“Homelessness is the issue of the decade,” said CD4 Council Member David Ryu in his opening remarks at the panel discussion on homelessness organized by Imagine LA Wednesday morning at the Ebell of Los Angeles. More than 350 people gathered at the historic women’s club to listen to experts from the public and private sector explore measures underway to combat homelessness and offer suggestions about how interested individuals can help. Many of the people in the audience were active in local philanthropic efforts, with volunteer leaders from the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, NGA, Teen Project, United Way, Next LA, St. Anne’s, and the Ebell Rest Cottage Association, among others.
In his introduction of State Assembly Member Richard Bloom, the morning’s keynote speaker, Ryu noted that while the situation is bad around the city, it was much worse 15 years ago when he worked for a mental health organization, because the City and County of Los Angeles were suing each other. Now, he said, at least the city, the county and state are working together.
Bloom, a Democrat from Santa Monica who has served in the State Assembly since 2012, has been working on the issue of homelessness for more than 20 years, including his tenure on the Santa Monica City Council for 13 years, where he served as Mayor three times and Mayor Pro Tempore twice. Bloom spoke about the progress that has been made in housing our most needy residents, but added, “there is still so much more work to be done.” He added that “homelessness is a shameful mark upon us that has existed for decades.”
The forum was organized by Ebell members Rebecca Hutchinson and Jill Bauman, President and CEO of Imagine LA, a non-profit which focuses on families, and uses an innovative mentorship model to end the cycle of poverty, homelessness and neglect. Yesterday’s event started out as a program to educate Ebell members, but morphed into a morning seminar on the current efforts underway to address homelessness. Bauman, who served as moderator, invited panelists to present the key issues and how people can get involved.
“I get asked all the time what is being done,” said Bauman. “I kept having the exact same conversation with people: what’s going on?…is there something I can do to help? I decided I wanted to do an educational discussion because Imagine LA is just one of the ways people can get involved in helping, and I wanted to address these latent feelings in the community about wanting to do more.”
“Having the event at the Ebell was a perfect fit because the Ebell is a wonderful space and has a tradition of being a place of discussion and education,” said Rebecca Hutchinson, Ebell member and public relations professional. “Thanks to the Ebell staff, the event was streamed live on Facebook, and it is now posted there for anyone who missed it and wants to hear the discussion.”
Bauman invited the panelists, who provided different perspectives on challenges and solutions currently underway. She started with Greg Spiegel, Director of Strategy of the Inner City Law Center, who noted in his talk, “Homelessness 101,” that even though homelessness is often described in terms of numbers, each homeless person has a unique story…which means solutions need to be tailored to each person also.
Citing data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Spiegel said there are almost 58,000 homeless people in LA County on any given night. Of these:
- 1 in 3 are women
- 2 in 3 are men
- 1 in 7 are homeless families
- The majority are homeless because of economic issues
- A minority of the homeless have mental issues or substance abuse issues
- Two-thirds of homeless people have been in LA for more than 10 years.
“Homeless people are our neighbors,” concluded Speigel.
Phil Ansell, director of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative provided a succinct overview of the current strategy to end homelessness. It was developed by Los Angeles County, which has already spent more than $100 million since the passage of Measures HHH and H. Ansell said the effort is not like creating a blueprint for constructing a building, but more like giving birth to a child that needs to be nurtured and continually guided.
“It’s like lighting a single candle that can light a thousand others, but not be seen itself,” said Ansell, paraphrasing a buddhist monk. “I encourage all of you to light a single candle.”
Kerry Morrison, Proposition HHH Oversight Committee, and the Executive Director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, challenged the audience to address the issue of affordable housing. She asked audience members if they would support a housing project on the Ebell’s Lucerne parking lot. There was some support for that idea, but more when she asked if pepole would generally support new market rate housing. This exposed one of the biggest challenges in the efforts, however — finding places to build high density affordable housing. She pointed to Beverly Terrace, the project presented by Veronica Arteaga, vice president of Housing Programs for St. Anne’s, which will soon open at Beverly and Normandie, as a good example of the kind of projects that need to be built all over the city.
Arteaga described how Beverly Terrace will allow St. Anne’s to continue the support they provide to their clients, who are mostly foster youth aging out of the system, who have also suffered abuse. The statistics are alarming – only 1% of this group go on to college, and 25% are likely to be incarcerated.
Alisa Orduna, Homelessness Policy director, Office of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, spoke to current city efforts to provide sanitation services to people who are homeless. Her office is currently looking for faith-based groups that are willing to partner with the city to provide space, portable showers and sanitation facilities for people living in their cars. She urged anyone who could help to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After their main remarks, the panelists sorted through hundreds of questions from the audience, which were passed up on bright green notecards. Unable to get to all of the queries, Bauman committed to answering to each question later and posting the responses on Facebook.
In closing, Bauman and the panelists each offered a suggestion on how people could help, including staying informed, connecting with their local City Council member or neighborhood council, building a granny flat in their backyard, supporting organizations like St. Anne’s, Big Sunday, Imagine LA (more than 25 people signed up at the meeting to serve as mentors), The Teen Project, Alexandria House, and WriteGirl. They also urged everyone to offer a kind word to someone who is homeless. Kerry Morrison shared how she got over her fear of talking to a homeless person simply by starting with a hello. The homeless are people who deserve to treated with respect, advised the panelists, and for many a kind word or looking them in the eye without judgement can be the highlight of their day.
Corporate sponsorship was provided by City National Bank. The Buzz was proud to be a media sponsor of the panel and will continue to provide updates and more information.