Everyone calls Homelessness one of the greatest problems of Long Beach.
Yes, it is.
Sometimes it takes a little institutional memory to create new solutions.
A little history for you all:
Back in 1995, we had a homeless population spiraling out of control up to 30,000.00. We reduced that to 3000 in 2 years.
Because of that, citizens (residents, not the City Hall officials) decided to come together to figure out solutions. I was part of that creating process. We invited leaders from all persuasions. Businesses, neighborhoods, social services, service providers, fire, police, health department, churches, half-way houses, the homeless themselves, and even folks who just fed the homeless. 350 people arrived knowing they could not agree with everyone attending. We had a facilitator, who divided us all up into a table of approximately 10 people. He had composed an 8 -question sheet. The exercise was to go through all 8 questions and come back with unanimous opinions on every single one. We thought that was impossible.
Sitting around arguing with each other, knowing we had to have unanimous consent was daunting. Yet at the end of the day, it wasn’t that difficult. We all had the same honor and honesty, and It turned out we all thought the same things. We were previously too busy beating each other up because of preconceived positions, that we had forgotten to have an open mind and open ears.
At that summit and the three that followed, we wrote on boards the priority elements. Let me share with you what they were, as they hold true even today.
Emergency housing with supervision is the 1st step. You have to be ready before you intervene with someone.
We needed to identify what the needs are, as there are several reasons why someone is homeless. (drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, lack of money to pay rent, mental health issues, emotional abuse, and fear)
We needed to create a mechanism to triage people so that we got the right service provider at the first juncture and contact, knowing that multiple issues were combined in each individual’s condition of homelessness.
We needed a training and supervision branch to teach lost skillsets, like paying electric bills, gas bills, the rent, showing up to appointments on time, cleaning, bathing, laundry, buying groceries instead of dumpster diving. The physical recovery and mental recovery.
We also needed a comprehensive list of all those services that could address those individual issues. We had at the time 26 services agencies scattered across the city. Without transportation or assistance, no homeless person would have any idea how to receive those services. We needed a directory of services with hours of operation, staffing, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. And we needed those things in a handout booklet to distribute downtown and elsewhere to the homeless and neighborhood groups. This also required free transportation to those services.
Eventually, we knew we needed transitional housing, as these skillsets, and the healing process was dependent upon constant supervision and coordination.
Then we needed permanent affordable housing, still with some control, but not in a dormitory setting, so that people could re-integrate back into the community without backsliding.
Finally, we needed a source of jobs to maintain this re-integration, and build self-worth and esteem, so people had a place in society and had pride in themselves and their self-sufficiency.
And we needed to provide free transportation for people to go back home if that was their desire. Some had come to California with a dream, and that dream was shattered one way or another. They needed transport back to Kansas or where ever.
This was a group of very pragmatic leaders, and we soon realized we needed a triage center. After a long and arduous search, we found an abandoned warehouse on 12th Street across the Los Angeles River off of Anaheim Street. The reason for the location was the pushback from residents about creating such a facility within established neighborhoods or business areas. (Whether you like that attitude or not, that was what we were dealing with, and in order to continue a unanimity of thought and combined strength, we listened and adjusted) Also, the warehouse we found was the most affordable and had the land we needed to create a service center.
This is how we selected the site for the Multi-Service Center for the Homeless. I was on that board and helped to build, decorate and arrange the Center.
At the time we required either a presence or a cooperative presence to be at the Center if any group had anything to do with the homeless. Eventually, we had just a listing with outreach coordinator to arrange services.
So, we started to complete the rest of the requirements.