By Sue Favor
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The City Council gave the go-ahead last week to expand services toward curbing homelessness in South L.A.
By unanimous vote, a new Outreach and Coordination Hub of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority was approved, to go along with a nearby Center for Interagency Policy and Action. Both will be open by June, according to newly elected 10th District City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who made the motion for both agencies.
It is the first branch office in the southern part of the city and it comes at a time when it is needed more than ever, as the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the Latino and Black communities of South LA. Ridley-Thomas, who took office last month, said during his campaign that he would push for solutions to the problem.
“It was the No. 1 priority in the campaign, and it’s my No. 1 priority now that I’m back at the city,” he said. “I’m very committed to seeing a number of initiatives through, and we’ve begun to process them. This is serious, a threat to our future and to the overall health of the city.”
The hub office will be at 1819 S. Western Ave. — a city-owned property that was Councilman Herb Wesson’s district office. Ridley-Thomas replaced Wesson, who was forced by the city’s term limits law to relinquish his seat.
Equipment and supplies will be stored at the location, which will serve as a meeting office, a training center and a deployment headquarters for essential workers.
The center office will be nearby in Koreatown, at 510 S. Vermont Ave., co-housed with the county’s Department of Mental Health and Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services. Joining the two agencies will allow them to coordinate behavior health and income security services for the homeless.
Ridley-Thomas said the Western Avenue office will serve as the headquarters for homeless service authority in South L.A.
“There will be as many as 15 teams there that will be dispatched with appropriate supervisors,” he said. “It should be a really important addition to the infrastructure that’s needed to deal with homelessness in Los Angeles.”
A city native and a politician for the last 30 years, Ridley-Thomas said the homelessness crisis here is the worst it’s ever been. Homeless authority data shows that City Council Districts 8 and 9, which encompass most of South L.A., are home to more than 9,000 of the 41,290 total homeless population in the city in 2020.
Ridley-Thomas said this is due to three main factors, all of which have been exponentially exacerbated by the job and health crisises caused by the pandemic.
“There are three main factors contributing to homelessness: mental health disorders, substance abuse disorders and economic inequities and/or calamity,” he said. “The most significant of those are economic factors that have made it very difficult for people to hold on to their [homes]. That is a result of having high unemployment defining a significant portion of the South L.A. environment.”
Lack of purchasing power, a scarcity of rental units and a lack of resources have collided to put more people on the street over the last 9-10 months.
Eighth District Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said creation of the center will provide a crucial organizational tool to deal with the crisis.
“Homelessness remains the most critical issue in our city, and we will continue to dedicate unmatched resources towards solving this crisis,” he said. “This center will assist thousands of Angelenos and streamline how the city and county connect individuals with the help they need to thrive. We must continue to collaborate and innovate to support our unhoused neighbors as quickly and effectively as possible while keeping equity at the center of our efforts.”
Curren Price, the 9th District councilman, said the new agencies would also be a boon for city employees.
“During this pandemic, we have relied heavily on our essential workers, in particular, our frontline homelessness outreach staff and multidisciplinary teams, who carry out the crucial role of ensuring the needs of our unhoused neighbors are met with urgency and compassion,” Price said.
“This is an opportunity to bring some relief and support to the selfless individuals who constantly put the needs of others ahead of themselves by providing them with a space that will allow them to be more efficient and effective, while keeping them safe.”
Ridley-Thomas said action plans for both the hub and the center will be developed over the next several months, and they will be “metrics-driven and focused” according to need.
In the meantime, he also plans to propose the construction of a constituent service center along South Crenshaw Boulevard, next to the Crenshaw to LAX rail line, which should be complete by summer. The building would serve as an office for the 10th District, the Department of Public Works, Transportation, Planning, Sanitation and Housing and Community Investment, among others.
“The vision is it would be like a mini-City Hall,” Ridley-Thomas said.
In the meantime, the focus for now is on getting the hub and center up and running as quickly as possible.
“While we have worked with unprecedented speed to assist thousands of homeless Californians, we must work more efficiently and collaboratively to scale up solutions that work — and there is no substitute for a physical place that fosters problem solving and solution building to happen with all responsible parties at the table,” Ridley-Thomas said. “At this center, we will be able to operationalize how the city, county and community can design policies and programs that can address this crisis at scale.”
Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.