Los Angeles County has had the dubious distinction of being referred to as the “homelessness capital” of the nation.
Los Angeles County has had the dubious distinction of being referred to as the “homelessness capital” of the nation, with about 50,000 persons homeless every night according to the most recent count, a seemingly intractable and fractured political environment on the issue, and highly visible and concentrated street homelessness on Skid Row and beach communities like Santa Monica and Venice. For many in and outside of Los Angeles, it has been seen as a “lost cause” that just couldn’t get its act together in aligning with efforts around the country to end homelessness.
In contrast to this general perception, an unprecedented cross-section of leaders recently signed on to an action plan to end chronic and veteran homelessness in Los Angeles by 2016. On December 1, three county supervisors, the Mayors of Los Angeles and Santa Monica, the Chief of LAPD and Sherriff of LA County, city council members, faith leaders, business leaders, heads of foundations and nonprofits, the heads of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and National Alliance to End Homelessness, and dozens of other community stakeholders showed their support for the Home for Good plan at an event at the California Science Center.
Home for Good Initiative
Home for Good was issued by the Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness, a joint effort of United Way of Greater Los Angeles and Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and released on November 9. Task Force members, staff and partners worked over the next several weeks to gain support from public, private and nonprofit sector leaders. United Way mobilized thousands of Los Angeles residents to write their elected officials to sign on to the plan. Less than one week later, concrete action was taken by the county Board of Supervisors to begin implementing the plan’s call to better target and coordinate county resources toward permanently housing the most needy and costly persons living on the streets and in shelters. The Business Leaders Task Force has pledged to remain actively involved over the life of the plan to ensure accountability on the part of stakeholders.
The leadership demonstrated and commitments made by business and political leaders is commendable and provides LA its best shot at ending homelessness. Part of the important back story to these developments is the quiet work and leadership of philanthropy in preparing the ground for today’s successes. Terms like “permanent supportive housing” (PSH) and “housing first” were not commonly used in Los Angeles prior to significant investments by foundations in the past several years to seed the development of a PSH system and capacity primarily in the public and nonprofit sectors.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Conrad N. Hilton Foundation persuaded their long-time national partner and key intermediary Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) to open a Los Angeles office in 2003. Since that time, CSH has played a critical role in developing a system and capacity of providers to develop thousands of units of permanent supportive housing in Los Angeles. The Weingart Foundation led an effort to improve health care for the homeless through the Skid Row Homeless Healthcare Initiative from 2003 to 2009, bringing together dozens of providers and funders to develop integrated care systems. United Way prioritized PSH for the chronically homeless and rapid re-housing for homeless families as part of a strategic plan unveiled in 2007 and has mobilized thousands of LA residents to participate in HomeWalk, an annual 5k walk that raises awareness and funds to end homelessness. Dozens of other corporate and philanthropic funders have supported these initiatives and helped build the capacity of housing and service providers to house the homeless.
The role of philanthropy continues to be critical in ensuring that we all make good on the commitments in the action plan. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation board recently approved $13 million in grants to support the recommendations outlined in Home for Good, and other funders are supporting innovation and other efforts related to the plan. Going forward, philanthropic investments will need to be targeted to build capacity of nonprofit providers and incentivize the public sector to redirect resources as outlined in the action plan.
The December 1st event was a critical moment in Los Angeles being able to tackle its homelessness problem. It is up to philanthropy and the other signatories of the plan to make sure that it becomes a reality.
Bill Pitkin oversees the planning, development, implementation, and evaluation of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s domestic priority areas. He also serves on the Funders Together Board.