By Joanna Bomba, Executive Assistant at Los Angeles Mission; Hazel Lopez, Downtown Pathway Home Project Coordinator at Lamp Community; and Monica Guthrie-Davis, Director of Programs and Services at Weingart Center Association
Ellen was a staple in Skid Row. Her severe alcoholism and her untreated mental health issues kept her sleeping on the sidewalks of Los Angeles for 30 years. Ellen was at the top of the list for hardest to serve clients in a city that lacks an adequate supply of permanent supportive housing, but has the drive and creativity to end chronic and Veteran homelessness.
Ellen was first identified by our team during the Los Angeles Point in Time Count on a particularly chilly night in January of 2013. In conjunction with Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative (LACPC), Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, and Community Solution’s 100K Homes Campaign, the Skid Row neighborhood opted to be a CountPlus Community. This meant that surveys based upon the Vulnerability Index were administered by program staff and volunteers to our homeless neighbors. With this information, the Skid Row community would begin building a by name registry of our homeless population and take a first step towards prioritizing resources for those deemed the most chronically homeless and vulnerable.
From March to June, more than 20 organizations created the Skid Row Coordinated Entry System, in alignment with the Home For Good campaign in Los Angeles. The goal was to make systematic changes that would foster collaboration. This innovative model for providing services to the chronically homeless was led by Lamp Community, Los Angeles Mission, Weingart Center Association, and Los Angeles’ Housing Authority. For the first time, a system permanent supportive housing services for chronically homeless individuals were being examined, re-imagined, and improved.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of LACPC and Lamp Community, Downtown Pathway Home became the platform for the Housing Navigation Team, an interagency team of staff dedicated to helping people get appropriate housing that began meeting weekly to discuss cases.
So how did this help Ellen? During our meetings, we found that almost everyone around the table knew Ellen and had records of the appointments she missed. We found that she was failed by the previous system time and time again not out of malice or poor workmanship, but due to the exorbitant number of people also needing help and the complicated maze they were expected to traverse on their own.
One “Housing Navigator” from our team - David Askew - identified and engaged Ellen quickly and began working with her to set up and keep appointments to collect the appropriate documentation she needed for a housing application. To ensure that all of Ellen’s needs were being met, he joined forces with another Housing Navigator – Patty McHugh - who specializes in services for women. Ellen was offered Bridge Housing, a component we created to provide low-barrier shelter to those in need of permanent supportive housing.
Once all of Ellen’s necessary documents were collected, the Housing Navigators contacted a group of team members specializing in housing placements and told them that Ellen was ready to be matched to a unit. A unit was identified for Ellen based on her specific needs. If Ellen had not chosen this unit, she would have had the option of waiting to be matched to two alternative options as they became available. Due to stellar collaboration among the Coordinated Entry System (CES) organizations, the housing provider and HACLA streamlined the multiple appointments Ellen needed to process the paperwork and receive her supportive housing voucher. Ellen attended those appointments with her Housing Navigator and within two weeks, she was approved to move into her new unit.
For more detailed information, please see the Coordinated Entry System User Manual and Team Leaders Presentation we developed. We’re excited that this work is now becoming the basis for creating a County-wide Coordinated Entry System for persons experiencing chronic homelessness!
For 30 years Ellen was overlooked or not able to get the concentrated help she needed to successfully navigate the transition from street to home. Thanks to collaboration and services directed to the needs of the client, she now safely sleeps in her own bed every night. As the team celebrates this success, we cannot help but wonder: If Los Angeles had been asked to put heads and resources together sooner, how many years could have shaved off of Ellen’s homelessness?