Archive | PATH_ Poverty Insights

Latest items syndicated in from PATH_ Poverty Insights ( related to homelessness.

My Turn: What The Next Governor Should Do About The Housing Crisis

September 25, 2018
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Sixteen years ago, I was on a state Homeless Summit panel hosted by California’s then-Gov. Gray Davis in Sacramento. I and other advocates were optimistic that the state’s homelessness crisis could be resolved because of a $2.1 billion bond, Proposition 46, would provide new housing for people struggling with homelessness. Voters approved the bond overwhelmingly. Fast forward to today. California has the highest homeless count in the nation, 134,000 people, an increase of 14 percent from 2016 to 2017. There are homeless encampments across California and there seems to be little hope of solving the crisis quickly… To continue reading the entire article on Calmatters, click here. Continue Reading

An Ambidextrous Approach to Ending Homelessness

June 13, 2018
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While some of us can tune political divisiveness out by turning off our televisions and radios there are others who are the real victims of this discord; the homeless. The left/right divide halts action and in this instance, has the unfortunate outcome of people continuing to sleep on our streets. Just this past week Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson unveiled the Making Affordable Housing Work Act of 2018, a bill that will bring significant left/right debate. If passed, it will force more people on our streets. But even if it doesn’t pass, resources to house people who are homeless will maintain as status quo, when more resources are desperately needed. Need other examples? The divide over the long-term continuation of the Affordable Care Act, and the current talk to reduce Medicaid, are textbook examples of how our country’s struggles over political policies can lead to an increase in homelessness. When a person becomes gravely sick, and has no health insurance, their chance of losing everything — job, savings, and home — increases significantly. So also, the debate over reducing rental assistance — a possible $8.8 billion reduction — would dramatically affect people struggling with poverty and therefore increase homelessness. And the above arguments don’t even touch upon the disagreement surrounding how we solve our country’s homeless crisis. The left see homelessness as a failure of our society and their policy suggestions are guided by compassion – warm beds, hot meals, and rental assistance. Society should provide housing and services for everyone who needs it. here are others who are the real victims of this discord; the homeless Across the aisle, the right see homelessness as a failure of individuals. People struggling with homelessness should get a job, stop doing drugs or live with their families. The right believe free handouts — whether a meal, a bed or a housing voucher — do not help to alleviate America’s extreme poverty, rather society should let people work their way back into housing. Both perspectives continue to push the country to providing insufficient solutions to the more than half million people in America who are homeless. It is a classic example of gridlock where the left hand doesn’t know, or doesn’t agree with what the right hand is doing. And meanwhile, the number of homeless in our country continues to grow. Despite these partisan struggles over political policies, there is a more common sense, middle-ground approach toward dealing with our country’s homeless population. Call it the ambidextrous solution to ending homelessness. Twelve years ago, author Malcolm Gladwell penned a New Yorker magazine article about “Million Dollar Murray,” a man who was homeless in Reno, Nevada for ten years. He used enough community resources — paramedic runs, ambulance rides, and hospital stays — that the cost shot up to a million dollars. It is not partisan to conclude that it would be more cost effective to pay for Murray’s apartment — whether he worked for it or not — than to allow him to live on the streets. And studies are in the works that prove just that. Today cost effectiveness studies are a popular and effective tool being utilized to convince leaders across the political spectrum to invest in ending homelessness. In Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, it was discovered that in a span of five years the County spent more than $3 billion serving their homeless population. The findings sparked a new type of “investment” called “Social Impact Bonds.” Through this creative approach private sector investors funded the bonds with the goal of increasing services and housing outcomes (appeasing the left) while reducing public-sector costs and giving a return to investors (appeasing the right), a process that is now being reciprocated in jurisdictions across the country — Denver, Colorado; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; the state of Massachusetts. But, these studies are not the only new solution to ending homelessness. A couple of decades ago, when I first started leading PATH, a homeless agency serving many cities and counties across California, transitional housing was the answer to homelessness. We would give a person a bed for a handful of months and help them find a job. In return, they would do chores, write a resume and deal with the issues that were at the root cause of their homelessness. However, this decades-old approach failed as there were not enough permanent homes for these people to go, and too many of the people on our streets struggled with significant physical and mental disabilities or were so overwhelmed with a drug problem that they could not follow program rules. Today, these same individuals are the most visible segment of our homeless population. We describe them as chronically homeless because they have been homeless for many years, and are still struggling with long-term disabilities. They’re our “Million Dollar Murrays,” and the only cost-effective, and humane solution is to provide a permanent apartment and physical or mental health care. This solution is called Housing First, and has become a left-right game-changer in terms of resolving homelessness. But Housing First only works if we can provide enough permanent apartments for people struggling with homelessness, as well as provide the clinical care to help them overcome their disabilities and issues. In this current political environment, the resources to help people get housed and keep them housed are being threatened by leaders who are tempted to go back to the old entrenched beliefs that homelessness is the fault of the individual. We must not let this happen. If we are truly committed to solving homelessness, we must continue our ambidextrous approach to solving our country’s homelessness crisis, with more not less strategic resources. Continue Reading

Top Ten Homelessness Trends and Issues in 2017

January 2, 2018
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Historians will probably describe what happened in our country this year as unprecedented, historic, extraordinary, perhaps even bizarre.
How will historians document 2017’s trends and issues regarding our country’s homelessness issue? Here is my top ten list:
TEN: A United Nations report documents extreme poverty in the USA. We typically think of “third world” countries when we examine abject poverty in the world. A recent U.N. report, however, looked at homelessness and poverty in America, dispelling the myth that poverty only occurs in under-developed nations. Of course, anyone who took a stroll through downtown Los Angeles’s “skid row” neighborhood would think they were in some impoverished nation, other than the USA. To continue reading the entire article on The Huffington Post, click here.
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We don’t need more awareness on homeless. We need solutions.

November 16, 2017
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This week is National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, but do Californians really need to be reminded? Tattered tents along sidewalks, beat-up recreational vehicles parked on streets and panhandlers are common. Last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development documented that California is home to 22 percent of all the homeless in the country. Those of us working on the front lines want to get the homeless into rental apartments, but many cities are experiencing surges in rents. Sacramento leads the nation at 9.5 percent. As landlords continue to raise the rent, renters with fixed incomes or with low-end jobs are unable to pay – and homelessness increases… To continue reading the entire article on The Sacramento Bee, click here. Continue Reading

We’re working on the homeless problem, but don’t expect instant results

June 2, 2017
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IMG_5022bNo one in Los Angeles was surprised to hear on Wednesday that the homeless population had ballooned yet again. Everywhere one looks one sees people sleeping on sidewalks, in tents and recreational vehicles. The homeless are now a part of our urban and suburban landscape. But there’s no reason to despair, as long as we moderate our expectations. Since 2013, the number of homeless in Los Angeles County has increased from more than 35,000, to 44,000, then to 47,000, and now to nearly 58,000, according to the latest count. What’s especially vexing is that this jump comes after years of regional initiatives to end homelessness. Twenty years ago, I joined a Westside homeless agency called People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH, that in the 1990s provided transitional housing and employment training as solutions to the region’s homelessness problem. Back then, my co-workers and I thought we could solve homelessness within five years. Obviously we were wrong. In 2004, the city of Los Angeles created a Blue Ribbon Panel to end homelessness within the next decade called Bring LA Home. (I was a member). The panel consisted of more than 60 political, corporate, nonprofit and faith leaders. Mayor Eric Garcetti was on the panel as a city councilman. This group of smart, strategic and influential people concluded that for Los Angeles to end homelessness, it would have to invest $1.5 billion per year for 10 years, a price tag that doomed the initiative. Predictably, homelessness continued to rise. After local businesses, neighborhood groups and compassionate people inundated their elected officials with complaints about homelessness, city and county leaders courageously promoted and got passed Proposition HHH (an L.A. City initiative that provides $1.2 billion to build 10,000 units of housing for people who are homeless) and Measure H (an L.A. County resource that will provide $3.55 billion of homeless services in the next 10 years). I support these initiatives, but we shouldn’t repeat the mistake we’ve made in the past of thinking that we can end homelessness right away. Homelessness in Los Angeles is caused by the confluence of the skyrocketing price of housing and wage stagnation, which means workers don’t earn enough to afford housing. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,930 per month, and according to, a person would need to earn $57,000 per year to afford it. What this math means is that to reduce the number of homeless, we need to build more housing that is affordable for average wage earners and that provides support services for people who have been chronically homeless. This is the justification for HHH and H, but it will take years, not months, to build 10,000 housing units. What we’re creating is a housing infrastructure that will only reduce homelessness, rather like public transit infrastructure reduces but does not resolve the problem of congestion on our roads. We have to keep things in perspective. Just as we see new rail connections as signs that we are addressing our traffic issue (even as we continue to get stuck on the freeway) we should see new permanent supportive housing apartment buildings as signs that our region is seriously addressing its homelessness issue (even as we continue to see tents on overpasses). For a while, at least, that may be all the evidence we have. Even though this year’s homeless numbers increased, we should remain hopeful. Continue Reading

We Need a New Business Model for Nonprofit Charities

May 10, 2016
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Hollywood 001In my tenure as the leader of a community based organization in Southern California, I have seen dozens of small agencies go out of business. Some of these charities performed amazing services for the most needy people in our society. They provided shelter for people living on the streets, counselling for women fleeing abuse, food for the hungry, and support for people lost. They were supposed to be easy causes to raise money for. One by one, however, these heart-felt, mission-driven nonprofit organizations shut their doors for good. No more food, no more beds, no more counselling. Why couldn’t they stay in business? Because the business model for operating nonprofit charities is broken. It used to be that generous people would write checks to their favorite charity. They didn’t have to examine the organization’s 990 tax return, or go onto a charity-tracking website to find out how much money was spent on overhead. They gave because they believed in the mission of the nonprofit group. Then, some charities took advantage of donors’ trust. They spent donated money unwisely, or embezzled money for personal use. Rightfully so, donors responded by being more savvy. They decided that charities should only be able to spend on a small amount of overhead. And if that amount got too high (say 15% or 20%), donations dried up. Today, the success of charities is typically ranked based on how much the group spends on overhead, not on the quality of services or programs. But is evaluating a group’s overhead rate really a good assessment tool? In my experience, if charities continue to be judged by overhead costs, more will go out of business. Just imagine being on the Board of Directors of a $1 million per year nonprofit organization. If today’s overhead-perspective guided your charity, then the amount of money that can be spent on overhead would be $100,000 to $150,000 per year (10%-15%). This overhead budget would have to include the salary of the Executive Director, Finance Director, maybe a Fundraising Development Director, support staff, and the typical administrative costs to keep a building open—rent, electricity, telephone, travel, paper, pencils, and any fundraising costs, like mailings or events. Such a budget does not add up to $150,000. Unless, as a Board member, you hire Directors who are really low-paid program managers with no expertise in actually running and selling a charity. And, this is why many nonprofits go out of business. You get what you pay for. Low overhead means low compensation to the staff leaders. Low compensation means low quality leaders who know how to help a person but not run a financially stable organization. So what type of business model will sustain a charity system that depends on public and private funding? Here are two main ways to keep nonprofits in business: Understand and Fund All The Costs of Charities, Not Just Programs. In today’s overhead-perspective, funders like to give their money specifically to programs. They feel better that their money is going directly to “help people”. But if government, foundations, and private donors do not pay for all of the real costs of running a nonprofit group, then that organization will close, and no longer able to provide services. Someone, or some funding entity, needs to pay for overhead costs. And not only these costs, but also future operational costs. Like, a “rainy day” fund when private donations are below expectations. Or, a deferred maintenance fund, for replacing the roof, the carpet, out-of-date phone or computer system. For the past decade, one of the many programs at the agency I lead, was a large homeless shelter in Los Angeles. It cost us more than $1 million per year to operate. Only half of that money was paid for by government entities that convinced us in the first place to open up a much needed program for people who were homeless in their neighborhood. Ten years later, with a total of $5 million investment of our own private funds in this program, as well as the need for $500,000 of deferred maintenance (new kitchen, new bathrooms, new flooring, new plumbing – basically a new overhaul of the facility), we plan to shut down this program. Funders were willing to pay for the program, but not all of the costs to operate that program. In the long run, only funding programs, but not their operating costs, will result in programs shutting down. Assess Charities By The Quality of Their Programs and their Results If you are going to analyze a charity, examine how they run programs, not on how little they spend on overhead costs. With many of the government contracts we operate, we spend more time with audits on how we spend the money than on whether we have truly helped change the lives of the people we serve. In fact, if our financial spreadsheets are off by even one penny (no exaggeration here), we are not paid until we can justify that one cent. Despite the fact that we had already paid upfront costs to operate the program. To keep charities alive and operational, funders should decide  what results they want to see based on the dollars paid to that charity. So when they are auditing the organization, they are making sure the services are high quality and the outcomes achieved reflect the contract. Then, let the agency decide how best to use its contract revenue to fund programs, overhead and other operating costs. Restricted line item budgeting results in more work for both funders and nonprofits, and does not allow the flexibility needed to change course if necessary. It also often results in some of the money being unspent or returned to the funder because it couldn’t be shifted from one area, say supplies, to other more needed expenses, like transportation. Judge programs on the results of the work – not on how much is spent in one area over another. Here in Los Angeles, both the city and the county are planning to invest millions of dollars into addressing the homelessness crisis. Much of that funding will be distributed via contracts to nonprofit organizations that serve and house people who are homeless. But if these funding entities continue to use an old contractual paradigm that won’t allow organizations to fund all of their costs, they will only be increasing  the risk of more low-overhead organizations closing their doors to those they serve. And that makes the fight to end homelessness that much harder.
By | May 10, 2016, published in Poverty Insights
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Homelessness Today: That Was Then, This Is Now

February 2, 2016
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I remember a couple of decades ago helping people who were homeless was much easier. Not easy, but easier. I remember that most of the people who walked into our transitional housing program in West Los Angeles looked like you or me. They entered our front doors because they lost a job. Or they couldn’t pay rent. Some would drive up in late-model cars. Others dressed like they were interviewing for a new job. They were articulate, educated, experienced. The agency that I ran could boast, “Give us 90 days, and we will have them employed and back into an apartment!” Our success rate was amazingly high. This is because the people who were homeless back then were highly functional, very healthy. They just needed a “hand up” with life. Back then, we would talk about “empowerment”. Enter our programs, and we will empower people back into the mainstream of life. Our programs were “transitional”, because we knew we could transition people quickly. We were teaching people “how to fish” rather than simply handing them a “fish”. I remember also our supporters, our funders, and our community leaders possessed different attitudes. Back then, we (the homeless agency) were the “heroes” doing “God’s work”. Not a week would go by without some community member telling us how wonderful we were to “help the homeless”. People supported us because it was the moral and compassionate response to a tragic human crisis. Two decades later, however, things are dramatically different. When I travel with our outreach workers on the streets of Los Angeles, I do not see people like you and me. I see people on the streets who are chronically sick. They are very dirty, having lived on the streets for years and years. They are old, or at least they look very old. I see people who are talking to phantom voices, or who are strung out on some toxic substance. I see fear in their eyes, or at least a reflection of their empty souls. They look less like people, and more like zombies. They certainly do not look like me. No wonder why it is so hard to end homelessness in our country today. Twenty years ago, a person who was homeless looked like a middle-class person who fell down on their luck. Today, they look like they are in hospice care on the streets. Supporters and community members look at homelessness much differently than before. Helping the homeless is less about compassion, and more about making the neighborhood better. My pitch to potential supporters is no longer about instilling a moral purpose to giving; instead it is about describing an economic reason for addressing homelessness. “It saves our community money, if we house people! No more costs for the emergency room, first responders, and emergency services.” “It is cheaper to house people, than leave them on the streets.” As if the business solution to homelessness is more persuasive than the moral approach. Supporters of ours want to know what their “return on investment” is, if they grant us their money. Numerical outcomes are king. Dollars trump compassion. And some people just want these “homeless people out of my neighborhood!” It is definitely not about compassion. After 20 years, the work of ending homelessness is much more difficult. The people we help are much more chronically homeless than before. Our supporters are more jaded. Our community is less compassionate for people who have been on their streets for decades. But the hope in all of this is found in the fact that homeless programs like the one I lead, financial supporters, and even the community, have changed the way we approach homelessness. Rather than providing quick Band-Aids for people on the streets—like a shelter bed and food—we are seeing that providing permanent housing with significant support services truly ends a person’s homelessness. So rather than lamenting over how difficult it is to address homelessness today, we see hopeful solutions. I think I’d rather take the difficult path to ending homelessness. Continue Reading

American Cities Rank High on Worldwide Homelessness Scale

October 20, 2015
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When I think of poverty in a global sense, I imagine slums like the shantytowns of Nairobi or the favelas of Sao Paulo. I see rickety shacks precariously hugging dirt hills and sad-looking children drinking dirty water.

Never would I imagine that America’s two largest cities rank among the top five cities worldwide with the largest homeless populations. Los Angeles is ranked third, just behind second-ranked New York City.

Manila, the capital of the Philippines, holds the top spot with the largest homeless population in the world. The important distinction between cities like Manila and those in first-world countries is that poorer nations don’t have the resources to house their homeless citizens.

Wealthier countries, like America, do.

What does it say when the United States—which has enough funds to build a house for every single person in the country, never mind every person who is homeless in New York City and Los Angeles—allows its citizens to languish on the streets?

If I were living in Manila’s P. Casal District, one of the city’s poorest districts, I would probably not be nearly as resentful as I would be if I were a homeless person living in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, California, overlooking million dollar mansions.

Imagine sleeping under the bushes next to a home that could comfortably hold several dozen people. Imagine being homeless in a country that spends more money invading other countries than on making sure its citizens have somewhere to live.

When those of us working on the front lines of homelessness look to provide hope for the people we serve, we typically assume their hopelessness is rooted in living on the streets. But I think part of that hopelessness, at least in America, is caused by the knowledge that our country could end their homelessness at any time. If I were homeless today in Los Angeles, I would feel rejected and isolated from a society that has turned its back on me.

How could you not feel cast off when society puts the blame for homelessness on the victims? You’re just lazy. You’re an addict. You’re crazy. Get a job! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!

Where is the compassion? We only seem to be able to convince this country to invest in addressing homelessness by appealing to its business sense. By saying, “it costs more to leave a person on the street than to house him.” Then those that blame people for being homeless are forced to address homelessness because it is better for the economy.

Who cares about the actual people living on the streets? Money is the most important.

Maybe that attitude is the reason the richest country in the world has two of its largest, most renowned cities on the list of cities with the highest homeless populations.

Not a proud distinction.

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It Could Happen to Them

July 27, 2015
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Photo by Alex Proimos

Years ago, when I first became the leader of a small homeless agency on the Westside of Los Angeles, I used to start my presentations to the community by saying, “It could happen to you.”

“It” was homelessness. And “you” was the average middle-class American who was just one paycheck away from becoming homeless.

Back then, most people entering homeless shelters were similar to you and me. Then they lost their jobs, struggled with substance abuse, or fled from domestic violence. They burned bridges with family and friends. Finally, there was nowhere left to go but a homeless shelter.

Back then, we were able to help them resolve their issues, find jobs, and get back into an apartment fairly quickly.

Today, homelessness is very different. Many of the people living on the streets are struggling with serious mental health issues and/or substance abuse. Helping them move back into permanent homes involves much more than just providing job training and a few words of encouragement.

A decade ago, the case managers at PATH were more like peer counselors. And, at the time, that was sufficient to help the people we served.

Today, we have more than 100 case managers with postgraduate degrees and/or experience in high-needs populations, mental health, and substance abuse counseling. This high level of support helps us meet the needs of the people we serve, many of whom are dealing with multiple barriers.

Although the needs of the people we serve have become more intensive, one thing hasn’t necessarily changed. Ironically, they often still come from middle-class America.

I often receive emails or phone calls from people that knew me years ago. But they are not contacting me just to reconnect.

They are calling because someone close—a brother, a daughter, a parishioner, a partner—is struggling with mental health issues or abusing some substance. The family has done everything in their power to love them, get them help, and support them. But now this family member or friend is about to become homeless or, sometimes, is already living on the streets.

Some of these callers I knew decades ago, and some of their families are very well off. After talking on the phone or responding to an email like this, I’m always a little shocked. Even I, who have seen so many people struggle with homelessness, am surprised that Jill, or Bill, or Jesse is homeless.

It reminds me of my presentations to the community decades ago. But today, I would start by saying, “It could happen to them – your family and friends.”

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Anti-Poverty Agencies Should Not Pay Poverty Wages

July 16, 2015
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Photo by The All Night-Images

A movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour is sweeping the country. Cities, such as Seattle and San Francisco, have voted in favor of the increase. Los Angeles has now followed suit.

During the decision-making process, local jurisdictions have struggled to balance the need to raise their lowest paid workforce’s economic status with the desire to protect small businesses (who depend on that very worker being paid minimum wage).

Raising wages certainly makes sense, especially when the cost of living is skyrocketing. Take Los Angeles, for example. A worker needs to earn $33 per hour to rent an average apartment in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles plans to raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. If that wage level were implemented in 2015, the average household would need more than two employed persons in order to afford a typical apartment.

I wonder what apartment rates will be in 2020? Will a Los Angeles household need three or four wage earners to afford an apartment?

Of course, many business leaders think the economic market should dictate wages, not the government. Unfortunately, during this recent economic recovery in America, the income of the wealthy has increased far more than those on the lower end of the economic spectrum. When the top 20% of American households own 84% of this country’s wealth, there is certainly a problem.

In other words, a “free” market favors the wealthy.

With strong ties to the labor movement, Los Angeles’ recent move to adopt increased wages is not a surprise. An amendment to this city’s wage ordinance, however, brought a different twist. Several nonprofit agencies, which help the city’s unemployed and impoverished population access low-end wage employment opportunities, pushed back. They contended that a minimum wage increase would reduce the number of people they could assist.

The amendment provided these agencies with an exemption. It was a win that could help a greater number of people access work. It was also at the expense of ensuring that people have enough earning power to access housing.

Most nonprofit organizations operate like small businesses and will struggle with the mandate to raise employee wages. But agencies with a mission to address poverty and homelessness should not compromise their mission by keeping their staff wages low.

It is ludicrous to think that agencies battling poverty would reinforce a “working poor” status within their own employee ranks.

Even larger nonprofit agencies will struggle to meet this new wage standard. In the agency I lead, we calculated that we would need to raise an additional $140,000 per year, if we were to raise the wage this year.

But if we are to stay true to our mission of ending poverty and homelessness for individuals and families, we simply cannot endorse a working poor salary. So, we have decided to raise our lowest salaried workers to $15 per hour within two years—this year starting at $13.25 per hour (Los Angeles is mandating a five-year timeframe).

This commitment, to paying people a wage that will keep them housed, places greater pressure on our agency to raise more funds. But we have to do this.

Because antipoverty agencies should not pay poverty wages.

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