Community groups and property owners in downtown Long Beach are stepping up to hire outreach specialists in a concerted effort to reduce homelessness.
Still, local homeless advocates say that funds for federal housing vouchers, assistance programs and local shelters continue to be stretched thin, and in some cases are no longer available.
During its regular meeting at Goodwill Industries at 800 Pacific Coast Hwy on Wednesday, Aug. 6, the Long Beach Area Coalition for the Homeless (LBACH) reported on a number of issues related to the homeless.
Last month, for instance, the Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA), which operates on behalf of tenants and commercial and residential property owners within a business-improvement district, announced that it has hired Jose Martinez as a new “outreach specialist” to establish relationships with individuals experiencing homelessness.
According to a prepared statement from the DLBA, Martinez, a former outreach worker for Mental Health America of Los Angeles with seven years of expeience in counseling and homeless assistance, began working on July 16 as an employee of Block-By-Block, a contract provider for the DLBA’s Safety Guide program, which provides cleaning and security services in downtown.
Mary Coburn, operations manager for the DLBA, said in a phone interview with the Signal Tribune that the association made the decision to pay for the new outreach specialist as a priority though its own budget.
Martinez is expected to work with the homeless and assist such individuals in accessing local resources and social-service agencies such as the Multi-Services Center, which is currently undergoing repairs. His other duties include street outreach, collaboration with community partners, overcoming barriers to service for individuals and detailed reporting of outreach.
“I think the real concern here is for the welfare of all the members of our community, and we’re really committed to ensuring that everyone has a good quality of life, and that includes our homeless neighbors,” Coburn said. “Some of these people really need specialized options and plans in order to get themselves into a better place, and that’s what were hoping to be able to offer them.”
By adding a dedicated outreach specialist, the DLBA is expected to be able to provide more “strategic services” to the homeless community and “gain a better understanding of current challenges and progress,” according to a prepared statement.
Coburn said the plan is to work collaboratively with organizations that are already addressing the homeless in the area.
“We work with many partners out in the community that are addressing the homeless issues, and a big part of being a good partner is doing your part,” Coburn said. “We felt like this was a good approach for us to take in working collaboratively with other organizations.”
During the LBACH meeting, it was also reported that the Sunday Drop-In Center, located at First Congregational Church of Long Beach at 241 Cedar Ave., is looking to hire new outreach specialists as well, pending the approval of a grant.
“We’re all working together to get people off the street,” said Arlene Mercer, executive director of the Drop-In Center and founder of Signal Hill-based nonprofit Food Finders.
However, LBACH members noted that some resources for the homeless, such as shelters and other services, are experiencing financial hardships.
For instance, it was reported that New Image Emergency Shelter for the Homeless, Inc., also known as Project Stepping Stone, which has operated for more than two years as an emergency and transitional housing program at Century Villages at Cabrillo in west Long Beach, closed July 31, mostly because of financial reasons.
LBACH members also reported that, after 32 years, Centro Shalom, a subsidiary of the South Coast Interfaith Council that provides assistance and services to poverty-stricken communities, is downsizing because of dwindling finances.
Mercer said nonprofit groups that provide services to the homeless continue to be hit hard since many groups, including the Drop-In Center, which provides meals, computer labs and other services every Sunday by partnering with the Urban Community Outreach (UCO), rely solely on grants and donations rather than state or federal funds.
“There is no money right now,” Mercer said. “It’s very tight. We work so hard writing grant proposals. You just have to keep, everyday, pushing as hard as you can push, looking in every corner trying to find funding for our programs.”
Additionally, LBACH members reported that the federal government is planning to reduce the number of Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers nationwide because of budget cuts set to go into effect due to sequestration. The cuts came along with a bill that plans to spur construction of transportation infrastructure across the country.
Zhena McCullom, coordinator for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, said during the meeting that, while the federal government is no longer providing the county with new housing vouchers, there are other institutions and organizations where people may be able to receive vouchers for transitional housing.
Meanwhile, the State of California approved new laws that require cities to put in place ordinances to make accommodations for emergency homeless shelters, special housing, transitional housing and supportive housing.
The mandates require cities at least provide zoning accommodations for an applicant to build an emergency homeless shelter, which would provide temporary housing of six months or less.
The City of Signal Hill, for instance, included in its updated Housing Element this year zoning to allow for an emergency shelter with up to 16 beds without requiring a conditional-use permit.
A one-day survey of the homeless population in Signal Hill conducted by the Signal Hill Police Department, city staff and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in January 2013 concluded that there were three people deemed to be homeless in the city during that day.
The homeless count conducted by the City of Long Beach’s Health & Human Services Department last year showed that the number of homeless in Long Beach increased 15 percent over six years, jumping from 3,829 in 2007 to 4,387 in 2013. However, the survey also showed that the number of homeless people in emergency shelters and transitional housing increased 25 percent, from 1,319 to 1,654
The survey is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the City to receive funding for homeless services.
Bob Cerince, homeless services officer for the City of Long Beach, could not be reached for comment before the Signal Tribune’s deadline. A receptionist contacted by phone indicated he no longer works for the City.