Of the thousands of people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles on any given night, there is a segment of the population categorized as being chronically homeless and the most at risk of dying on the street.
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.
Social service organizations and other agencies dedicated to helping the population have initiated efforts to specifically serve the chronically homeless by identifying their vulnerability and moving them into housing.
Agencies in areas such as Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles have conducted such social service registries of the chronically homeless and say they have made progress by finding housing for numbers of the individuals and providing needed services.
The St. Joseph Center, a Venice-based social service organization, is looking to apply a similar program in Venice, which like Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles, consists of a significant homeless population. According to a count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in 2007, 962 homeless people were counted in the Venice zip code, making it the highest ratio of homeless to housed residents in the county.
The St. Joseph Center is seeking approval from the County of Los Angeles to develop a service registry similar to other parts of the city of those most likely to die on the street, and Venice community leaders are offering their support. The Venice Neighborhood Council voted Tuesday, March 17th, to support St. Joseph Centerís effort after hearing recommendations from the councilís Ad Hoc Committee on Homelessness and Vehicular Living.
ìWeíve seen the success in Santa Monica and downtown and so we think itís a natural step for us to take to try to emulate that program in Venice and see if we have the same results,î Neighborhood Council president Mike Newhouse said of the boardís vote.
The program aims to assess the needs of the chronically homeless in Venice and find permanent supportive housing for the 40 individuals who are identified as being the most at risk. The Neighborhood Council sent letters of support to the county Board of Supervisors, City Councilman Bill Rosendahlís office, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosaís office and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Homelessness committee co-chair Mark Ryavec noted that the program follows the ìhousing firstî model, in which the people are first provided with housing where they can be connected to services for mental health, addiction and employment.
ìWe came to the point of realizing that if we want to help get them off the street we need to actively go after the folks who are really in the most trouble,î Ryavec said. ìThis is the first start to seriously addressing the seriously homeless in Venice.î
St. Joseph Center representatives said they were pleased to have the support of the Venice council for their chronic homeless program.
ìThis is wonderful. Iím so happy that all the different elements in the community are coming together and are on the same page,î St. Joseph Center associate director Judy Alexander said. ìThe primary focus (of the program) is to reduce the visibility of homelessness on the street and in doing so, to save the lives of the most vulnerable homeless and get them into housing.î
St. Joseph Center executive director Va Lecia Adams added, ìThis is an appropriate way to help the most vulnerable in our society and it makes sense. Itís a wonderful opportunity for a community effort.î
The program aims 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 ìscattered site housingî subsidized through Section 8 vouchers received through the Housing Authority. At its meeting March 17th, the Neighborhood Council additionally recommended that the Housing Authority provide Section 8 vouchers to St. Josephís in support of the program.
Alexander said the concept of the program is to ìtriage peopleî through a survey to identify the 40 individuals who have the highest risk of dying on the street. Agencies such as the Los Angeles Police and Fire departments, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavskyís office and Councilman Rosendahlís office will assist in the effort.
The project is expected to house 25 of the chronically homeless in the first year and 15 in the second year, Alexander said. Those identified as most vulnerable will receive outreach and assertive case management by a multi-disciplinary team staffed by a psychiatrist, mental health specialist and housing specialist.
Explaining his homelessness committeeís support of the service registry model, Ryavec said simply, ìit worksî and is effective in getting people off the street.
Stacy Rowe, a human services administrator in Santa Monica, said that city implemented its service registry in January 2008, identifying 131 as vulnerable homeless. Of that group, 54, or 41 percent have since been placed into housing.
ìItís really allowed us to focus our efforts on specific people and increased our coordination with stakeholders and agencies who work with these folks,î Rowe said of Santa Monicaís program.
The program has provided more information about the individuals involved and helped staff determine where resources should be targeted, she said. Rowe praised the effort to bring the program to Venice, saying it will provide a ìuseful tool.î
ìWe applaud all our regional partners who are implementing the strategies,î she said.
Adams of St. Joseph Center said the interest for duplicating the service registry program in places like Venice is because of its effectiveness in Santa Monica and other areas.
ìWeíre so happy to be a part of the effort and weíre glad that itís coming to Venice,î she said.