United Way of Greater Los Angeles has taken incredible steps forward in the fight to end homelessness, helping to create housing for tens of thousands of L.A. County’s homeless neighbors so far. As we continue to break ground for new permanent supportive housing and temporary bridge housing in our neighborhoods, many residents have raised questions about the changes that these solutions will bring.
Below is a list of the top ten questions that community members ask, answered by Chris Ko, Director of Homeless Initiatives for United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
- How will the safety of our neighborhood be affected by these new housing solutions? Everyone is invested in the safety of our neighborhoods, especially our homeless neighbors, who are particularly vulnerable. Living on the street is an incredibly stressful situation, and it’s hard for anyone who goes without a good night’s sleep to be themselves. But people don’t often realize that people experiencing homelessness are actually the victim of much theft and violence themselves—over 800 hundred of our homeless neighbors in L.A. County die every year. Providing housing for our most vulnerable community members will make the community safer for all our neighbors.
- Will we be able to maintain a peaceful, clean neighborhood after these units are created? Yes, real housing that is available and accessible to our homeless neighbors will have an enduring effect on our neighborhoods. The encampments you see are today are an honest attempt at protection and security for our homeless neighbors - protection and security they’d no longer need once indoors. Our homeless neighbors also don’t have the weekly trash pickup or the regular access to restrooms that you and I enjoy. That’s why it’s so important to create places where people can come inside and have a safe and comfortable place to sleep and take care of their basic needs.
- Will these housing provisions bring more vulnerable individuals to our neighborhood? No, it will not. 90% of homeless individuals in LA County already live in communities outside of Skid Row, and we find regularly that 70-90% of those persons are in the communities where they were previously housed. Put another way, it is far more likely that your next door neighbor is from another city than someone on the street. However, housing is the only way that people already in our communities come inside. Resources matter, and investing in a serious way reduces homelessness vs. inviting new homelessness - we saw this with veterans when it dropped by nearly 50% in 5 years.
- How will drug and alcohol issues be managed? Supportive housing provides extensive services that address all aspects of life, including mental health and substance use disorders. This support is the key ingredient that makes supportive housing a proven solution for long-term recovery with a 90% success rate. Measure H has also funded the expansion of street outreach teams to provide clinical support so that mental health may be treated and worked on before our neighbors receive housing. In addition, the County and City are actively at work creating psychiatric urgent care facilities and sobering centers.
- How will these housing solutions help our homeless neighbors to become employed? It’s nearly impossible to apply for a job without an address, get ready for work without a shower, and have to figure out every night after work where you’ll be sleeping that night - it’s an impossible situation. Housing certainly does not guarantee employment, but it is foundational for employment. Before someone can create a more sustainable situation or successfully look for work, they must have a roof over their head. The rate of older adults past retirement becoming homeless is also exploding, and a quarter of our homeless neighbors have a long-term disabling condition. For some of our homeless neighbors, housing is the foundation for employment, for others, it is a safe place for them to recover and contribute to our communities in additional ways.
- How do temporary bridge housing and permanent supportive housing help our homeless neighbors lead independent lives? No one aspires to be homeless—and the vast majority of people are ready to come indoors tomorrow. Those who are deemed most vulnerable are prioritized for permanent housing; others qualify for some combination of temporary rental support, counseling, job training and a connection with case managers to help them secure permanent housing. Permanent supportive housing residents allot a percentage of income towards rent for their unit, and rehabilitation services help them succeed in maintaining a home for good.
- How are these programs cost-effective? It’s actually cheaper for us to do something than to do nothing. Malcolm Gladwell once wrote a New Yorker article called “Million Dollar Murray,” and the name of the article came from the total tally of emergency costs spent to sustain a gentleman name Murray over the course of 10 years on the streets. And even in less extreme cases, our early cost study with USC found that it costs public systems 43% more for our homeless neighbors to remain on the streets. These housing solutions not only save taxpayer money, they improve the health and vibrancy of our county and create opportunities for tens of thousands of people to more powerfully contribute to our community.
- How do we know these solutions will be successful? L.A. City and County plans to end homelessness were based on years of testing and proving—we saw veteran homelessness go down by over 50% when we applied these solutions and over 500% more chronically homeless persons make it off the street after the creation of the Coordinated Entry System. These are not just hopeful experiments. And thanks to your help in the passage of Measure H, that’s helped us secure permanent housing for over 7,000 families and individuals and over 13,000 people have entered temporary housing. Even as programs ramp up with additional funds, it’s meant that year’s homeless count showed a 4% decrease in homelessness, a 19% decrease in veteran homelessness and an 18% decrease in chronic homelessness since last year. These solutions are already working and will have an increasingly dramatic impact over time.
- What is United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ role? United Way’s Everyone In™ coalition activates community members and connects them to opportunities to advocate for solutions to end homelessness in L.A. County. We also work to improve data and measurement, pilot innovations, build systems and help unlock public funds by using more flexible private resources. And in important moments, United Way also helps to develop and pass key ballot measures, such as Proposition HHH and Measure H, fosters discussion within the community, and provides guidance on challenges in implementation.
- How can I get involved in making these solutions a success? We’d love for you join Everyone In™, United Way’s powerful coalition of people who embrace the common goal of ending homelessness across Los Angeles County. There you’ll hear about local organizing teams you can join to build more housing as well as opportunities to learn more about the issue, the upcoming Homeless Count and our annual celebration, HomeWalk. You can also support our work by donating to United Way of Greater Los Angeles here. Thank you for caring about this cause and for fighting with us.