LANCASTER – More than 100 of the sickest homeless and veterans in the Antelope Valley have been housed in the past six months under a new program funded by United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
Valley Oasis was selected by United Way last fall to head up a new method to identify, assess, and house the most vulnerable homeless in the Valley, said Valley Oasis board member Lou Gonzales during a news conference Wednesday held at the agency’s Homeless Access Center.
“We are talking about two things,” said Gonzales. “We are housing the sickest people in our community and we are making sure there are Homes for Vets – so that our vets come home to a real home and not a tent in OUR desert.”
United Way of Greater Los Angeles is driving a county-wide effort of more than 200 partners called “Home For Good.” The goals of the program require communities to collaborate and identify the sickest homeless who likely use more tax-funded resources in LA County. They are backing up the effort with private donations and Foundations, who have invested millions of dollars to date.
“Our goal is to end veteran homelessness by December – this year,” said Emily Bradley of the United Way Home For Good Team. “We believe there should be Homes for Heroes and we are working with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to surge our efforts to find them housing and restore them to health.”
Carol Crabson, CEO of Valley Oasis, said her agency began increasing programs to serve the homeless in 2000.
“We have built a local team to go out and find our sickest homeless,” said Crabson. “Our local shelters and hot meal programs have welcomed us as our team members come in to identify and assess the homeless. Other team members go out into the deserts, inside culverts, and behind local businesses in the early morning hours to find our homeless.”
Last Year United Way and Kaiser invested over $250,000 to develop a partnership with programs serving the homeless, said Crabson. “We are grateful with the dynamic partnership we have with Mental Health America, their Military Resource Centers, and with the county departments, in particular the Dept. of Mental Health.”
United Way’s approach is to create a cross-county “Coordinated Entry System,” said Marina Flores of Community Solutions, the technical advisory for the Antelope Valley. Additional assistance has come from Gabriele Hooks of Community Supportive Housing.
Diane Grooms, who has led the Antelope Valley Homeless Coalition for more than 20 years, was hired as the leader to imbed the Coordinated Entry System locally.
“Our story of success and change in how we serve the homeless began 10 years ago when the federal government required every community to count the homeless,” said Grooms. “This January, our most recent count, we identified 2,800 people who are homeless, living in tents, the desert, in cars, and sleeping beside our businesses here in the AV.”
Nationally, the VA and HUD are intensifying efforts to house veterans and chronic homeless. Grooms described the new method. “They have declared that everything we have been doing to help the homeless is not working – we have more homeless on our streets than we did 10 years ago,” said Judy Cooperberg, executive director of Mental Health America and a lead partner.
“There are many programs doing great work serving the homeless. But few focus on the single, chronically homeless individuals. These individuals cost us the most. They are the hardest to serve. Chronically homeless means they have been without a place to live for more than 12 months – or they have been homeless more than four times over three years. And each one has some form of a disabling condition—medical, trauma, or addiction,” Grooms said.
The 2015 count showed 2,818 homeless in the Antelope Valley, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “We have more than 650 chronically homeless individuals according to our count. Of these, more than 100 are veterans,” said Grooms.
One Lancaster man added up the cost of his being homeless in terms of tax dollars – using emergency rooms for health care, 72-hour mental health assessments in the hospital, sheriff interactions, jail time, cost of medications, general relief payments from the county and reported to the AV Homeless Coalition that it cost taxpayers $58,000 in his first year of homelessness locally.
“We can provide a person with permanent housing and health care and support for $13,000 a year,” said Grooms. “As taxpayers and a community, we can’t afford to keep the homeless on our streets. We must adapt our system to get people safely into housing they can afford, improve their health, and strengthen their ability to work and be independent.”
The local partners use a nationally proven vulnerability survey when they encounter a homeless person, which assesses their health status, how long they have been homeless, family ties and risk factors. “In 10 minutes, a worker can determine just how vulnerable a person is, and whether they are likely to be able to find and maintain housing on their own,” said Grooms. “We take these names and help those who are the sickest, knowing they can’t find housing alone and are likely to remain homeless without help.”
“We need our landlords now to join our collaborative. If each landlord could set aside a single unit, we could provide the support, regular visits, and health care needs of our veteran homeless,” said Grooms.
Housing navigators, a term used by the partners, help match the right people to the right housing. Landlords interested in joining the program can contact Julia Sudduth or Irene Rodriguez at the Valley Oasis Homeless Access Center at 661-942-2758, Mental Health America at 661-726-2850, or Joe Ely, director of the MHA-Military Resource Centers at firstname.lastname@example.org.