Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Forum on Homelessness, Part 1: Origins and Complexity

City Council Member David Ryu participates in the May 26 Forum on Homelessness

On Thursday, May 26, the East Hollywood Los Feliz Homeless Coalition hosted a forum on the issue of homelessness, which aimed to shed light on the reasons behind the current homeless crisis, why the issue historically has been so hard to deal with, and how things have changed for the better in the way the city is approaching the problem.

The event was moderated by Douglas Walker, board chair of the EHLFHC.  Panel speakers included City Council Members David Ryu and Mitch O’Farrell, LAPD Captain Art Sandoval, Jonathan Hans from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Zahira Mann from the United Way’s Home for Good program, and Rudy Salinas from Housingworks, a non-profit group that addresses issues of AIDS and homelessness.   

Over the next few days, the Buzz will present a series of stories that summarize the forum’s presentations and provide a look at the public and private partnerships that are beginning to provide a brighter horizon for the homeless in Los Angeles.

Although he was the second speaker of the evening, City Council Member David Ryu provided a good introduction to the overall issues of homelessness at Thursday’s forum, and referred to the topic as a personal “passion issue” based on his past employment as Director of Development and Public Affairs at Kedren Acute Psychiatric Hospital and Community Health Center,

Ryu said he remembers then-mayor James Hahn announcing – back in 2003 – a goal of ending homelessness in 10 years.  13 years later, said Ryu, “the fact that we [still] have homelessness is a travesty.” And not only is the issue still with us, he said, but homelessness is actually increasing – up 5.7% in just the last year, according to the most recent homeless census.

According to Ryu, the current crisis has its roots in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the public decided it was “wrong” to institutionalize the homeless and mentally ill, and that people in those situations should be returned to their communities and families.  That decision was made, however, Ryu said, without funding for local care or support, which left many people out on the streets.

Also, said Ryu, the modern homeless population differs in many ways from historically homeless groups, who were mostly just financially disadvantaged.  Today, he said, fully 1/3 of homeless people have been diagnosed as mentally ill, and another 1/3 are mentally ill, but not yet diagnosed as such…which means there is a huge need to address mental health care when looking at homeless issues.

For the last 20 years, Ryu said, another problem in solving homelessness has been that various city and non-profit agencies dealing with the problem (or multiple aspects of the problem) have been working by themselves, each off in their own little “silos” without a wider system of cooperation.  Finally, however, Ryu said city, county, state and federal agencies, and various non-profit groups, are now realizing that they can no longer ignore the problem – or each other – and that they must work together to address the larger issues involved. (One example is a new Coordinated Entry System, mentioned by several of Thursday’s panelists, which would create a regional database to assess the needs of homeless individuals and link them with a variety of appropriate housing and services.)

Just as the current homeless crisis did not occur overnight, Ryu said, solutions will also take time to build, but “this is the first time we’re truly coordinating the system.”

And this is why, Ryu said, the city has recently pledged a whopping $138 million to the homelessness fight, and why the current Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health budget is $2 billion (equal to one quarter of the entire Los Angeles city budget).

Ryu said public and private agencies are now starting to form real cooperative networks to deal with homelessness, and that people have finally realized you “can’t just arrest” homeless people.  In fact, said Ryu, “law enforcement is the last person you want to call,” because it’s just a “revolving door.” Homelessness is not a crime, he said, and homeless people cannot be held by the police for minor infractions – they just return to the streets, which doesn’t solve the problem.

Tomorrow:  City Council Member Mitch O’Farrell describes efforts by his office, the City Council and other government agencies to fund various (and various kinds of) efforts to help and house the homeless.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Latest Articles

.printfriendly { padding: 0 0 60px 50px; }