One of the first steps to solving any problem is to accurately gauge its extent. And when it comes to finding housing for Angelenos who are experiencing homelessness, it all starts with figuring out how many people are currently without housing, and the various details of their situations. This is why the annual Los Angeles Homeless Count, conducted every January by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and covering every census tract in the city, is so important. Volunteer registration for the 2019 count – scheduled for Thursday, January 24, from 8 p.m. to midnight – is now open at LAHSA’s TheyCountWillYou website.
This year, volunteers in the Greater Wilshire area will once again gather at Hope Lutheran Church, 6720 Melrose Ave., on the night of the count, to receive training and assignments before heading out to drive one of 14 census tracts. 140 volunteers are needed for the area, and you can sign up here (or, if you’re interested in helping in another neighborhood, see https://www.theycountwillyou.org/volunteer).
According to last year’s count, the number of homeless individuals in Los Angeles was down from 2017, though numbers in certain categories were up, as illustrated by this graphic from the LAHSA website:
According to La Brea-Hancock resident and Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council Alternate Board Member Tammy Rosato, who will be helping coordinate the GWNC’s efforts in assisting with this year’s count, the 4% overall decrease in last year’s tally may have been due to the success of the city’s recent efforts to find housing for homeless veterans (their numbers declined by 19% last year). At the same time, however, Rosato said homeless individuals in our own Greater Wilshire neighborhoods actually increased by double digits from 2017 to 2018. The reason for the increase, Rosato said, is that Downtown’s Skid Row has become so dangerous that many people who had been on the streets there are now moving out to safer neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods where they may have friends or family, or where they grew up themselves. (Data shows that many homeless people remain in the neighborhoods where they were last housed.) Also, because the Greater Wilshire area has no shelters, bridge or supportive housing for those without homes, people who do remain here when they have no housing tend to remain on the streets, unsheltered.
Rosato will be now be helping with many of the homeless outreach activities for the GWNC that were handled in recent years by former board member and secretary Joe Hoffman, who passed away in November. As it was for Hoffman, the homeless issue is a personal passion for Rosato, who told the Buzz that she first tuned into the problem about four years ago, when she joined LAPD’s Wilshire Area Community Police Advisory Board in an effort to learn more about the work of her stepson, a police officer in Berkeley, CA. It was her involvement with the CPAB, she said, that led her to participate in the Greater Wilshire homeless counts, which is where she met and became friends with Hoffman.
Rosato said she quickly realized, through attending the monthly CPAB meetings, that while many area residents consider our local police officers the first people to call when they encounter or experience a problem with a homeless person or camp, the police themselves have little training in the kinds of social work skills needed by homeless residents, and little knowledge of specific resources that are available to help with issues that may be most pressing for homeless individuals.
“I’m not shy in expressing my support for LAPD,” said Rosato, “and was surprised to learn in their day-to-day job as a “first responder” that we were also expecting them to be social workers, too. Not only does this take them away from crime prevention, patrol, responding to burglaries, assault and other serious crimes…but in most cases they were not provided with any resources [for dealing with homeless issues].”
So Rosato said she began calling and visiting local social service agencies and organizations – many of which were also unaware of what other local service groups were doing or offering – and began assembling a “big binder” of service information, which she shared at her monthly CPAB meetings.
Also, to make the information even easier for officers to access, Rosato created a foldable “Homeless Services & Resource Pocket Reference” guide, (a PDF version is available here), “which was then uploaded to the officers’ laptop computers for easy reference when out on patrol.”
“Now if they are responding to a homeless woman and child, LGBT teen, someone living in their vehicle, youth 18-25, a male or female being trafficked and trying to escape prostitution, a veteran, and many other heartbreaking situations, they can help connect them to a service provider,” Rosato said.
Initially, Rosato also gave copies of the pocket guide to her La Brea-Hancock neighbors, so they would know who to call in various situations…but since the city’s recent launch of its new Los Angeles Homeless Outreach Portal (LA-HOP) – which provides an official online reference and point of contact to a wide variety of homeless services – Rosato now recommends that neighbors use that resource instead.
Finally, this week, as Rosato helps with local preparations for the next Greater Wilshire homeless count, she is also thinking of her friend Hoffman. After his death, she helped his family connect with Emily Uyeda Kantrim, of SafeParkingLA, a non-profit that assists people who are living in vehicles, and with her help, Hoffman’s family donated many of his household furnishings to select individuals who were recently homeless, but who are now newly housed. That distribution is taking place today…and Rosato considers it a fitting legacy for her old friend.
“No one can do everything,” she says, quoting minister and author Max Lucado, “but everyone can do something.”