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Draft Plan to End Homelessness Draws Accolades

By Cindy Frazier
Senior Writer

October 7 -- A draft plan to end homelessness in Los Angeles County in ten years met an appreciative crowd as members of a blue ribbon committee presented an overview of their proposed multi-pronged approach at Ken Edwards Center on Thursday.

The Bring LA Home committee is presenting its draft plan of 300 recommendations at up to eight community meetings around the county, before finalizing it in December, three months behind the group’s original target date.

The county-led effort to “prevent and end homelessness” for the estimated 84,000 unhoused persons in the region has encountered numerous doubters, acknowledged Mitchell Netburn, chief of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), which will coordinate the program.

“People have become complacent about homelessness, but 25 years ago, there were not masses of homeless people on the streets,” said Netburn, who came to LA four years ago from a similar post in New York City.

“The homeless problem snowballed after the 1980s, when we began to see more and more people sleeping in doorways,” Netburn said. “We have been managing the problem, but not making the changes required to solve it. We need to think differently.”

But doubters were in short supply Thursday, when presenters and speakers alike received repeated rounds of applause.

Most speakers praised the ambitious project and offered their own ideas to refine it.

“We need to have a dream, to quit crying about what isn’t being done,” said Peter Stark, who works with a homeless veterans assistance group.

Sally Molloy, of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said her agency has a difficult time helping homeless people get government assistance they are entitled to, including Social Security and veteran’s benefits and urged the group to focus on that issue.

“People are not aware of funds they are entitled to, and they can’t get the records they need to apply,” Molloy said.

One man suggested that the County use “sober living houses” -- which provide living quarters and peer support to recovering alcoholics and addicts -- as a model for homeless housing programs.

The only nay-sayer was Randy Walburger, who conceived a shelter system he says could provide emergency sleeping quarters for thousands of people at a low cost. Walburger called the homeless effort “well-intentioned but not realistic.”

“It will take a long time to get 84,000 people off the streets,” Walburger said. “What are you going to do in the meantime? I have an idea for a safe, secure sleeping system, but you’re not interested in it.”

In response, Stark dismissed Walburger’s design as unacceptable. “I don’t want to sleep in a coffin,” Stark said.

Homeless advocates see Los Angeles following in the footsteps of other major metropolitan areas, including New York City and Philadelphia, which have dramatically reduced the number of street-dwellers.

“We are looking at the success stories and at models all over the world,” said committee member Bob Ehrlenbusch, of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness. “Street homelessness has been all but eliminated in Philadelphia.”

In Philadelphia, social workers and police work together to identify and serve homeless persons by providing immediate assistance, Ehrlenbusch said.

In New York City, a legal case resulted in a “right to shelter” policy, which requires homeless agencies to provide sleeping quarters for anyone who requests a bed for the night, Netburn said.

New York City is now providing emergency shelter for some 35,000 people each night, he said.

In Los Angeles, the Bring LA Home committee wants to build 40,000 units of affordable housing throughout the 88-city county, and to coordinate service agencies to streamline assistance to homeless persons, among other efforts.

The group has yet to come up with an estimate for what its programs will cost.

Ehrlenbusch said a key component of the plan is a trust fund that will become a repository for public funds and private donations to pay for the programs.

Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom noted that similar efforts to solve homelessness are under way all over the country, creating a national lobbying force that he believes will be effective in convincing Congress to fund the efforts.

Information, www.BringLAhome.org





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