Michael's Story

Michael’s Story

Michael, born on an army base while his dad was serving in the airforce, moved around a lot as a kid, spending most of his childhood between Los Angeles and Texas. After serving in the Marine Corps for 13 years on the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, he returned to the US and picked up his studies in Austin. And when he received a job offer in Los Angeles, he saw it as an opportunity to go home.

Michael hopped on the plane to begin his new life, and the next thing he remembered was waking up in the ICU at UCLA 11 days later. An injury on Michael’s foot had become infected, and the infection had spread to his bloodstream. Michael spent the next year in the hospital and recuperative care, going through six surgeries to save his leg and foot. Finally, Michael was better, and he was discharged from the hospital – with nowhere to go. He was out on the streets.

Through a referral from the Department of Health Services, Michael was connected to LA Family Housing and began his search for housing. It wasn’t long before he received word that he would be able to call the Crest Apartments home.*

“I feel safe and secure living at the Crest Apartments. It has case management on-site, a day room, a full community kitchen, computer room and 24 hour security for our safety. LA Family Housing staff help out a lot. I am thankful to LA Family Housing for helping me get back on my feet and off the streets. I’m thankful for the time and effort that they give to each and every one of the tenants at the Crest Apartments. LA Family Housing does not and will not give up.”

 Michael shows off his skateboards bearing the logo of his future art studio.

Michael shows off his skateboards bearing the logo of his future art studio.

Now Michael is completing an Entrepreneurship Program at Pepperdine University and hopes to open his own art studio, offering art classes to the community. His room is covered in beautiful paintings and detailed skateboards, demonstrating his natural talent for art. For now, he shares this talent with his community at The Crest, offering art classes to the other residents, often combined with another passion of his: cooking.

“I teach an affordable cooking class because I want to help out and give back – I don’t like seeing people without food. I don’t ask for much, I just ask that people leave with a smile on their face.”

 

*The Crest Apartments are owned by Skid Row Housing Trust with supportive services provided on-site by LA Family Housing.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes - Taina

Taina's aunt told her as a young child that she would never amount to anything. And for a long time, Taina believed her. Taina's past is a story of pain and abuse. Going in and out of the foster care system, she also struggled with bipolar disorder and depression. She didn't feel in control of her life.

But today Taina is at Bridge Housing, and feels hopeful for her future. "I was a victim in the past, but not anymore. I'm responsible for my choices, and I choose to be positive." Taina has learned to read, she is three years sober, she is painting, and she is ready to learn to drive and find housing. Taina wanted to share this poem about her life journey:

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Walk a mile in my shoes and you will see my struggles

To some it may only look like trouble

Don't get your head twisted

I don't want to be another statistic

I'm just trying to live my life in pursuit

Of happiness, but sometimes

My heart gets filled with pain and disappointment and fear

So I fight to see the light

To be the woman that GOD wants me to be and

Never give up and always stay strong

cause only the strong survive

the pain and fear inside is only temporary

for I am not what they say I am

I am my own architect and through my words

I speak loud and clear so when the sun comes up tomorrow

I will put away my sorrows and embrace the day

Thanking GOD that i have a dream to follow

Walk a mile in my shoes and you will see my struggle

Bruce

I have lived what many would consider to be a gifted life. I’ve seen great success and benefit for my accomplishments. I’ve been the visual director for a major department store, I’ve run my own display, design, and decorating business, I’ve been a professional photographer, and the national visual coordinator for Disney corporate showrooms and tradeshows. My professional and personal life was all a dream come true...until it all fell apart.

Due to a life threatening health issue, hospital bills, an inability to work, and the loss of my home/work studio, I crumbled. This led to 6-7 years of homelessness, depression, and anxiety. A dear friend suggested I go to the LGBTQ center for possible assistance. The center offered senior assistance for those over 60. I met Michael Kelly (an amazing man) who connected me to LA Family Housing. And so started a long, arduous process of trying to find a safe and stable place to live. Through many ups and downs, through many hopes and disappointments, at last one day I got the call and was asked, “How would you like an apartment of your own in a brand new building?”

It was not an easy process, but finally the day had come – on January 9, I moved into a jaw droppingly beautiful, spacious apartment at The Fiesta. I was expecting something like a small college dorm room studio with a tiny mattress on the floor, but I wasn’t even close. When I walked into my unit, I was without words. I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievable and extraordinary it was to walk into this contemporary living space. What I can tell you is that in the afternoon we had a tenant meeting in the lobby. As the team spoke, the message rang out…”You are home now,” “You are safe.”

My eyes welled up with tears as the realization sunk in…this is my home, I am safe from tweekers, the streets, and domestic abuse. And I had the comfort of mind in knowing that my future had security and direction. The years of insecurity had passed and a new dawn of hope and optimism had emerged, a future of possibilities (previously out of reach) lay before me. All of our lives face challenges in our different paths, different forks in the road, different outcomes to life’s tragedies. But, without hope our paths can seem to lead nowhere. Yet with the compassionate efforts of LA Family Housing and its supporters, some of us can now see that path forward to a better place.

Marilyn Monroe once said:

“Sometimes good things fall apart so that better things can fall together.”

And it was Nelson Mandella who said:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Better things are ahead and the seemingly impossible task of solving this humanitarian crisis, which is the homelessness epidemic, is not yet done. But, LA Family Housing and The Fiesta are taking a significant step towards making the impossible possible and to bring the better into our lives.

Proposition HHH and the housing-first approach to ending chronic homelessness in LA

Angelenos care deeply about our city’s homelessness crisis. And we know what the solution is: Building more homes.

Last January, as part of the annual census of people experiencing homelessness, nearly 8,000 volunteers counted 58,000 people experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County — a 23 percent rise over the previous year. More than 34,000 people were counted within the city limits, nearly three-quarters of whom were living unsheltered and almost one-third of whom were defined as chronically homeless. The 2018 homeless count begins on January 23.

This city is in dire need of more supportive housing, a model that combines low-barrier affordable housing, healthcare, and other supportive services to help individuals and families lead more stable lives. Supportive housing isn’t the solution for everyone experiencing homelessness, but it can be for those with chronic health or mental health conditions or people who have experienced chronic homelessness.

There are approximately 6,500 supportive housing units in the LA area, according to the Homeless Housing Gaps analysis prepared by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, but the City and County of Los Angeles have determined we need around 10,000 more in order to address chronic homelessness. The free market has not shown a proclivity to build or sustainably operate supportive housing — that’s a big part of why we see thousands of people on our streets who should be housed.

Fortunately, in 2016 City of LA voters approved Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion supportive housing bond. The vote marked the evolution of Los Angeles into a “housing first” city, a sea change in attitudes that should not be taken for granted.

The housing first approach tackles homelessness by quickly providing a permanent home that includes the critical supportive services needed to maintain long-term housing stability, such as mental and physical health support, crisis intervention, and connection to community resources. It is a departure from other approaches to homelessness, where we first provide services to people still living on the streets and then offer housing later.  

More than 77 percent of voters supported HHH, agreeing to increase their own property taxes by an average of $33 per year to fund 10,000 units of supportive housing over the next decade. Then in March of 2017, 69 percent of county voters approved Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax hike to raise an estimated $355 million annually for homeless services and rental subsidies.  Measure H is also a key source of operating funding for supportive housing.

Now it’s time to get to work. The City’s Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) is implementing HHH in close coordination with key City Council members and the mayor’s office. There is a citizens oversight committee that meets on a regular basis and monitors all activity related to the measure as well.

In June, the City Council approved the first round of HHH-funded projects at $74 million for 615 units, 68 percent of which are designated as supportive housing. These were largely pre-existing projects that needed additional funding to move forward.

From here, the HHH program will not tackle existing development projects in the pipeline but rather fund supportive housing “over the counter,” not through a competitive process but rather for all projects that meet funding requirements. This past winter, the mayor and City Council approved HCID regulations to better frame the implementation of HHH funding going forward, including:

  • HHH subsidies are made available for any project with at least 50 percent supportive housing (with half of that reserved for chronically homeless people). The other 50 percent can receive HHH funds if the units are restricted to resident who earn 60 percent of the area median income or less. Subsidies are also available for buildings with at least 25 units of supportive housing, for those units only.
  • People offered HHH-funded supportive housing units must come from the countywide Coordinated Entry System, an innovative service delivery model and housing prioritization tool used by most homeless services providers to identify solutions for people based on their vulnerability and need.
  • HHH-subsidized projects must meet the following criteria and secure the balance of funding needed from other sources, most likely housing tax credit financing:
    • $140,000 per supportive housing unit
    • $100,000 per unit restricted to 60 percent area median income or less
    • $80,000 bonus for supportive housing units available until June 18, 2018 to help compensate for the lack of “No Place Like Home” funding, which will become available in late 2018.

There will be three calls for project proposals each year, and the first call closed on December 22. The goal is to approve and fund 1,000 units of supportive housing a year, every year, for the next 10 years.

The taxpayers of Los Angeles are investing in permanent homes as the solution to chronic homelessness. But we’ll need more than new funds and a streamlined approval process to reduce homelessness in LA. Land availability and community support are both critical components to any project.

When supportive housing developments are proposed in different parts of Los Angeles, we will need community members who are courageous enough to say YES. YES to building permanent supportive housing in their community. YES to advocating on behalf of families, children, and the most vulnerable. YES to standing with our homeless neighbors who need the necessary services to live and thrive.

This is the beginning of the solution to ending homelessness across Los Angeles, and we should all be a part of it.

Why isn’t there enough affordable housing — of any kind — in LA? Read three new research briefs from Lewis Center scholars.

This article appeared on the UCLA Lewis Center blog.