Amid a spike in homelessness in Los Angeles County, hundreds of nonprofit organizations, government agencies and business and philanthropic leaders vowed in a summit Friday to triple the number of people they take off the streets and put into permanent supportive housing each month.
"We currently are housing about 350 chronically homeless people each month, and we need to get to about 1,000 a month," said Christine Marge, director of Home for Good, an initiative by the nonprofit United Way of Greater Los Angeles and L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce to end chronic and veteran homelessness by 2016.
Over the last two and a half years, Home for Good has helped put a roof over the heads of about 9,500 people.
With about 33,000 veterans and 20,000 nonveterans and families projected to represent the chronically homelessness over the next two and a half years, she urged business and philanthropic leaders to invest money that can be used to leverage public funding. So far, Home for Good has used some $5 million it received in private donations to secure $105 million in public funding and other resources.
Marge also urged government agencies and nonprofits to streamline the process of providing permanent supportive housing to those needing it and eliminate long wait times. "It may seem counterintuitive, but studies have shown that providing permanent supportive housing for someone who's chronically homeless is actually cheaper to our system than allowing that person to remain on our streets without any intervention," she said.
"Individuals who are sleeping on our streets are heavy users of our crisis systems -- using emergency rooms as their primary health care, cycling in and out of our jails and prisons," Marge added. "It's actually over 40 percent cheaper to place someone in permanent supportive housing than to leave them in our streets."
Jerry Neuman, co-chair of the Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness, said the resources to end chronic and veteran homelessness already exist and have only to be harnessed. "We have approximately 26,000 units we have to find over the next 2.5 years," he said. "That's less than one-third of one percent of the units in Los Angeles County, so really not that much."
Neuman said the business sector could do more to end homelessness, as opposed to merely helping keep it manageable. "Areas like downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Pasadena and Hollywood -- these bastions of commerce are diminished by allowing the homeless to remain on the street," he said. "Those areas are bolstered and become even more profitable when the homeless are housed and commerce can continue."
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development assistant secretary Mark Johnston, however, believes federal cutbacks in social safety-net programs and the lingering effects of the Great Recession complicate an already difficult task.
"We're certainly not on a trajectory to end chronic and veteran homelessness nationally, just as you are not in a trajectory to do it here in L.A.," he said. "That's not to say we can't do it, but we certainly have a lot of challenges."