A high school senior starts a writers workshop

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My name is Emma Poveda, I’m seventeen years old, I’m a Senior at Harvard-Westlake School, and I’ve been volunteering at LAFH since 2016.

My connection to LAFH started with my Mitzvah Project which is a social action project required for all Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs on their thirteenth birthday to mark the transition into “adulthood.” It entails some form of immersion into your community that will make an impact for a greater cause you feel passionate about. I knew I wanted to get involved in assisting the homeless community of Los Angeles. I found LAFH and was immediately excited by their encouragement to get involved.

Party guests at my Bat-Mitzvah made stuffed animals that I donated to children of families at the Family Solutions Center. I received a photo of the recipients smiling as they held their stuffed animals close— and that was when I knew I needed to go back.

LAFH soon became more than just a project for my Temple or checkmarks on my school’s community service form; my involvement became a central part of my identity.

My participation at LAFH grew during in my sophomore year of high school when I joined the Youth Action Council (YAC). Members of the YAC not only interact with residents and help behind the scenes, but also are taught about topics ranging from what it takes to run a non-profit to the most recent homelessness legislation in California. YAC is special to me because I can connect with other young adults who are dedicated to the issues surrounding the homelessness epidemic in L.A.

YAC enabled me to launch my non-profit project, “Writers Room.” Creative writing has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. Writing poetry, prose, and short stories allows me to make sense of my own experiences, to discover truth in life. The goal of Writers Room is to cultivate that same outlet for the younger LAFH residents. Through writing workshops, community members develop the language tools to express themselves and connect with their emotions in a creative and constructive way. 

It takes practice to get in touch with one’s feelings. Through various writing exercises, the children have been able to open up and get in touch with their thoughts and emotions. During one workshop, I asked the participants what their favorite songs were and why. Such a simple question rendered some beautiful responses. Phillip, age 11, wrote that his favorite song was High Hopes by Panic! At the Disco. He wrote, “I like this song because it makes me happy no matter what my mood is...how much courage it gives you...it makes me think I can do anything.” Phillip’s words embody the greater attitude of LAFH— one of resilience, hope, and courage.

Phillip’s words embody the greater attitude of LAFH— one of resilience, hope, and courage.

In a city like Los Angeles, seeing individuals sleeping on park benches or standing on freeway exits with a cup or sign is the norm. It becomes easy to develop assumptions about what homelessness looks like. Often, we transform those assumptions into facts because it makes seeing something so unsettling and tragic more palatable for us. It’s a way of coping with the presence of turmoil and injustice in our society. Yet volunteering at LAFH taught me that the way to address homelessness is not to label it. Homelessness comes in many shapes and sizes— it cannot and should not be confined to one standard. I learned that individuals are not homeless, but rather experiencing homelessness. It is temporary and should not be seen as a permanent condition or identifier. The families and children who reside at LAFH do not let their homelessness define them or their sense of worth in society. The work done at LAFH allows individuals to see beyond their present circumstances.

Jessie's story

Jessie looked up at the sky through the tattered roof of an abandoned shed.  As the rain poured down, wetting her face, she thought, “I’m in a nightmare. This is not my life.”

I’m in a nightmare. This is not my life.

All her life, Jessie had a dream: to meet a decent man, get married, and start a family. For a while, it seemed like her dream might come true.  She met a mathematician and fell in love. They got married and had a son. She and her husband were together for 19 happy years. She adored him. They lived in a comfortable house in Palmdale, but her husband developed cancer, and in 2012, he passed away. “He was a great man, he lived for the community, and I miss him,” she says as she chokes up and fights back tears. “I wish he was here.” He left her a book, his PhD thesis, that she hopes to publish one day.

Jessie looks through her late husband’s PhD thesis.

Jessie looks through her late husband’s PhD thesis.

Jessie’s name wasn’t on the mortgage of the house, so after her husband passed, she did not have enough money to pay off the rest of the loan and they had to move out. A neighbor took in her son, but Jessie was left to fend for herself.

At first, she was able to house-sit a home that was on the market. She lived there for nearly a year and a half, before it sold to someone else. Soon after, she was back on the streets.

Jessie did whatever she could to survive. At times she would squat in empty houses, going to Panda Express to wash up in the bathroom. When she had money from pan-handling, she would pay for a hotel room for $312/week.

The stress started to weigh on her, and she began experiencing anxiety and panic attacks.

Then she met Alycia Monroe, co-founder of Sisters on the Streets, a nonprofit that serves women experiencing homelessness. Alycia brought her to a Homeless Connect Day, where she connected with LA Family Housing.

Jessie entered LA Family Housing’s rapid rehousing program. They helped her move into shared housing. LAFH started by paying first month’s rent plus security deposit.

Jessie shows off her security badge.

Jessie shows off her security badge.

Jessie had a little money saved up so she used it to get her security guard license, and she got hired as a security guard at Platinum Security. First she was stationed in security for the Department of Water and Power, working 5-6 days a week. Now she is working security at the 99 cent store.

With a steady income, month by month, Jessie began to cover more of the rent, while LAFH covered less. Now Jessie pays the full $950 rent on her own. “I feel really good. I’m doing this on my own. It’s a lot of money, but I have to do it.”

Jessie’s phone rings. It’s her friend, Mary, a homeless woman she befriended while working at the 99 Cent Store. Jessie brings her food, clothes, and bought her boots. “I help her just like Alycia helped me. I think Mary came into my life for a reason. I got her a phone so she can keep in touch with me so I know she’s ok.” Spurred by her own experience, Jessie is trying to get her connected to services.

“Some people are homeless because of circumstances. Things that happen to you that you can’t control. At the time I had no resources, I didn’t know where to go. It’s not a good thing to be homeless, it’s horrible. I don’t wish it on anyone. No one wants that.”
Images of Jessie’s family are posted on the wall of her room.

Images of Jessie’s family are posted on the wall of her room.

“Some people are homeless because of circumstances. Things that happen to you that you can’t control. At the time I had no resources, I didn’t know where to go. It’s not a good thing to be homeless, it’s horrible. I don’t wish it on anyone. No one wants that.”

Jessie reflects on what it took to get to where she is today. “I can’t believe it, I came this far. From being on the streets.”

Jessie has a new dream for the future. To publish her husband’s book and to find a place of her own to live, surrounded by community and loved ones.

Coming together to end homelessness

Last month, LA Family Housing sent eight staff to the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference. This conference is a convening of service providers, advocates, people with lived experience, and leaders to share ideas, solutions, and best practices in our work to end homelessness in people’s lives. We asked two of our staff to share their experiences and takeaways from this year’s conference.

Summer Reading List

Summer Reading List

With the number of people falling into homelessness on the rise, NIMBYs thwarting attempts to build bridge and affordable housing, and misconceptions and misinformation being spouted out carelessly, we can make a concerted effort to combat these problems by challenging our own perception, educating ourselves, and increasing our understanding of the issues and our homeless neighbors.

Through the recommendations of our staff and trends in the industry, we’ve put together a list of books that can provide you some conversation material for your next dinner party. Through education, dialogue, and compassion, we can start to shift the narrative on who our homeless neighbors are and work together toward solutions that we know work.

HUD is proposing a rule that will result in the eviction of 11,000 Angelenos

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is proposing a rule that would divide families and could lead to the eviction of 11,000 people across Los Angeles at a time when we are already grappling with surging rates of homelessness.

The rule would deny federal housing aid to households that include anyone living in the country illegally, even when other members are eligible for aid as lawful residents or U.S. citizens.

L.A. City Council leaders are urging residents to submit comments to HUD by the July 9 deadline.

Suggested language:

The proposed rule "Housing and Community Development Act of 1980: Verification of Eligible Status" would have disastrous ramifications for mixed-family households and would directly contribute to our homeless crisis. This rule could lead to the evictions of 11,000 people in Los Angeles alone, a city already grappling with surging rates of homelessness, and could put as many as 55,000 children who are legal U.S. citizens at risk of homelessness. I OPPOSE this rule, and urge HUD to create policies that uphold the agency's mandate to create fair housing opportunities.

Hector's Story

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When Hector was five years old his parents made the difficult decision to uproot their lives in Jalisco, Mexico and move to Southern California in search of better life for their children. Their sacrifice paid off. Hector led a happy and stable life and eventually got his Associate’s Degree in General Education. He was a successful man, holding a number of different careers throughout his life. He began with managing health clubs, then transitioned to admissions work, and finally started his own LLC in debt collection.

This was what he was doing when he got the news that his mother passed away. Hector blamed himself for his mother’s passing. He felt that he should have done more for her and believed that he could have possibly saved her life. Hector quickly plummeted into immense feelings of remorse, shame, depression, and guilt.

He began to self-medicate with drugs, and slowly began losing everything around him.

For a year Hector lived out of his car, barely making enough money to afford gas. Then his car was taken away from him for having expired tags. He officially had nothing.

For the next two years Hector lived at a park in Los Angeles. One night Hector was attacked and robbed at gunpoint by someone he thought to be his “friend.” During the robbery, the very few items he had left that held any meaning for him were stolen. When discussing one of his lowest parts of his life he says, “Even when I was in a crowd, I would feel so lonely. There was no one there to help me.”

Even when I was in a crowd, I would feel so lonely. There was no one there to help me.

Hector knew things had to change, so the very next day he went to Homeless Connect where he was linked to LA Family Housing’s Bridge Housing.

Now, it has been eight months since he was living in a park surrounded by nothing but overwhelming depression and addiction. During his time at Bridge he has excelled in ways he never previously thought possible. He has worked closely alongside his housing navigator to find a place to live, as well as with LAFH’s employment team to find work. In addition, LA Family Housing has helped to connect him with legal aid in order to clear his tickets and acquire a new ID, social security card, and permanent residency card. Hector has also gotten clean and has no interest in returning to the drugs he was using before.

The future is beginning to look bright for Hector again. Hector has gone back to work. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to get housed. I’m literally cleaning toilets right now and I’m singing and smiling because that’s what I need right now.”

The last step is for Hector to find a new home. Hector emphasizes the importance of planning for the future including having his own home, finding a job, and pursuing various entrepreneurial projects.

Hector is extremely grateful for the stability, resources, and opportunities that Bridge Housing has provided him. In his words, “this place can give you everything you need. It’s up to you how you use it.”

Reflecting on the journey Hector has taken, he’s very positive for the future. “People ask if I’m ready to return to the life I had. But you can’t go back. I think life is three-dimensional. I feel like these past few years I’ve been living in a different dimension. I felt like I lost myself. But now I’m going on to my third dimension.” 

How SoCal Gas changed the life of LAFH participant Chantilya

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One day in August, I found myself in the Doctor's office being prescribed medication for depression, insomnia, and migraines. I knew that many aspects in my life played a part in this depression, but a majority was due to the stress and drama from my job. For the sake of my sanity, I left that job.

By mid-September I was facing eviction.

The many shelters I called were full, and the places I approached for rental assistance were out of funding or had a lengthy waitlist. I found a Salvation Army that was willing to help with my rent but couldn’t find a leasing office to accept the payment.

Then, I found LA Family Housing. After a brief intake, Eva provided instructions on how to get started on my journey. She helped me get food stamps, a California ID, and homeless assistance from Social Services the very same day I arrived! By the end of the business day, my children and I had a place to lay our head and food to eat thanks to LA Family Housing.

Eva also connected me with Maria, from LAFH’s employment team. After asking me about my experience and what kind of job I was looking for, Maria helped me submit my application to SoCalGas.

As I waited for a response, Maria sent daily emails of current job listings and job fairs taking place. A Barista position at Universal Studios caught my eye so I applied and a month later I got the job! It was a new and amazing experience for me. I was able to work at Universal Studios during the holidays and take my children to the theme park for free...all while being homeless!

In January, I received the invitation from SoCalGas to come and apply for a position. There was a group of eight that came in to test but I was the only one to pass. Two weeks later, I received an interview request. LA Family Housing helped me prepare for the interview by conducting mock interviews and providing constructive feedback. When the time came, they even provided me with transportation to my interview!

Three days later, I received an email that I passed my interview and would be placed in the candidate pool until a position became available. A week after that email, I received a call for an open position which I accepted and received my offer letter the following day!

I started as a Cashier with SoCalGas on April 8, 2019 and I already love my job. I am a permanent employee with full benefits. I love that this opportunity aligns with everything I have wanted in a career – from atmosphere, to the position itself, to the opportunity to travel while doing my job. I am truly blessed and humbled. I am so grateful for ALL of LA Family Housing. The care, compassion, eagerness, and willingness to help definitely does not go unnoticed. 

I'm currently still trying to secure permanent housing, and not only is LA Family Housing assisting me with this, but they're also providing shelter to assure that my children and I have a roof over our heads! A special thanks to my Case Manager, Siranush, who doesn't make me feel like "another case" but an actual human being!

Let's ramp up our efforts: Homeless Count results are in

While LA Family Housing moved nearly 2,300 people into permanent homes during the past year, the number of people falling into homelessness over the same period overshadows our progress. In fact, across Los Angeles County, our partners have lifted 21,631 people out of homelessness – a 23% increase over the year prior. Knowing these statistics, it’s heartbreaking to read that The Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count shows a 12% increase in those experiencing homelessness.

It is clear that the housing crisis and economic disparities are pushing more people into homelessness.

Since last year’s Point-in-Time Count, LA County saw a rise in homelessness of 12% to 58,936. The City of Los Angeles saw a 16% rise to 36,300. While we are encouraged to see a slower level of growth (4%) in Service Planning Area 2, where we focus our work, we recognize that until these numbers decline, we must continue to ramp up our response and invest more in prevention.

Last year, LA Family Housing’s Diversion team prevented nearly 660 individuals from falling into homelessness through financial assistance, legal, and job placement support. Our street outreach teams engaged in over 1,800 conversations with our neighbors experiencing homelessness, providing support that included document assistance, physical, mental health, and substance abuse services. 

Working hand-in-hand with our homeless programs, LAFH’s Real Estate team has expanded our development pipeline from about one project every two years to five projects at a time, with 268 permanent supportive housing units currently in development, while we own and manage over 400 units of permanent housing. Supportive housing is the answer to chronic homelessness – homelessness that is often driven by mental illness and substance use disorder.

LA Family Housing served nearly 11,000 men, women, and children in 2018 – a 47% increase over the previous year. We placed nearly 2,300 people into permanent homes – a 61% increase – with 97% of those placed remaining stable and permanently housed.

While we’re moving people into available housing faster than ever, there remains a huge shortage of available interim housing beds and affordable rental homes. LA County has a tremendous shortage of affordable housing units, and rents are rising faster for low-income renters and far faster than wages. Median household income decreased by 3% between 2000 and 2017, and a renter would need to earn $47.52 per hour to afford the median monthly asking rent. More than 2 million county residents pay more than 50% of their monthly income on housing.

LA Family Housing is helping more people than ever, but we must ramp up our efforts to address the growing inflow into homelessness. This means increasing affordable housing, preventing unjust evictions, and limiting rental increases. We must continue to scale up the solutions that are working to meet the size of the problem, invest more in prevention and diversion, and build on services and connections to those exiting foster care, the criminal justice system, and hospitals.

At the community level, the most important change we need to make is to rally support for the development of new housing. Everyone can help by saying yes to more housing in their neighborhoods.

Thanks to the investments made by the people of LA County through Measure H, the City of LA through HHH, and your incredible support, LA Family Housing is helping more people than ever sleep in a safe home tonight. Our urgent mission continues to help those who don't.

Stephanie Klasky-Gamer
LA Family Housing President & CEO

HELP US MOVE MORE PEOPLE HOME

Aigerim's Story

As asylum seekers, Aigerim, her husband Almas, and their two young girls Ailin and Amina moved in with their cousins as a way to find a better life and save money. But living together was more of struggle than expected, and Aigerim and her family were forced to leave. Almas drove Uber and Lyft to support the family while they bounced around from motel to motel

Every day Almas would drop the girls at school, leave Aigerim at the library to look for work, and begin his driving shift. The family saved money by eating one meal a day while the girls ate breakfast and lunch at school. Then one day at the library, Aigerim googled “LA shelter” and found LA Family Housing.

LA Family Housing was a life saver.
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LA Family Housing arranged for the family to stay at a motel, and once space became available, they were moved to bridge housing. With housing in place, Aigerim found an opportunity as a teacher’s assistant with support from LA Family Housing’s employment team. A few months later, they moved into a new permanent home.

On their first night at home, Ailin and Amina ran through the apartment, laughing and squealing as the family ate instant noodles together.

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“When we lived in motels and shelter, my daughters would always say, ‘Let’s go home. Let’s go home.’”

Because of LA Family Housing, Aigerim’s family was able to go home.

Tiesha's Story

Tiesha, a Los Angeles native and mother of five, fled her home with her three youngest children to escape an abusive relationship. Heartbroken and afraid, she left her eldest children with their Aunt and moved to a small, inexpensive place in Vegas. After five years of being separated from her children, Tiesha wanted to come home.  Reuniting was bittersweet, because it also meant that the family was too large to stay with relatives. With nowhere to turn, Tiesha’s family found themselves on the streets.

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Tiesha’s sister told her about LA Family Housing, who placed the family in crisis housing as they worked to find them a permanent home. After eight months of searching, Tiesha got the call from her Housing Navigator letting her know they had finally found them a home. “My eyes lit up like Christmas. It was time for me to go. I looked at my kids and I said, ‘You guys ready to go home? We have a house!’”

A home is a foundation. I couldn’t think about going to school when I was sleeping in someone’s truck.

Now that Tiesha has a place to call home, she also plans to go back to school for child development.

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