Like so many of the parks in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley, Alexandria Park is little more than a sliver of grassy land along a concrete-lipped wash dotted with picnic tables, the landscaped embankment of a freeway onramp. Today, though, local officials are pointing to it with pride, as 103 tiny homes to be used as transitional housing for local homeless residents have opened in the park. At a press conference last Thursday, where Alexandria was called the “biggest tiny-home village in the state,” city leaders milled about this mini-neighborhood, which has been laid out with the precision of a suburban subdivision, with a dozen or so homes painted in neon yellow, hot pink, and red diagonal stripes to create a disarmingly charming effect. It is the second such site in L.A.; another tiny-house village opened in February two miles to the southeast, and a third is under construction near Echo Park Lake with several more to come. But unlike the other tiny-home villages, which are located in parking lots, the Alexandria village has retained its parklike attributes, including large mature shade trees, which this morning’s speakers mentioned several times. L.A. city councilmember Paul Krekorian said this project would serve as a citywide model for turning a public space that had been a “significant problem” into housing solutions. “This was a community park that couldn’t be used by the surrounding neighborhood because of the state that it was in,” he said. “And we’re changing that today.”
On the other side of a nine-foot chain-link fence threaded with white privacy tape, Michelle had been using Alexandria Park as a place to live, along with a community of a few dozen other people, when she started seeing city crews coming through earlier this year. “We noticed them putting flags, different colored flags, on the lawn,” she said. “My fiancé does construction, so he was like, ‘Oh, they’re mapping out the gas and water lines.’” A few weeks later, homeless-outreach workers came by the park, putting people who lived there on a list for one of the future homes. Michelle and her fiancé (she jokes that they’re known as the “Jackie and JFK” of the camp) signed up for a tour, got information about the restrictions they would have to agree to for entry, and were shown a video of the first tiny-home site. Although the houses seemed small — “I just learned they’re smaller than a jail cell,” she said — she was willing to give it a chance and received a move-in date of May 2. “I don’t really mind the rules that they have. It’s just that I have a lot of shit,” she said. “And to only be able to bring in, you know, two trash bags?” She waved her hands at three wheeled carts stacked high with suitcases. READ MORE HERE
The OCLA Inaugural Spring Showcase
Please join Our Community LA™ for an exciting evening of virtual performances at the Inaugural Spring Showcase. Local talented performers will take the virtual stage as we raise awareness and funds for Our Community LA’s WIN What I Need®️ app. Everyone who is homeless or struggling needs to know they can Begin with WIN to find help – come learn more, support OCLA and our performers, and enjoy the show! Attendance is free and open to all.
Supporting OCLA Breaks the Information Barrier
Over 94% of homeless individuals use a smart phone. However the problem many resource-insecure individuals with technology face is the lack of reliable and up-to-date information about shelter, food, jobs and other essential services they may need. WIN is a free mobile and web app that meets this direct service need by offering 24/7 access to information about 2000+ service providers across 12 categories of resources. Anyone with access to a smart phone or computer can Begin with WIN to find the help they need, when they need it! To learn more about the WIN app, visit oclawin.org/win-app/ or download it for free on the Google Play or App Store.
Donate to Our Community LA
The organization LA Alliance for Human Rights sued the city and county of Los Angeles in March 2020 seeking local government-provided care for homeless people and swift construction of shelter and housing options for the unhoused. The group says the county fails to fund construction of a sufficient amount of housing for the poor and homeless and does not provide the appropriate level of health care needed for the growing unhoused population.
A month after the suit was filed, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ordered city and county officials to house everyone living in the Skid Row community — a 50-square block, open-air encampment — by October.
The Central District of California judge also ordered county officials to audit funds allocated for fighting homelessness and for the city to place $1 billion in local funds in an impound account.
Attorneys for the county argued Carter’s ruling would unnecessarily push more people into crowded shelters or direct public funds to develop more temporary shelters instead of permanent housing.
The county also argued Skid Row is located in the city and authority to clear sidewalks there lies with city, not county, officials.
In a virtual hearing Monday on the county’s motion, Skip Miller, the county’s outside counsel, told Carter the court is in no position to dictate the county’s spending decisions in the fight against homelessness.
But in an 11-page ruling Tuesday, Carter rejected the county’s arguments and denied the motion to dismiss, writing that the court is well within its power to act if the government fails to address a crisis on the scale of what is present in LA County. Read more
The Status QuoTypically, unsheltered counts involve gatherings and in-person contacts discouraged by the CDC and various state and local officials: volunteers are trained in large groups, and go out into the community to have one-on-one conversations with people living unsheltered. Unfortunately, these types of activities raised fears of the virus spreading among volunteers and people experiencing homelessness. It is likely that communities felt that they had no other choice but to either cancel or significantly change their PIT counts. In fact, within a recent Alliance survey, nearly a third of Continuums of Care (CoCs) said they canceled their 2021 unsheltered PiT Counts. Of those who moved forward, 85 percent indicated that they changed their methodology in some way, opting for abbreviated questionnaires or visual counts. Modified methods are likely less reliable and produce less information (for example, visual counts cannot account for race or ethnicity). Thus, this year’s count will be like no other in the history of such data collection.
A Helpful Known FactorWhile the pandemic interrupted the PIT count, in some CoCs, the pandemic actually reduced the number of unsheltered people. In response to the crisis, many communities procured motel and hotel rooms for people experiencing homelessness, allowing them to shelter in place and maintain social distance from others. When people who previously outdoors came inside, they were included in the sheltered portion of the PiT Count. It became much more manageable for systems to survey them, learning more about who they are and what they need.
Persistent Unknown FactorsDespite the benefits of some segment of the homeless population being easier to count, some factors muddle understandings of how unsheltered homelessness has accelerated in 2021. Greater than typical numbers of people may be flowing into unsheltered homelessness. COVID-19 is associated with an economic recession. Businesses temporarily and permanently shuttered. Unemployment numbers remain elevated. As of the end of last month, 15 percent of renters were behind on their rent, amounting to about 7 million adults. And, despite the CDC’s eviction moratorium, many individuals and families are still being evicted in communities across the country. Many of those affected are finding new housing, securing new units or moving in with family and friends. But some are becoming homeless. The nation and many individual communities do not have counts of how many. As a once in a lifetime event, the pandemic may shift the demographics of the unsheltered population in unknown ways. For instance, there may be more people with limited barriers to exiting homelessness. With little knowledge about their numbers and who they are, it is harder to help them. Finally, the federal CARES Act of 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 invested significant new resources in multiple areas that could prevent and reduce unsheltered homelessness. However, given the limited data on the population, it isn’t easy to understand the impacts of these investments.
Alternate Sources of DataEven without a full 2021 PiT Count, communities have other avenues for understanding a potentially evolving unsheltered homeless population. Many CoCs already had valuable tools in place before the COVID-19 crisis began – and they can (and are) implementing new solutions. A recent Alliance survey of CoCs revealed the following examples:
- HMIS. Existing databases (the Homeless Management Information System) can be used for year-round tracking of unsheltered people.
- By-Name Lists. Similar to the HMIS options, some communities keep “by-name lists”, which are comprehensive and regularly updated lists of people experiencing homelessness.
- Street Outreach Apps or Records. Street Outreach workers often track the people they serve via phone apps or other record-keeping systems.
- Coordinated Entry Lists. CoCs can and are keeping records on people they assess for services, including those who are unsheltered.
- Drop-In Center Data. Some localities can and are collecting data on people utilizing drop-in centers where people living outdoors connect to case management, social services, and other necessities like food, showers, or showers.
- Encampment Mapping. Communities can and are identifying the locations of encampments and count or estimate how many people live in them.
- “Mini PiT Counts”. Homeless services systems can (and are) conducting smaller scale PiT Counts that are not a part of the nation-wide effort that occurs in January of each year.
- Vehicle Counts. Some communities are finding it helpful to count how many people live in cars, RVs, and other vehicles.
Implications for the FutureThe pandemic has forced CoCs to enhance supplementary ways of counting unsheltered people, and create new ones. Such approaches will be helpful once normal processes for the annual Point-in-Time Count resume. The PiT will remain a valuable source of information, but other data collection methods help fill in a picture of unsheltered homelessness that should guide the delivery of services and solutions. As we prepare for a post-pandemic world, this is an important time to take inventory of all the innovations of the past 15 months, and embrace the opportunity to incorporate them into our work moving forward. The post Disruptions to the 2021 PiT Count: Working to Fill Data Gaps appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading
The WIN app has added services unique to struggling Seniors. Seniors can now search WIN and will see Senior Services marked with the Senior Only Icon. Homeless and Resource-insecure Seniors over age 55 often need “easy to find” information to access much needed supportive services. Seniors are also uniquely isolated and never more so that during the COVID pandemic. WIN has responded to meet this need by expanding to include Free Senior Resources. The Senior Resources are marked with a unique Senior-Only Icon to make it as easy as possible for Seniors to find Food, Transportation and other supportive services!
A powerful social equity tool, the WIN What I Need mobile app breaks information barriers that too often restrict underserved populations from learning about and accessing helpful services. Trusted access to information and services is the first step out of poverty. Cell phones and mobile app’s meet a direct service need of the homeless- access to essential information about supportive services.
Technology, Social Justice & Information Access: Meeting A Direct Service Need of LA’s Homeless & Resource Insecure Populations
by: Dr. Denise McCain-Tharnstrom, Founder OCLA
Mobile technology is the cornerstone of modern communication and information access. Virtually everyone trusts it, grandmothers use computers and cell phones are everywhere. But in an odd paradox, technology access is often seen as a luxury or status item. This mindset too often leads well-meaning folks to wonder suspiciously whether a poor or homeless person in possession of a cell phone needs or deserves free supportive services. Dismissing the possibility that a person may be in genuine need to supportive services merely because they have a smart device discounts the ability of mobile technology to offer innovative tools designed to support pathways out of poverty.
A smart phone in hand can offer the opportunity for human connectivity as well as a sense of security. Recognizing the importance of communication and knowledge access, the federal lifeline program, begun under the Bush Administration, has been providing homeless and low-income individuals access to smart phones for over a decade. Millennials consider cell phones a necessity- one study reported that homeless teens consider smart phones as important as food. Today, the vast majority of the US’s homeless youth, families and adults under age 40 have smart phones. Researchers have found that over 90% of homeless and resource-insecure populations have access to mobile phones and regularly access the internet. Family heads of households and college students experiencing homelessness are even more likely to have a cell phone.
Social safety nets are often difficult to penetrate and understand in regions as large as LA County. Accessing the complex web of available services can be difficult to understand, especially for youth and adults who face structural barriers, are afraid to reveal their circumstances to outsiders or who are experiencing resource insecurity for the first time. People who are struggling to avoid homelessness or who are unsheltered, have a critical need for a trusted source of information about helpful services. In addition, service providers, outreach workers first responders and good neighbors often need access to readily available referral tools in order to offer support to a client, patient or fellow resident. It only makes sense to leverage trusted mobile technology to offer homeless and struggling individuals, families and others access to helpful information through a free mobile application like the WIN What I Need App.
Committed to leveraging technology for good, OCLA developed and launched the WIN app in 2015 to connect youth to essential services. Designed and named with input from homeless youth ages 16-25 who attended drop-in centers around LA County, it sought to offer homeless youth access to a myriad of available resources. Within a year of launch however OCLA realized that WIN was failing to support important users including youth were pregnant or parenting, youth who were attached to at least one adult over the age of 24 and young adults who had aged out of the youth system and require access to adult or family-based supportive programing. To meet these needs, a revised WIN was released in 2018 to support people in need of all ages while retaining its unique support of youth. (Youth services are uniquely marked in the app with a Youth Only Icon).
The user-friendly WIN app is free to download, free to use, and available for use 24/7. Once downloaded, WIN is resident on a user’s phone and can be used to search for helpful services even when not connected to Wi-Fi Users without cellular services. Users without access to a smart device can access the WIN app on OCLA’s website.
A social equity tool, WIN breaks information barriers that too often restrict underserved populations from learning about and accessing helpful services. It offers comprehensive information on more than 2,000 free services available in Los Angeles County including programs providing food, shelter, healthcare, legal aid, government benefits, job training, education support, hygiene support, drop-in/access centers, overnight parking, crisis support and more. Search results may be ordered by those closest to the user and provide detailed summaries of each provider’s services, as well as hotlinks to program e-mails, phone numbers, service addresses, directions, and agency websites. Uses can even narrow their search and look for agencies that offer special services for unique ages or genders or that serve veterans, youth, seniors, pregnant or parenting or re-entering individuals. For users who want to understand more about service types, WIN has a Helpful Information section inside every category page- this section offered both as text (to read) and in an audio file (for listening) which can be accessed via WIN’s text or audio files.
WIN is not only a search tool, it also sends notifications directly to users’ phones alerting them of important community announcements such as Community Resource Fairs, COVD Testing and Winter Shelter updates. It also features an “I Need Help Now” function that connects distressed users directly to emergency services.
Trusted access to information and services is the first step out of poverty. OCLA places a high value WIN users’ privacy and dignity and the WIN app was designed to respect a user’s ability to anonymously search for services. Users are never required to sign-in to use WIN. Users are not required to divulge personal or demographic information; users can download and use WIN anonymously. WIN does not utilize beacons or other tracking devices and cannot “follow” users to discover where they go after they have used WIN. Users can trust WIN to support them, not to “spy” on them.
The next time you see a destitute person with a cell phone, remind yourself that cell phones and mobile apps’s meet a direct service need of the homeless- access to essential information. about supportive services. Apps like WIN are a 21st century “Hand Up”, enabling users to locate services that offer immediate improvement in security and quality of life as well as opportunities to build a life away from poverty
New Name– Same Mission! Our Children LA is now Our Community LA – Our new name better reflects the broad community we serve. When we first launched the WIN What I Need mobile app in 2015, Our Children LA served only homeless youth ages 12-25. Today WIN supports youth, families and adults (including seniors and veterans!) AND our new website is oclawin.org. Please bookmark it and visit us often!