Nearly a year after the St. Joseph Center and volunteers searched throughout the streets and beach of Venice to identify homeless persons who are the most at risk of dying on the street, some individuals are now living in housing and more are on their way.

The St. Joseph Center, a Venice-based social service organization, provided this update to its Venice Chronic Homeless Intervention Project during a presentation April 20th to the Venice Neighborhood Council, which supported the effort last year.

When St. Joseph Center staff and volunteers conducted a homeless survey over three consecutive nights in May 2009, 220 people were found to be sleeping outside during that time, 98 of whom are considered medically vulnerable. These chronically homeless 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.

Those found to have the most severe health risks are prioritized for housing and other support.

St. Joseph Center Executive Director Va Lecia Adams called the service registry effort a “huge undertaking” but noted that it did not take into account those living in their vehicles on Venice streets. Through its initiative, the social service agency has since engaged 40 of the 98 most vulnerable homeless to work with them on moving into scattered site housing, where they can have access to needed services.

The goal of the program is to house 25 of the chronically homeless in the first year and 15 in the second year. Julie DeRose, director of homeless services for St. Joseph Center, noted that since team members first identified the most vulnerable through the survey interview and have begun to work with them, the program has moved ahead quite well.

“I think it’s making some really good progress. The individuals we’ve engaged have been receptive to housing and I think it’s been well responded to by some of the most vulnerable clients.”

Under the program, six people have been placed into alternate housing and two have been moved into permanent supportive housing. The scattered site housing is subsidized through Section 8 vouchers received through the Housing Authority of Los Angeles.

Currently, applications for housing have been filed for ten other clients, including seven who have received shelter and care certificates from the Housing Authority, DeRose said. Three additional individuals have been connected with the West Los Angeles Department of Veteran Affairs to receive a Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher, she said.

St. Joseph Center staff have utilized a team approach when working with the clients and they’ve found that many of them are willing to engage in some services that they may not have wanted to before, such as taking regular medication, she said.

“We’ve used a team approach to engage these clients as assertively as we can,” DeRose said.

The team members, which include case managers and mental health professionals, have worked to establish relationships quickly by trying to provide immediate resolutions to problems and helping move the clients out of crisis. The program implementation process involves applying cognitive-behavioral techniques and connecting the clients to substance abuse services.

The person who was determined to be the most vulnerable individual based on the survey is currently living in a board and care facility, and while he initially had a difficult time adjusting, he has been stable in the housing since December, according to St. Joseph. The man’s health has also significantly improved and he has not returned to the emergency room for medical services.

The St. Joseph Center has partnered on the project with Common Ground New York, which has helped conduct vulnerability index surveys of the homeless in 14 areas across the U.S., including Santa Monica and Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

The project has received over $700,000 in funding from Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s office over two years to pay for supportive services. Yaroslavky’s office helped initiate a similar program with “Project 50” at Skid Row, and along with efforts in Venice and Santa Monica, the county is working toward housing 500 of the most vulnerable homeless, the supervisor has said.

Adams said the work of Yaroslavsky’s office in collaborating with service agencies and other departments to help get the chronically homeless of the streets has been tremendous.

“The work they did to pull various departments together and bring about a sense of collaborationÖis just an amazing model,” she said.