JFS Launches New Homeless Prevention Program

Jewish Family Service LA has launched a new program that provides support and services to older adults at risk of becoming homeless due to Hoarding Disorder. The Homeless Prevention Program aims to help keep clients housed while also addressing their mental health needs.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, there is approximately a 2.6% prevalence of Hoarding Disorder among Americans, with higher rates for people over 60 and those experiencing other psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

People living with Hoarding Disorder excessively acquire items and have trouble discarding possessions due to significant distress. Many who experience Hoarding Disorder may also have difficulty with loss of space, social isolation, family discord, financial difficulties, as well as health and cleanliness issues. All these factors can lead to an individual losing their home.

 “I’ve been working with the homeless population for nearly eight years now,” said Jessica Johnson, MSW, Director of the JFS Homeless Prevention Program. “And no matter which program I’ve worked for, I’ve always encountered somebody who was formerly homeless and in permanent housing that was living with Hoarding Disorder.”

The Homeless Prevention Program team has a person-centered approach which aims to work with clients in a respectful and non-judgmental manner. They meet each client where they are, providing services that are tailored to meet their unique needs.

“There’s a lot of stigma,” said Jessica. “These clients feel a lot of shame and guilt and embarrassment. We are trying to work through that with them and that’s where the person-centered approach comes in. We’re using non-judgmental language when we communicate with them to help them feel safe with us and trust that we’re not going to judge them.”

The program, which launched in October, is currently working with three clients and hopes to serve at least 50 per year. Clients enrolled in the program receive mental health counseling, case management, harm reduction approaches, resolution of eviction issues, and cleanout services. The cleanout services are performed with clients present, and no item is discarded without the client’s explicit permission.

Just last week, Jessica and Denise Ponce-Gavarrete, ASW, a Clinician with the Homeless Prevention Program, had a session with a client in which they learned that the client did not have a working heater in their apartment and was relying on space heaters. The client was not comfortable bringing the issue to their landlord because of the condition the was apartment was in. Jessica and Denise, with permission from the client, got to work helping clear trash and debris from the floor, ultimately removing nine bags of trash from the home, so that the client could safely use the space heaters and stay warm.

“The client was very thankful,” said Jessica. “They’ve reiterated to us several times that they’ve been in therapy for about 30 years and that this has been the most effective for them because they’re receiving one-on-one therapy and we’re being very hands-on with them. We’re doing the work with them, and they feel a lot more motivation with us physically there to guide them.”

Jessica shared that it’s been a lot of work getting the program up and running and that they have faced their share of challenges, but it has been rewarding and she is excited to grow the program. 

“We are actively trying to get through to folks that are on the fence about enrolling in our program, who may not yet be ready to accept that there is an issue that they’re struggling with or that it can jeopardize their housing,” said Jessica. “At the end of the day, our main objective for this program is to keep folks in permanent housing and address their mental health needs.”

The Homeless Prevention Program is generously funded by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.

To learn more about the Homeless Prevention Program, please click here.