Measure H funds will pay for emergency shelter for homeless women

By Gary Walker

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl would like to see bridge housing on the Westside using Measure H funds

New strategies by the joint Los Angeles city/county for providing housing to the growing homeless population include finding “bridge housing” for people as quickly as possible.

Bridge housing is defined as housing that provides service-intensive emergency housing with the goal of placing individuals in permanent housing as quickly as possible. To that end, county leaders will soon be creating new emergency housing for homeless women using funds provided by Measure H, a 2016 county initiative that is expected to raise $355 million annually through a half-cent sales tax.

On Oct. 3, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to transform the Sylmar Armory into an emergency winter shelter for women, who authorities say make up a third of the county’s homeless population.

“We are taking a significant step forward with this new program. Only 17% of emergency shelter beds are dedicated for women and yet women represent nearly twice that percentage of people experiencing homelessness. Women desperately need housing and services,” said motion co-sponsor Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents Venice and Santa Monica.

Kuehl hopes the model used in Sylmar can be replicated throughout the county, including Venice, where there are nearly 1,200 people without homes, according to the 2017 Homeless Count.

Homelessness among women in Los Angeles County has increased 70% since 2009, according to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority officials.  The 2017 count shows there was an increase of 16 % from last year.

The authority’s commission created an ad hoc committee to explore the reasons surrounding the increase. Domestic violence, human trafficking, mental illness and substance abuse were among the key contributors to more women winding up on the streets, according to the commission’s findings.

Westside social service providers are encouraged about the Measure H spending on bridge housing.

“In the most effective bridge housing model, they allow the people to stay so that they can focus on vocational training and education,” said St. Joseph Center Executive Director Va’ Lecia Adams Kellum.

The Venice nonprofit has increased the number of its street outreach program to four teams and is hoping for additional funding from Measure H to reach struggling women and families.

“This way we can touch more people and get them into rapid rehousing or bridge housing, hopefully sooner than we’ve been able to. This funding is coming at the right time,” said Adams Kellum.

Santa Monica–based the People Concern said finding buildings that are habitable is one of the roadblocks that governments and nonprofits often encounter when they want to build housing for the homeless.

“We need to look at opportunities with adaptive reuse properties as long as there are no environmental hazards because those can get expensive.  The challenge is that we don’t have a lot of underutilized housing in Los Angeles County,” noted John Maceri, executive director of the People Concern. Another hurdle is the price of real estate, especially on the Westside, Maceri added.