JFSLA Hosts Educational Forum on Homelessness
On August 31st, Jewish Family Service LA held an educational forum for its Board members to learn more about the economic and other drivers of homelessness, understand the policy landscape and how housing and other policies impact older adults and survivors of intimate partner violence who are housing insecure.
Wendy Greuel, Chair of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Commission, led the panel, which included Jean Galiana, Older Adult Systems Coordinator at LAHSA, Carter Hewgley, Director of Homeless Initiatives at United Way Greater Los Angeles, and Amy Turk, Chief Executive Officer at the Downtown Women’s Center.
One of the main drivers of homelessness is the crisis-level lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles. For individuals facing or recovering from addiction, struggles with mental health, chronic health conditions, disabilities, and other challenges, the lack of access to or ability to afford stable housing leads many to homelessness. Other root causes of homelessness discussed included unequal access to health care and education, racial inequality, unemployment, and stagnant wages. Women who have experienced or are experiencing childhood abuse, domestic violence, and interpersonal violence are also more likely to experience homelessness.
Among the key takeaways from the panel discussion was a better understanding of the scale and complexity of the problem. Carter Hewgley pointed out that, since the passing of Measure H in 2017, an estimated 80,000 people have been connected to permanent housing, and yet the number of individuals experiencing homelessness on our streets continues to grow. Measure H is a quarter cent sales tax approved by LA County voters in 2017 which generates funds for homeless services and short-term housing. Prior to Measure H, LA County was only reaching 5,000 individuals per year.
Additionally, the panel discussed the alarming rate of older adult homelessness, which is speculated to grow steadily over the next ten years. LAHSA reported that an estimated 14,900 older adultsare currently homeless in LA. Jean Galiana noted that unhoused older adults age rapidly and exhibit geriatric conditions of people ten to fifteen years older. As their physical condition deteriorates, fewer housing options become available for older adults. To address older adult needs, efforts are being made to provide healthcare and other supports for older adults in permanent supportive housing.
Each year, the Downtown Women’s Center serves about 3,000 women experiencing homelessness as well as women who were formerly homeless, according to Amy Turk. Among those they serve are the growing homeless population of survivors of domestic violence. Turk shared the results of a survey the Downtown Women’s Center conducted of about 700 women across the county, where they learned that the most expressed need of homeless women was the desire to feel dignified as a person while seeking help in programs. This feeling was tied to a lack of access to hygiene and resulted in women rejecting services.
Another key concern discussed was the expected rise in the number of people experiencing homelessness as the county’s rent moratorium lifts, evictions occur, and housing instability rises due to the economic challenges people are still facing.
Many of JFSLA’s programs serve individuals who are homeless or are at risk of homelessness. JFSLA also provides critical services for individuals experiencing mental health issues, domestic violence, and other at-risk communities. Some of JFSLA’s key services that directly address the issue of homelessness include:
- JFS Hope, which provides compassionate services to survivors of domestic violence. JFS Hope has two 30–40-day emergency shelters and one long term transitional housing shelter where families can stay up to 2 years. In 2021-22, the shelters housed 122 adults and 270 children. Additionally, JFS Hope provided therapeutic services, emotional support, individual and group counseling, case management, legal advocacy, and groups on life skills development such as parenting, education, employment, and housing placement assistance. JFS Hope’s newest program, the Survivors First Homelessness Prevention Program, provides case management and flexible financial assistance to address housing issues, targeting very low-income individuals fleeing gender-based violence at risk of homelessness.
- The JFS Homeless Prevention Program, which began last year, is targeted to help clients who are 55 and older and are at risk of eviction or have become homeless due to hoarding disorder. The program provides clients with mental health counseling, intensive case management, and concrete support. Clients work with a mental health clinician and a case manager. The program also helps with storage and moving costs and links clients to legal assistance or legal aid to prevent eviction. To date, all clients served have been able to maintain their housing and avoided eviction.
- Central Access, which responds to intake calls, helps people navigate various JFSLA and external resources, assistance with government benefit enrollment, and may assist with short-term case management and emergency financial assistance. One of the most impactful programs is the JFS SOVA Food & Resource Program, providing food and personal care items to homeless individuals, who can also connect with a Central Access social worker on-site. Additionally, the Ezra Network is a Jewish community program offering counseling and community case management.
- The Caregiver Homeless Initiative (CHI) Program is a partnership between JFS Care and the Housing for Health office of the County Department of Health Services. JFS Care provides care managed home care to formerly homeless older adults re-housed in permanent supportive housing. The program serves clients in Metro LA and South LA who require home care to manage their daily activities, helping them to stay housed and avoid institutionalization or a return to the streets. The program provides practical care assistance to clients such as bathing, dressing, toileting, feeding, socializing, housekeeping, laundry, and escorting to appointments.
“How can we at JFS use our strengths to make the biggest impact that we can in addressing the most important crisis that Los Angeles is facing?” asked Eli Veitzer, JFS President and CEO. “JFS has an opportunity to expand and deepen the work that we are doing. Every single individual and family that is prevented from becoming homeless, every single individual and family who is restored to stable housing, is a life saved. We should be proud of what we’ve been able to do. And eager to do more.”
If you would like more information on these JFS services and others, please visit https://www.jfsla.org/our-services/.