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Homeless deaths in LA County doubled between 2013 and 2018

October 30, 2019
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World Homeless Day The average death age for homeless residents is 51, compared to 73 for the general population, a new report finds. | Photo by Michele Crameri/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Being homeless in LA “is becoming increasingly deadly,” says a new report

The number of homeless residents dying in Los Angeles County doubled from 2013 to 2018, according to a report released Tuesday by county public health officials.

The number of deaths soared from 536 to 1,047. The death rate, which accounts for increases in the homeless population, also increased in that time period—by more than one-third, the report found.

“Homeless people are in fact dying at a higher rate because they’re homeless,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, referring to a lack of access to health services in the homeless population.

The leading cause of the increasing mortality rate? Drug and alcohol overdoses. Other main causes cited in the report include: Heart disease, transportation-related injuries (primarily among pedestrians and cyclists), and homicides, among others.

The report was presented Tuesday to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which had directed the health department to look into the coroner’s data related to homeless deaths. The results are sobering.

“We’re seeing two or three people every day coming through our office,” Los Angeles County Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas told the board.

The report is the first “comprehensive analysis” of deaths among people experiencing homelessness in the county.

“A principal finding is that the overall homeless mortality rate has steadily increased over the past six years,” the report says. “Put simply, being homeless in LA County is becoming increasingly deadly.”

The health department’s analysis found that homeless people died on average 22 years earlier than the general population. The average death age for homeless people was 51, compared to 73 for the general population.

The research also looks at the mortality rate among homeless people by race. From 2016 to 2018, white homeless people had the highest rate of deaths. But those rates decreased over the last two years, while the death rate among black and Latino homeless populations surged.

“This may have something to do with who’s getting placed in housing,” says Ferrer. “Our recommendation is going to be to look at how people are getting placed in housing and make sure those opportunities are open to everyone.”

The report also recommends that supervisors establish a “homeless death review team” to better understand the contributing factors of homeless deaths—and to prevent them in the future.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said Tuesday that the study is a “call for everybody to get engaged.” She specifically called out the business sector because many homeless residents reside on sidewalks in front of businesses.

“It isn’t just the county’s responsibility,” Solis said. “It’s a human responsibility,”

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LA awards $24.3M for homeless housing at West LA VA campus

October 24, 2019
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A rendering of a park-like open green space with trees and people walking around. A rendering of the revamped campus. | Courtesy of West LA Veterans Collective Work is slated to get underway next year

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve up to $24.3 million in funding to repurpose a building on the Veterans Affairs campus in West Los Angeles for housing for veterans.

That represents about 70 percent of the cost for the project, called Building 207, which will create 59 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless and chronically homeless senior veterans. Work is expected to begin in the summer of 2020, and wrap up by the end of 2021.

Reusing this existing building has been framed as the first piece of a much bigger puzzle at the VA property.

Last year a partnership among Century Housing Corporation, U.S. Vets, and Thomas Safran and Associates was selected to redevelop the 400-acre campus along Wilshire Boulevard with housing for veterans.

The rest of the work is expected to roll out in phases. Right now, the developers are still doing community outreach for the next phases.

The Building 207 project has also received $8.2 million from Measure HHH funds, which go toward building permanent supportive housing for the homeless, and $5.75 million from the county, according to West LA Veterans Collective. It has also been designed to hold community space, a library, a gym, case management offices and landscaped outdoor areas.

The plan to retool the campus emerged after the Department of Veteran’s Affairs settled a lawsuit in 2015 brought by a group of disabled veterans who claimed it was misusing the campus. The veterans cited the long-time practice of leasing large segments of the property for commercial use instead of for housing or services for veterans.

A 2016 blueprint for the future of the campus featured housing, veteran-focused services, and open space.

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LA approves $358.1M for 2,998 affordable apartments

October 16, 2019
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The Thatcher Yard affordable housing development would rise on a former city maintenance yard. The City Council allocated $358.1 million for affordable housing developments, including $11.6 million for Thatcher Yard. | Via Venice Neighborhood Council The total number of Measure HHH-funded units in the pipeline now stands at 8,625

The last remaining Measure HHH money is tapped.

City leaders signed off today on funding commitments totaling up to $358.1 million for 2,998 units of affordable and homeless housing planned across Los Angeles, from the San Fernando Valley to South LA.

“Today’s City Council approval of funding for a new round of Proposition HHH projects is a big step in the right direction—because it means we have quality, lasting supportive housing in the pipeline for every council district. That was the promise we made to voters,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “I am more determined than ever to get them built as quickly as possible.”

So far, the housing has not built fast enough.

Voters in the city of Los Angeles passed Measure HHH—a $1.2 billion bond to subsidize the development of 10,000 units of affordable and permanent supportive housing—three years ago. Only 1,260 units are under construction. Zero units are open.

That’s according to an audit of HHH spending released last week by the city controller, who blamed a number of factors on the slow build-out, including high construction costs and “a lengthy approval process mired in red tape.”

Meanwhile, the homeless population in the city of Los Angeles has ballooned, spiking 16 percent since last year, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

The total number of HHH-funded units in the pipeline now stands at 8,625. Of those, 6,858 are supportive units, meaning they’ll come with on-site services, which can include treatment for substance abuse and mental health and life skills development and job training.

The funding commitments approved include $120 million for winners of the city’s “Housing Innovation Challenge,” a competition that challenged developers to come up with “unique” and “alternative” ways to build affordable housing more cheaply and quickly.

They also include the first Measure HHH project in the 12th council district, where developer Affirmed Housing Group, Inc. has plans for 64 apartments with on-site services for formerly homeless residents on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Chatsworth. That project is estimated to cost $28.6 million, with $8.3 million coming from Measure HHH.

The plans have drawn protests from some residents, citing concerns about impacts on property values and crime, the Los Angeles Daily News has reported. In a letter to the City Council, opponents said the project would be too big and too close to Chatsworth Park Elementary School.

But the project has supporters too.

Marsha Novak, of the San Fernando Valley-based Interfaith Solidarity Network, told the City Council that opposition to the project is “full of prejudice and myths.” It would be an “embarrassment,” she said, for the 12th district to be the only council district without an HHH project.

In a letter to the council, Chatsworth resident Pilar Schiavo said it’s time that the 12th district “step up to be part of the solution to the [homeless] crisis and also get the tax dollars we approved to create resources for our community.”

The largest projects in this third and final round of HHH funding are planned in the eighth and 11th districts, with 98 units each. In Hyde Park, a mixed-use supportive housing complex for homeless residents would be made out of modular shipping containers. In Venice, apartments for homeless residents would rise on a former city maintenance yard.

The council, however, decided to delay consideration for $15.3 million in HHH funding for two projects in the eighth district, because City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson has said he needs more time to solicit community input on those developments.

The developers of all of the Measure HHH-funded projects are piecing together financing from multiple sources, as the bond dollars are not enough to pay for entire projects.

When the City Council’s homelessness and poverty committee reviewed the full spending plan last month, city officials said it would drain the last remaining Measure HHH money.

On Tuesday, the committee’s chair told the council that he was optimistic that the city would find new funding sources to help developers erect affordable housing and house people “more quickly and more cheaply.”

“I think we’re going to see a lot of successful examples moving forward beyond HHH,” Committee Chair and Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell said.

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Bridge housing for families opens in old Hollywood mansion

October 15, 2019
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A decadent pink mansion fringed by palm trees sits atop a grassy hillside with a long staircase leading up to it. The pink mansion faces Hollywood Boulevard at the intersection of Camino Palermo. | Courtesy Aviva The building known as Wallis House will house up to 40 young women and their children

A new bridge housing facility that will provide wraparound services to 40 young women and their children opened today in a century-old pink mansion in Hollywood.

Known today as the Wallis House, the Italianate-style former residence facing Hollywood Boulevard will be managed by Aviva Family and Children’s Services, which has provided services and housing for foster youth in the neighborhood for over 100 years.

In its new role, Wallis House will serve women between the ages of 18 and 24, including mothers with young children, who are transitioning out of homelessness. Fifteen families moved in today, with a goal of serving up to 40 families at the 42-bed facility.

“Young single mothers face high barriers to making ends meet, and are at a far greater risk of harm when living on the street,” Councilmember David Ryu said in a statement. “We need housing and services that meet their specific needs.”

Aviva has housed foster girls at Wallis House for 63 years. Earlier this year, the property was redesigned using $2.36 million of Homeless Emergency Assistance Program (HEAP) funds to create facilities for families, including a gym and play area, as well as a boutique and salon where residents can take classes in cosmetology and sewing.

Unlike some of the other Bridge Home projects which are located in temporary structures, Wallis House is being called a “permanent” bridge housing facility, meaning that residents will live there for a maximum of two years before being moved into permanent housing.

According to Aviva, the Hollywood area is home to the greatest number of homeless residents aged 18 to 24 in the county, many of them former foster youth who have aged out of the system.

The facility is a few blocks north of the Gardner Street Women’s Bridge Housing Center, which opened last month in a midcentury building that was formerly used as a library.

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LA Mayor Hosts Trump Administration Officials For Tour Of Homeless ‘Humanitarian Crisis’

September 25, 2019
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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Saying it’s time to “put politics aside”, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti hosted a delegation of Trump Administration representatives Tuesday as part of an effort to address what he called a homeless “humanitarian crisis”.

As part of the meeting, the mayor accompanied the unidentified delegates on a tour of the city’s Unified Homelessness Response Center, a pair of homeless shelters and the Jordan Downs public housing complex, officials said.

Garcetti then released a public letter to President Trump in which the mayor appeared to strike a cooperative tone, describing homelessness as “a problem that predates your administration and mine.”

“We must put politics aside when it comes to responding to this heartbreaking humanitarian crisis,” Garcetti wrote. “I hope you will provide
the federal assistance that is needed to help cities stop homelessness in America and help our veterans and most vulnerable of citizens. This is our watch. This is our time. This must be done. I look forward to working with you and your administration on this issue.”

“Any day that our nation’s federal leaders are willing to listen to Americans living in our 19,000 local communities across this country about the
challenges that they face is a good day,” he added.

The delegation’s visit comes just months after a Fox News segment in which Trump blamed the homeless crisis on “liberal” Los Angeles and California political leaders were to blame for homelessness and that he may “intercede” to “get that whole thing cleaned up.”

This comes on the heels of a Washington Post report indicating President Trump has ordered a “sweeping crackdown” on homelessness statewide, including discussions on federal involvement “to get homeless people off the streets of Los Angeles and other areas and into new government-backed facilities”, officials told the Post.

Among the proposed plans is an effort to raze existing homeless camps in the city and move people into government-backed facilities, according to the Post.

“There are things the federal government could do,” says Jack Pitney, Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College,  “It could increase housing opportunities. It could increase the availability of group homes for people with mental disabilities. There’s lots of real things the federal government could do but it’s not entirely clear President Trump in interested in doing any of them.”

City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, chair of the city’s homeless and poverty committee, reacted to the report by calling the president’s agenda “concerning”.

“It sounds an awful lot like internment and this administration does not have a good track record,” O’Farrell said, alluding to what he called the government’s policy of putting “children in cages” in U.S. immigration detention centers.

Mario Guerra, Budget Chairman for the California Republican Party, welcomes Trump’s involvement: “If this is a political thing, who cares? We need solutions. We need to fix our problem. The California Legislature has let this problem go.”

In July, Garcetti told CBSLA he would “welcome [Trump’s] involvement” in the issue and “would be more than happy” to invite the president himself to walk the streets of L.A.

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Scathing new audit finds deep operational failures at L.A.’s top homeless outreach agency

September 25, 2019
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LA Times,Doug SmithAug. 28, 2019

The homeless outreach agency that was meant to move hundreds of people from the streets into housing, shelters or treatment for mental illness and substance abuse has failed dramatically to meet the goals of its contract with the city of Los Angeles, according to an audit released Wednesday by Controller Ron Galperin.

The audit found that, despite having more than doubled its staff of outreach workers in the last two years, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority missed seven of nine goals during the 2017-18 fiscal year and five of eight last fiscal year.

“The goals that were set by the city are not unreasonable,” Galperin told The Times. “Quite frankly, they are [setting a] pretty low bar to begin with. If you can’t meet the low bar, that’s a problem.”

Outreach workers were supposed to place into permanent housing 10% of the homeless people they assessed. But in the fiscal year that ended in June, they placed only 4%, the audit reported. The goal was 20% for placing people in shelters, but they achieved only 14%.

The discrepancies were greater for referrals to treatment: 6% for substance abuse and 4% for mental health. Both had goals of 25%.

At a news conference Wednesday, Galperin called those results “shocking.”

The authority’s “outreach is fundamentally limited because it is reactive instead of being proactive,” he said. “Much of the outreach has been consumed with responding to calls about homeless encampments throughout the city of Los Angeles.”

LAHSA, as the authority is commonly known, issued an equally biting response that was distributed in writing at the news conference.

Peter Lynn, the authority’s executive director, called the audit misleading, saying it studied only measures that are ill-suited to determining the effectiveness of homeless outreach and looked at only the fraction of LAHSA’s system that is covered by the city contract.

“It ultimately says nothing about LAHSA’s outreach efforts, which contacted record numbers of our homeless neighbors in the year it studied,” he said in the statement.

Heidi Marston, the authority’s chief program officer, gave a more measured reaction. Marston said federal privacy rules prevented LAHSA from accurately reporting mental health and substance abuse referrals. As a result, she said, the agency no longer uses those goals.

“The report did a good job of pointing out where some of the gaps were,” she said after the news conference, “and we agree that proactive outreach is the way to go as opposed to reactive outreach.”

The main problem with the system, she said, is that it is unbalanced — heavy on engagement with homeless people, but short on shelters and housing.

“We have 30,000 people who have said to us: ‘Yes, we want resources. Yes, we want shelter.’ But yet we don’t have anything to offer them,” Marston said.

While attributing some of the shortfalls to the underlying shortage of affordable housing and treatment resources in the city, the audit criticized the city for setting fuzzy goals that weren’t linked to the scale of the homelessness crisis and knocked the authority for not being able to meet them.

In its 2019 count, LAHSA reported that there were close to 60,000 homeless people living in the county, with more than 36,000 of them in the city. All but about 25% live on the streets.

Galperin said the audit, which began last year, took months to complete “partly because getting accurate and consistent numbers from LAHSA has been a challenge.”

The authority, according to the audit, “lacks a rigorous performance review process for its outreach activities. Moreover, data-driven decisions about the deployment of resources are not made because the information is neither timely nor accurate.”

LAHSA provided the controller’s office with four different versions of its outreach numbers, each one significantly different, Galperin said. A chart in the audit showed the percentage of homeless people placed into shelters dropping from 64% in the first version to 19% in the last.

The authority attributed those changes to the loss of some records during a transition to a new data system.

The audit also faulted a report by the authority that it placed 21,000 people into permanent housing last year. Not only did the number include placements made by other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it included duplicates by counting individuals or families that fell in and out of homelessness during the year, the audit said.

The report also faulted LAHSA’s participation in cleanups of homeless encampments by the city’s Bureau of Sanitation for contributing to its failings with outreach. The authority estimated that cleanups accounted for 67% of its outreach time in the city.

“In many cases, they are required to talk with people that are already working with homeless service providers,” the report said. The city should “rethink its outreach policies and more sufficiently find a balance between a proactive outreach strategy and an effective response to ‘hot-spot’ encampments.”

The audit sharply criticized the goals set by the city in its contract with LAHSA.

The goal that 25% of homeless people with a substance abuse disorder would be connected to appropriate treatment “supplies no indication about what the 25% target represents,” it said. “Even if LAHSA had met its 25% target, only 167 … would have received substance abuse treatment,” it said.

In a written response, Lynn said those numbers reflected a flaw in the audit. “Metrics around mental health and substance use are not appropriate … when evaluating outreach,” the statement said.

Marston added that outreach is “about how well we interact with them. It’s about the quality of the interaction.”

Galperin said the city and authority should recast goals that are understandable and specify the number of people expected to receive assistance, rather than using a percentage. LAHSA also should adopt a data-driven outreach system modeled after the CompSTAT policing model used by police departments across the country, including the LAPD.

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Los Angeles city attorney asks Supreme Court to rule on where homeless can sleep

September 25, 2019
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Businesses Are Finally Stepping Up To Help The Homeless Crisis

September 7, 2019
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, Huff Post POLITICS
Seattle initiative links homeless customers with charitable businesses.
SEATTLE ― Rita was homeless when she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2016. Fortunately, Medicaid covered her prescription costs. Not so fortunately, her medication acted as a diuretic — she had to urinate frequently.
If she had a permanent place to stay, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But in Seattle, where she had become homeless after struggling with addiction for years, many of the shelters closed every morning and didn’t reopen until 9 p.m. That meant Rita had to spend most of her day looking for bathrooms.
Businesses, she learned, were out of the question. Rita remembers telling a restaurant hostess about her condition and begging to use the bathroom. The hostess refused.
“There were times when I had to relieve myself in parks and alleys,” Rita said. “There’s no tissue and there’s no privacy. It’s so degrading.”
Rita eventually got into recovery and found a subsidized apartment. Through her case manager, she found a plus-size consignment store that donated clothes to women who were experiencing homelessness or had just escaped it. She took the bus to the shop and picked out a dress, a blazer and a purse — nice clothes, “the kinds of things you’d find at Nordstrom or Macy’s,” she said.
She went back to the same restaurant in her new outfit. The hostess let her use the bathroom with no hesitation.
“That felt good but it also felt bad,” said Rita, who asked HuffPost not to use her full name because it might affect her ability to find work. “Businesses treat you so terribly and it has nothing to do with you as a person. It’s just how you look.”
America’s homelessness crisis is transforming every institution of urban life. Libraries have started offering showers, social workers and even nurses to their homeless patrons. Transit agencies are converting subway stations into makeshift shelters. Police face increasing pressure to incorporate counseling, harm reduction and other public health approaches in their work.
And yet, businesses have mostly escaped scrutiny for the ways they treat people experiencing homelessness. Last October, two Dunkin’ Donuts employees were fired after pouring water on a man sleeping outside their store in Syracuse, New York. Other retailers use spikes, music and even robots to chase away homeless people. Despite having hundreds of locations in cities with high homelessness rates, Starbucks only passed a policy allowing noncustomers to use the restroom in 2018, after a racist incident in Philadelphia highlighted the chain’s lack of a clear policy.
But alongside these failures are signs that a more humane approach could be catching on. As homelessness continues to increase in America’s fastest-growing cities, companies in at least one are banding together to help.

Businesses Have A Bad Track Record On Homelessness

In most places, the private sector’s primary response to homelessness has been trying to convince cities to take a more punitive approach to solving it. In California, retailers have started using “business improvement districts” to pass anti-panhandling laws that have been shown to exacerbate homelessness and have already been struck down by courts. Municipal chambers of commerce have funded ballot initiatives supporting police sweeps and opposing new revenues for shelters and housing. In Seattle, local businesses funded a study that exaggerated the importance of the homeless population in the city’s crime rate.
Alongside the cruel companies are the clueless ones. Over the last few years, Silicon Valley startups have built apps that make it easier for city residents to report tent encampments to police. In 2012, the South by Southwest arts festival in Austin, Texas, used homeless people as Wi-Fi hot spots.
“The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city,” wrote two-time startup founder Justin Keller in 2016 in an open letter to the mayor of San Francisco. “I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.”
These attitudes are what makes living on the streets an endless experience of exclusion.
“You want to know what it’s like to be homeless? Just walk around all day,” said Tyrone, a government employee in Washington state who asked HuffPost not to use his last name out of fear that it could jeopardize his employment.
Tyrone spent three years living on the streets in Georgia. He once had to walk 10 miles to a hospital to get water on a 90-degree day after more than a dozen businesses refused to let him through their doors.
“The police will harass you if you’re outside,” he said, “and businesses will harass you if you try to come inside.”
Most cities with homeless crises have more people experiencing homelessness than shelter beds.
Most cities with homeless crises have more people experiencing homelessness than shelter beds.

A New Model Helps Homeless Customers Find Welcoming Businesses

But not every business is so hostile. Lisa Michaud, the owner of Two Big Blondes, the clothing store where Rita picked up her designer outfit, has been working with service providers and inviting homeless women to visit her store for years.
“We know it’s not the same thing as solving homelessness,” Michaud said, “but it’s important to us to get to know our homeless neighbors and offer them whatever we can.”
Michaud’s store is a neighborhood institution in Seattle’s rapidly gentrifying Central District. As the homeless population has increased around her in the last five years, Michaud has deepened her relationships with local service providers. Rita still comes to the store every three months to try on new outfits and take some of them home.
“My new addiction is clothes,” she said. The employees at the store help her pick accessories. Sometimes they have brand-new bras and underwear to offer. “They loved me when I didn’t love myself,” Rita said.
Two Big Blondes is part of a Seattle-based initiative called The Pledge in which companies offer services such as bathroom use, free water or phone charging to homeless customers. Pledge organizers then add the company’s location to a map that they distribute to people living on the streets, and the businesses can add a sticker to their door.
“We’re trying to kill the stereotype that there’s places where homeless people shouldn’t be,” said Devin Silvernail, founder and director of The Pledge.
Silvernail’s inspiration was personal. He grew up in Seattle and moved to San Francisco for college. When he returned in 2015, Silvernail couldn’t find an affordable apartment and spent months sleeping on friends’ couches.
“I was spending a lot of time in cafes,” he said, “and I was aware that I could do that because I look and dress a certain way. It was easy for me, and I wanted to make it easy for everybody.”
Silvernail start going door to door asking businesses if they would consider offering services to homeless customers. He began by requesting that they open their restrooms, but most retailers refused. They didn’t want to become a hub for homeless residents and turn other customers away.
So Silvernail scaled back. He began asking cafes to offer free water and bike shops to let their homeless neighbors to use their air pumps. Since many of them were doing that anyway, they agreed. Soon afterward, Silvernail found, most of them started allowing homeless people to use their restrooms too.
“If you start small, companies will realize that homeless customers aren’t so different from everyone else,” Silvernail said.

Growing Needs And Growing Challenges

So far, 43 companies have signed up with The Pledge. The most common offerings are free water, device charging and restrooms, but others have gone a step further. A barbershop gives out free haircuts. A spa lets homeless people take a rest. A thrift store funded by an AIDS charity invites homeless customers to take advantage of its free HIV tests.
Cafes have started to step up too. Some offer free warm drinks during the winter. Others have created “pay it forward” funds that their customers pay into and homeless people can draw from if they need a drink or a snack. Many more have installed needle disposal containers in their restrooms.
While the model is growing in Seattle and Silvernail is helping other cities establish similar initiatives, he acknowledges that it’s an uphill climb. Lots of cafes don’t want to be included on publicly available maps or advertise that they hand out pastries at the end of the day.
There’s also the challenge of chain stores. While a significant percentage of baristas and store managers respond positively to Silvernail’s pitch, managers and owners less connected to daily operations are often skittish about publicly welcoming homeless customers.
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America’s Homeless Crisis Is Inspiring New Acts Of Cruelty

August 2, 2019
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Blasting loud music and pouring buckets of water are part of a broader trend to make it impossible for the homeless to exist. Continue Reading

Thousands Of Americans Live In Vehicles. Without Parking, They Have Nowhere To Go.

July 23, 2019
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These homeless people are blocked from social services when there are few parking spaces to leave their cars without risking tickets. Continue Reading