeless are not endangering others and they continue to do (whether publicized ax attacks or the much more frequent robberies and harassment and filth)?

  13. I understand and appreciate that homelessness is a serious problem and a major focus now.
    You do understand that the 105 reportedly homeless people make up .29% of the population, don’t you? To institute laws, silly rules, and regs to isolate a tiny segment of people seems a little foolhardy. Have ANY people been misidentified as homeless? Will people begin pointing fingers – and taking action – at the wrong people? Anything is possible. To proceed with extreme caution is my suggestion. What are you assurances about protecting the privacy and security of the data you want and have already collected?

  14. Prop 47 has been a disaster for homeless. In the past, repeat drug offenses added up, ultimately resulting in judges offering the option of diversion to substance abuse treatment or jail. This allowed someone people the ability to turn their life around. Now we allow homeless to live on the street and shoot up heroin and meth till they eventually OD. How is that more humane?

  15. Hi Lauren! I commend you and the council’s multi-pronged effort and genuine concern for this growing problem.

    Reading this post today is coincidental to my receiving today the following email from my neighbor. She reached out to me as I and others on my block led the National Night Out effort. I will call the Concern Line and the Sheriff’s Department as well as you suggest (why hasn’t a detective called back?) I’ll also post it on our block’s Facebook Neighborhood Watch page but it’s good for you to hear first hand a recent incident that just happened. (Sugar, by the way, is a sweet little chihuahua.)

    Subject of the email: Attack on Santa Monica and Olive
    Text of the email:

    “I wanted to alert the neighborhood that Sugar and I were attacked by a homeless man on Tuesday around 4:45 PM. We were walking down Santa Monica and got to the corner of Olive where Emser Tile is. A homeless man came up behind us and violently kicked Sugar. Witnesses called the police right away and I filed a report. They said they would be sending someone to find him. I called to follow up yesterday, but they said a detective would be giving me a call. Have not heard anything yet. It is very upsetting that something like this happened in our neighborhood. I for one have absolutely noticed the increase of homeless persons. I’m not sure what can be done about it and overall I know it is a problem that is affecting much of Los Angeles and California in general.

    Sugar is fine, sustained no injuries thank goodness. I am still upset and processing.

    The description of the man is as follows:
    About 5’11 Skinny White Male, late 20s/early 30th, Thin face with light facial hair.
    Was wearing a black t-shirt and shorts with a small blue backpack

    I’m not sure if there is an email list or where this information can be posted, but wanted people to be safe and aware!

    Thank you and I’m sorry to contact you under these sad circumstances!”

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