Two years ago, my predecessor Councilmember Mitchell Englander launched the Neighborhoods FIRST Initiative in response to the unprecedented rise in homelessness that was affecting communities across Los Angeles. The program was the first of its kind to address homelessness with a comprehensive strategy at the district level. And while homelessness is an issue with causes that extend far beyond the district, Neighborhoods FIRST has shown encouraging results at mitigating the negative effects of homelessness on neighborhoods while ensuring outreach and services get to those in need.
Last year, after Neighborhoods FIRST had been in place for one year, Council District 12 saw one of the largest declines in the number of homeless individuals living on the streets in our communities in a year when the City saw only modest decreases overall. In this second year, while the City as a whole saw a 16% increase in the overall number of homeless individuals living on the street. Council District 12 bucked the trend with the total number of homeless individuals remaining flat within the Northwest Valley. What's more, our district has maintained the lowest number of unsheltered individuals in the City of Los Angeles.
I do not cite these numbers to declare our mission accomplished. On the contrary, homelessness remains an ongoing crisis and the primary challenge we face as communities and as a City. I do believe however that these numbers are a reflection of the soundness of our strategy and the excellent work undertaken by the Council District 12 staff and our partners in various city departments and the non-profit and faith-based sectors. As you will see, our Neighborhoods FIRST strategy engages all of these organizations to develop an all-hands-on-deck approach to resolving homelessness.
I'm also encouraged to report that many of the strategies piloted by our Neighborhoods FIRST program are going to be adopted citywide beginning next week at the start of the new fiscal year. I take this as further proof of the effectiveness of this strategy. In this special edition of our newsletter, I will review the different components of Neighborhoods FIRST as well as some of the challenges we foresee in the coming year and new strategies we are adopting to face these challenges.
Operational HQ: CD12 as the Neighborhoods First Control Center…
The core of the Neighborhoods FIRST strategy and its success is a result of redirecting resources and coordinating service teams from distinct City of Los Angeles departments to streamline efforts and augment their impact. By funding these efforts directly through my office, we are able to direct how these department resources are used to maximize the neighborhood benefit.
Coordinating Multiple City Department Service Teams
The primary City services requiring coordination are the LAPD Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement (HOPE) Teams, Bureau of Sanitation Rapid Response, and the Department of Transportation Parking Enforcement. They also team up with agencies outside of L.A.'s direct jurisdiction such L.A. Family Housing or the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) so they can provide services to the individuals they encounter.
Due to increased funding from my office, we were able to expand the presence of LAPD HOPE Teams from four days a week to five days a week within Council District 12 to ensure regular outreach to encampments. Regular contact also helps these teams build trust and rapport with individuals who may be service resistant and has proven to be the most effective legal means to get individuals into the Coordinated Entry System (CES) which facilitates the coordination and delivery of housing and supportive services to those in need.
I'm pleased to see a strategy which was honed here in Council District 12 grow into a citywide program as it has proven to be the best way to protect neighborhood health and safety while simultaneously giving a helping hand to those in need.
Addressing Vehicle Dwelling
Council District 12 also faces a unique challenge when it comes to unsheltered individuals living out of unsafe and non-functioning RVs. Prior to the creation of Neighborhoods FIRST, the LA City Council voted to allow overnight sleeping in vehicles in commercial and industrial areas only -- a law known as Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) 85.02. With the CD12 Chatsworth-Northridge Industrial corridor being the largest such zone in the City, the result was a massive influx of individuals living in unsanitary, unsafe conditions and impacting CD12 in disproportionate numbers relative to the City as a whole.
In addition to sanitation and safety concerns, this resulted in a disruption to many local businesses that found much of the available street parking that would normally be used by customers being taken up by vehicles and RVs being used for habitation. LAMC 85.02 also created the additional problem of slum lords buying up disabled RVs, towing them to a location where vehicle dwelling is permitted and renting these vehicles to those in need of shelter.
While vehicle dwelling might seem like an appealing alternative, in practice it has proven very problematic. Disabled vehicles have no means to dispose of waste and can quickly become an environmental hazard. What's more, there have been instances in which a vehicle has caught fire and -- due to the lack of ingress and egress options -- resulted in the death of persons living inside the vehicle.
In response, we devoted additional enforcement resources towards ensuring that vehicles using the public right of way are safe and operational. In cases where they were unsafe or otherwise non-compliant with posted signage, we ensured that these vehicles were removed from our streets.
This required additional coordination with LADOT's parking enforcement division as well as finding new space for vehicle storage by working with Official Police Garages (OPG) and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP). The result is fewer dangerous vehicles occupying the public right of way with regular enforcement to ensure that businesses and quality of life within and beyond the industrial corridor are not disrupted.
Recently, the California legislature has taken up a bill that may complicate our efforts to address vehicles that become a nuisance to communities by revoking cities' authority to tow vehicles that remain in a single location or are delinquent in paying parking tickets. AB516 was passed by the State Assembly and is currently under consideration in the State Senate. While the bill continues to be amended, it remains a misguided effort that will undermine local control. For this reason, City Council passed a resolution that I authored opposing AB516 and I ask you to contact your State Senator and voice your views on this issue.
Regardless of how the legislature decides, my office will continue to be vigilant and enforce whatever vehicle codes remain in place for as long as they remain in place.
CD12 In-House Rapid Response Team
Our efforts with various City Departments are complemented by a rapid response service operating directly out of my Neighborhoods FIRST headquarters at the Council District 12 Community Service Center. The two member team is comprised of staff employed by my office and is tasked with proactively removing blight and hazards from our streets before they are allowed to linger and negatively impact our neighborhoods.
On any given day, you can spot our Rapid Response team patrolling the district in a yellow pick up truck and removing bulky items, downed vegetation blocking the street, and illegal dumping. They also comb our neighborhoods while identifying and reporting service needs that require specialized equipment or safety gear to address. Because of their efforts, we're able to provide much more efficient and precise customer service that then frees up resources for other city service providers to perform larger, more difficult tasks.
While nearly 90% of Rapid Response pickups have resulted from a dumped item being identified while on patrol, our team also responds to service requests made to our office. To report a Rapid Response service request, call the Community Service Center (818) 882-1212 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Innovative Programming & Partnerships to Address Homelessness
As we combine the work of our office and partnerships with non-city entities, my office has also piloted new programs that work to change the lives of those currently living on our streets. Being homeless often leads individuals to a cycle of hopelessness and despair. These programs are designed to help individuals change the narrative around their own lives and build from a foundation of confidence.
Clean Streets-Clean Starts
One of the first major Neighborhood FIRST programs to come out of CD12 is the Clean Streets Clean Starts program. This effort began through a neighborhood beautification grant that combined neighborhood clean-ups with job training and addiction counseling. The grant and partners included Northridge South Neighborhood Council, neighborhood non-profit Northridge Sparkle, and the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission.
The Clean Streets Clean Starts Program recruited participants through the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission's Mobile Shower unit. The initial pilot consisted of 14 individuals. The curriculum started out with basic activities like trash collection and sweeping and worked its way up to tree planting, landscaping, and coordination with City work crews doing Great Streets projects.
Over an eight week period, participants completed 16 community cleanups and 16 mentoring sessions where they worked to develop job skills and clear personal impediments to housing and full-time employment. In exchange for their efforts, they were paid with supermarket gift cards with which they could purchase necessities. The San Fernando Rescue Mission also worked tirelessly to obtain housing and employment for participants. Ten of the fourteen participants completed the program. Of those, ten individuals received job offers, nine received housing, and five achieved sobriety.
The program received numerous accolades including a "Game Changer" award and has since been developed into a citywide program where individuals experiencing homelessness help with neighborhood cleanups and also are recruited for Targeted Local Hire by Sanitation teams so that they not only keep neighborhoods clean but learn valuable employment skills in the process.
Homeless Connect Day
One of the first events my office sponsored as a newly appointed Councilmember was a very successful Homeless Connect Day event in January. Homeless Connect Days are pop-up style events organized by LA Family Housing. For one day dozens of disparate service providers can set up shop at a single location in order to help those experiencing homelessness.
Despite heavy rain and cold weather, over 100 individuals experiencing homelessness came to Freedom Church in Chatsworth to access services. Just by showing up, these folks are able to connect with LA Family Housing so we can begin the process of getting them into housing. From there, we are able to provide essential hygiene tools as well as connections to sobriety, employment, and health programs that bring both hope and real benefits to people's lives.
Many of the partners that my office has engaged were present at this event to offer their services and do outreach and intake with attendees. It was a heartening example of what can be achieved when our community comes together to tackle difficult issues.
In the last year, my office has been working to develop a tool that will help LAPD HOPE officers as they work to connect those experiencing homelessness with services that can set them on the process of recovery. Often times, addiction or lack of treatment for mental illness is the primary obstacle for individuals to get their life on track. Unfortunately, HOPE officers don't have the necessary tools to help these individuals when professional treatment is what is needed. What's more, locating and accessing services that can help is a very lengthy and complicated process.
That is why my office has partnered with Get Help. Get Help is a local tech company that is working to simplify the process of accessing various detox, mental health, and shelter services by creating a smartphone app that puts all the necessary information in one place. My office developed a pilot version that could be used by our HOPE officers in the field.
In the first months that the app has been in use by LAPD officers, there have been very promising results. In addition to officers helping individuals access detox services, officers have reported a change in the nature of their interactions with individuals experiencing homelessness. Instead of just viewing officers as antagonists, they have begun to see HOPE officers as folks who will help them out whether it involves access to a shelter, a shower, or a food bank.
Giving officers the tools to quickly locate services when an individual is willing to accept them is key. There are few instances more frustrating for both officers and those experiencing homelessness than when an individual is open to receiving treatment or assistance but the officer is unable to make the connection due to bureaucratic difficulty.
By beginning to change the relationship, this app is opening up even the most service resistant individuals to the possibility of turning their lives around and getting them off the street.
What You Can Do…
While my office will continue to work diligently and persistently to resolve the homelessness crisis, this is a team effort and there are many potential ways you can get involved. This is an ongoing campaign and anything you can do will not only benefit individuals and families but improve our community as a whole.
Help with Volunteering
San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission (non-profit)
8756 Canby Ave.
Contact: Cassie Leon - Volunteer Coordinator
Fish of West Valley Food Pantry (non-profit)
20440 Lassen St.
Contact: Ellen Murata
Currently accepting volunteers and donations
Saturday food drive: 10am to 12pm
Help with Reporting Encampments
City of Los Angeles - Council District 12
9207 Oakdale Ave
Contact: Colin Crews (Director of Neighborhoods FIRST)
Help with Donations
Los Angeles Family Housing (non-profit)
7843 Lankershim Blvd.
In-kind donation: LAFH.org/donate-items (excluding clothing, toys, or furniture)
Goodwill Industries is a local partner that offers employment to individuals that have completed the Clean Streets Clean Starts program. To find your local donation center and store, visit www.goodwillsocal.org.
CSUN Food Pantry
Visit the website
San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission (non-profit)
8756 Canby Ave.
People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) (non-profit)
340 N Madison Ave.
Accepting both donations and volunteers
Homelessness is one of the most complex and challenging issues our City has ever faced. Neighborhoods FIRST provides a blueprint for addressing this challenge in a comprehensive and sustained way. We are always open to new ideas and to partnerships with the community and with organizations within the City.