The Los Angeles Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness launched Home for Good two-and-a-half years ago. We vowed to end chronic and veteran homelessness in our region in five years. Today, the challenges are still substantial, the numbers daunting. But we have made solid, meaningful progress and we remain confident of success.
The 2013 count of homeless people in greater Los Angeles, reported at about 58,000, showed a small increase over 2011. This year’s count showed a substantial rise in “hidden” homeless, or people not yet living on the streets but in distressed circumstances (living in a garage, doubling up with family). Chronic homelessness remained nearly level and the veteran homeless count went down.
It is well worth noting, the total count would be above 65,000 had the system change and strategic partner alliance and activation we have fought so hard for not resulted in housing for more than 7,000 chronic and veteran homeless people since 2011.
Still, these most recent numbers are disheartening. Projected over the next two years, they are even more challenging. Given our still-slow economy, a reverse surge sending more troops back from overseas duty (many in physical and mental health distress) and the pressures created by an overall lack of affordable housing in our region, the next count could fairly be expected to rise still higher. But as profound changes in homeless policies and practices take hold, we project the opposite.
Why? Because Home for Good’s principles flow from sound, proven business practices.
With extraordinary determination, the entire homelessness sector – government leaders and agencies, foundations, non-profit housing and service providers, physical and mental health care professionals, business leaders, volunteers – has worked with the task force. The principles we champion have produced bold and dramatic changes.
Last year, the Home for Good Funders Collaborative leveraged $5 million in business and philanthropic donations into more than $105 million dedicated exclusively to permanent supportive housing. In a few days, we’ll do it again. Chronic and veteran homeless individuals make up about 25 percent of our homeless population and account for 75 percent of total expenditures on homelessness. By pooling private-sector donations with government resources (federal funds, housing vouchers, local government development and services funds), the collaborative generates maximum return on investment and focuses funds where they are most needed.
Smart money needs smart management. Working with our skilled partners on Skid Row, we have created a Coordinated Entry System, the first of its kind in our region. The system gathers and analyzes reliable data, merging real-time information about those in need with up-to-date information about resources available to meet their needs. In just 100 days, the pilot program on Skid Row moved nearly 30 chronically homeless individuals from street to homes with minimum bureaucratic delay and maximum use of data, but that’s only the beginning. By design, the Coordinated Entry System is modular: Any community seeking to reduce chronic and veteran homelessness can quickly and easily employ this efficient, effective system.
At the same time, a remarkable coalition of thoughtful and innovative Home for Good partners has advanced our region’s capacity to coordinate and cooperate, once viewed as nonexistent in Washington, to the point where it is now touted by federal officials as a model. This year, the Department of Veterans Affairs allocated more vouchers to help bring L.A.’s homeless veterans home than ever before. At the same time, a Home for Good “boot camp” sparked a coordinated approach that reduced the waiting time for veterans seeking permanent supportive housing by more than half.
With other partners, we’ve just created comprehensive Standards of Excellence that will spawn uniform procedures and practices of the highest value throughout the homeless sector and provide accountability toward true results in ending homelessness and a spotlight on those practices that merely maintain those who unfortunately live on the streets of our community.
All these systemic changes will make a big difference. But they are not enough. More municipalities should join the Home for Good campaign through the Funders Collaborative and adopting the Coordinated Entry System. Businesses must support the Funders Collaborative; those who find a direct donation difficult can organize a team to participate in United Way’s Home Walk this fall (Home Walk proceeds go directly into the collaborative). Volunteers can help with community-based outreach, urge local leaders to use Home for Good resources and join Home Walk.
Halfway home is good, but not good enough – there is more to do. When you join us, Home for Good will end chronic and veteran homelessness in all our neighborhoods. That’s not just good business, it’s good for business.
Jerry Neuman, an attorney at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, and Chris Carey, chief financial officer of City National Bank, co-chair the Los Angeles Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness.
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