For three consecutive nights in May, staff from the St. Joseph Center and volunteers searched throughout the streets and beach of Venice to talk with those sleeping outside and identify who are the most at risk of dying on the street.
More than 250 people were found to be sleeping outside over those three nights, nearly 100 of whom are considered medically vulnerable, according to a survey conducted by the volunteers. The individuals may have been living on the streets for years, sometimes decades at a time, and face a variety of struggles, which are factors that can contribute to their risk of dying on the street.
Through its initiative, the St. Joseph Center, a Venice-based social service organization, is working to identify 40 of the 98 vulnerable homeless with the highest risk of dying on the street and move them into housing, where they can have access to needed services. The program aims to house 25 of the chronically homeless in the first year and 15 in the second year.
The most vulnerable people are identified through a ranking system which considers risk factors and duration of homelessness. Those found to have the most severe health risks are prioritized for housing and other support.
“This was a real eye-opening experience for all of us who saw so many of our dear neighbors living on the streets struggling to survive,” St. Joseph Center Executive Director Va Lecia Adams said of the survey to locate the vulnerable homeless.
The St. Joseph Center has modeled the effort after a program by Common Ground New York, which has helped conduct vulnerability index surveys of the homeless in 14 areas across the U.S., including Santa Monica, Los Angeles’ Skid Row, New York City and West Hollywood. The initiative has resulted in the commitment of millions of dollars in housing resources and expedited the place- ment of over 1,000 medically vulnerable individuals into housing, according to Common Ground.
The St. Joseph Center has partnered with Common Ground on the project, which has received $724,000 in funding from Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s office over the next two years to pay for supportive services. Yaroslavsky’s office helped initiate a similar program with “Project 50” at Skid Row, and with the efforts in Venice and Santa Monica, the county is working toward housing 500 of the most vulnerable homeless, the supervisor said.
“That’s the beginning of making a dent in this problem,” said Yaroslavsky, who estimated there are about 70,000 homeless people in the county.
The supervisor praised the program for helping to give the individuals involved a “new lease on life,” adding that it can serve as a model for providing services to other homeless, not just the vulnerable.
“This gives us a roadmap of who to house,” Yaroslavsky said.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice in the 11th District, said he was thrilled that the project has come to Venice, noting that a key solution to homelessness is offering permanent housing with supportive services.
“These are folks who need outreach with wraparound services,” Rosendahl said of the chronically homeless. “This is the perfect thing to do. It’s one of the many strategies in dealing with the homeless.”
During the three-night survey process, St. Joseph Center staff and over 35 volunteers from 12 other organizations attempted to create a list of all those sleeping on the streets and beach in Venice. The surveyors were divided into ten groups that canvassed ten neighborhood tracts and administered a 45-question survey.
The survey gathered data such as health status, institutional history, length of homelessness, healthcare and income source, and in most cases, the individuals gave permission to take their picture, said Becky Kanis, Common Ground director of innovations. The 98 considered to be vulnerable have at least one at-risk indicator such as having HIV/AIDS, liver or kidney disease and being age 60 or older, Kanis said.
Of the survey respondents, 83 percent are male and 15 percent are veterans, of whom 23 percent are vulnerable. The average vulnerable person has been homeless nearly nine years, while the average respondent has been on the streets for nearly six years.
The person determined to be the most at risk on Venice streets is a 59-year-old African American man who has been homeless for six years and is a veteran struggling with cancer and liver disease, Kanis said.
With the 40 most vulnerable identified, the program intends to provide outreach, case management and integrated support services that will result in access to and maintenance of permanent supportive housing. The individuals will be provided with “scattered site housing” subsidized through Section 8 vouchers received through the Housing Authority.
Adams of St. Joseph Center said the survey has given officials a better understanding of the people involved and program representatives now plan to begin the “one-on-one” work toward moving them into housing.
“For us to lead this effort in Venice is like a dream come true,” she said.
Yaroslavsky pointed out that the effort is particularly significant for Venice because it has helped bring community members together on a challenging issue.
“The wonderful thing about this project is that it’s brought people together, and that’s critically important,” the supervisor said.