The view from: Los Angeles, California

written by naehblog
July 14, 2009

The Alliance is probably best known as a federal policy shop, but that’s not all we do here. Nope – we’re a multi-talented organization!

While I may be partial to my native Homelessness Research Institute, we also have a department called the Center for Capacity Building. That’s our field team – the great folks who go out into the field and work directly with communities and local officials to help turn great policy into effective programs and best practices.

Just last week, the Director of the Center for Capacity Building – our own Damien Heath – flew to sunny L.A. to provide technical support to some service providers in southern California. Hosted by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Damien gave a couple workshops on rapid re-housing.

The idea behind rapid re-housing is fairly simple, and it’s borne out of the Housing First model. Basically, we recommend that people experiencing homelessness be housed as quickly as possible – the principle being that providing housing first (get it? Housing First?), and then providing other services as needed, is the best way to reduce and end homelessness in the long run. (For a more comprehensive analysis on Housing First and rapid re-housing, you can always visit our website.

FYI: That’s not how we approach homelessness in America today. Our homeless systems today are focused on managing homelessness through shelters and soup kitchens – not endinghomelessness through strategic, systematic means like permanent housing and supportive services. It’s something that the Alliance has been attempting to change for a LONG time.

These are some of the concepts that Damien presented to service providers in Los Angeles, California this Wednesday and Friday of the week passed: the cultural shift that an organization would have to undergo to implement a rapid re-housing strategy, the program design elements of an effective rapid re-housing program, and the local challenges of implementing rapid re-housing in Los Angeles.

Oh, Los Angeles

No doubt, that last segment of the workshop was a daunting one. If there ever was a place to begin the politically-mired conversation about homelessness, Los Angeles would be it. A city with nearly four million people, as ethnically and culturally diverse as they come, Los Angeles is also home to not only the largest homeless population in the country, but also boasts (if you can use that term) the highest percentage (nearly 10 percent of the overall population).

It’s no wonder, then, that Damien encountered a respectable number of questions after his presentation. To develop and implement effective, meaningful homelessness programs in Los Angeles would take strategic, concerted efforts, political and local buy-in from the community, and a lotof elbow grease.

The questions covered the gamut of program development and implementation, from inquiries about the number of required personnel to how to do rapid re-housing in an environment with so few affordable housing options.

But more than anything, Damien said, the audience “got it, bought into it, and wanted to know how to do it.” He said that the providers at the workshop were excited to have a chance to do the work and he was inspired by their energy and commitment to ending homelessness.

With any luck, the opportunity to do this good work will continue with the help of HPRP stimulus funding, dedicated providers, and the generosity of organizations like United Way.

I know I do this a lot, but – like always – fingers-crossed.