Remy Martin Foster, left, greets homeless veteran Ernie Mann in the Studio… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)
In just over a year, more than 3,000 of Los Angeles County's most entrenched street dwellers and homeless veterans have moved into permanent homes, exceeding the targets of an ambitious plan launched by business and philanthropy leaders.
But backers of the effort warn that more people are ending up on the streets as troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan and the region's economic difficulties persist. Surveys conducted early last year found that the number of homeless veterans in the county had increased from about 7,400 to more than 9,100 in two years.
"We know we have to do better in order to get to net zero at the end of the day," said Jerry Neuman, who co-chairs the housing initiative launched by United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Home for Good plan aims to end long-term and veteran homelessness in the county by 2016.
The chronically homeless make up just a quarter of the 51,000 people without permanent shelter on any given night. But they use up a disproportionate share of public services, including hospital emergency rooms and jails, experts say. The plan proposes reallocating about $230 million in existing resources each year to pay for permanent supportive housing, which includes counseling and treatment to help keep people off the streets.
More than 100 community leaders and organizations — including the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, several cities and housing authorities, law enforcement officials and nonprofits — have endorsed the plan, according to a report that will be presented at a meeting Thursday. In all, 2,273 chronically homeless people have been placed in supportive housing, 573 more than hoped for the first year, the report says. At least 864 veterans who are not considered chronically homeless were also housed.
"I'm very excited about the progress that we've made," said Renee White Fraser, who co-chairs the effort. "I think we have cut through a lot of red tape and been able to bring people to the table who have not normally addressed the issue of homelessness in a concerted and integrated way."
Among other things, the Department of Veterans Affairs, local housing authorities and others who assist homeless veterans worked to reduce the time it takes to move people into homes to about 100 days from 168, the report says.
The major stumbling block, Fraser said, has been finding enough places willing to house the most hard-core homeless. Less than a third of vacancies in buildings with on-site services were made available to them, and new construction fell 289 units short of the 500-unit goal.
More than 80 municipalities and 15 housing authorities have yet to sign on to the plan.
The plan reflects a growing consensus among advocates that securing permanent housing must be the priority in combating homelessness. But the approach has drawn criticism, partly from those who object to spending tax dollars to provide housing to people who might continue to abuse drugs and avoid treatment.
Some service providers also worry that too many resources are being directed at the chronically homeless at the expense of others, including youths and families who may need transitional housing or recovery programs.
The plan "hurt our funding," said the Rev. Andy Bales, who heads the Union Rescue Mission on downtown Los Angeles' skid row. "I was one of the signers. But I also have to speak up and say, 'Don't market yourself as the silver bullet to end homelessness.' "
Plan backers argue that moving chronic street dwellers into permanent homes will free up significant resources for other homeless populations.
"I think having the business community behind permanent supportive housing has been a huge endorsement," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who initiated a pilot version of the strategy known as Project 50. "It helps us locally, and it helps us in Washington."