“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” — Booker T. Washington

When it comes to eradicating homelessness, a whole lot of lifting is needed.  Fortunately, both the City and County of Los Angeles have been practicing bench-pressing, resulting in the adoption of comprehensive strategies to end homelessness along with making some funding available to fuel the effort.  Now it’s time for all of us to extend that lift by approving Proposition HHH, which authorizes $1.2 million in bonds to develop 10,000 new housing units in Los Angeles for those who are chronically homeless or at risk of being homeless, along with funding temporary shelter, storage, and shower facilities.

The statistics are grim.  More than 46,000 individuals – including 14,500 women –are homeless in Los Angeles County – an increase of nearly 6% over last year. 28,000 of that total are in the City of the Los Angeles, an 11% uptick. And, very disturbing statistics emerged from a report released this week by the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition.  Based on a survey of 371 homeless or formerly homeless women, aged 20 – 85, the report indicates there has been a 55% increase in women experiencing homelessness in the County since 2013. Even more alarming – nearly 91% of the women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.  More than 34% have been assaulted within the last year. The survey also shows a continuing shift toward older women who are homeless in LA’s Skid Row.  60% are over the age of 51 and in poor health.  And, African-American women were found to more likely experience chronic homelessness and face violence than their Latina and White counterparts.

To help break the cycle of homelessness, the “Housing First” approach has proven effective. This model provides permanent housing to homeless individuals as quickly as possible without preconditions and then follows up with supportive services.  As an example, the Downtown Women’s Center provides permanent housing with on-site, wrap around services including medical and mental health care, education and job readiness programs.

According to federal agencies, research has proven that permanent supportive housing is a cost-effective solution to homelessness and increases housing stability. This approach, not only improves the quality of life of those who are homeless, but also lowers public costs by reducing the use of publicly-funded crisis services, including shelters, hospitals, psychiatric centers, jails, and prisons.  A study undertaken by LA City and County in 2009 stresses the stabilizing effect of permanent housing and supportive care which is demonstrated by a 79% reduction in public costs associated with the homeless.

“While the Downtown Women’s Center continues to address the needs of women in Skid Row, the 55% increase in homeless women county-wide points to a far greater challenge that calls for broader, systematic change. That is why, more than ever before, we need large scale investment in permanent solutions, such as the supportive housing that Proposition HHH funding would provide for homeless residents in this community and throughout the city”, said Anne Miskey,  Downtown Women’s Center CEO.

And, the County is also on the hunt for dollars to fund the supportive services needed as new housing for the homeless is built.  So it is likely that voters will be looking at a future ballot measure for that purpose.

So back to the quote that prefaced this commentary – If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”  You have the opportunity to do just that on November 8.

Billie Greer also serves on the Board of Directors of the Downtown Women’s Center.