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Long Beach Homeless Column: This is a typical day at the Long Beach Multi-Service Center

Published: 9/26/2022

In the fourth column the Long Beach Health & Human Services Department invited Paul Duncan, the city's Homeless Services Bureau manager, to discuss a day in the life of those who work at Long Beach's main homeless services facility.

Take a read below. This column first appeared in the Press-Telegram

Homelessness: This is a typical day at the Long Beach Multi-Service Center

By Paul Duncan,  
Contributing writer

Recently, a younger woman came into Long Beach’s Multi-Service Center and, while checking in, began having a panic attack.

She was crying uncontrollably and unable to communicate with the staff at the front desk. Staff quickly realized she was not in a space where she would be able to communicate her needs, and her actions were beginning to impact other people waiting to check in. Staff walked with her to the MSC wellness room — a quiet, private space with comfortable couches and chairs. They stayed with her, giving the woman time to let her emotions settle.

After a few minutes, she was able to have a conversation with staff in a way that met her needs and acknowledged her need for a quieter environment.

This is an example of one incident, in a day of incidents, during which staff takes the extra care and time needed to make sure people entering the MSC feel safe, supported and heard. MSC staff are constantly adjusting as they work through challenging situations that require additional care and support.

My name is Paul Duncan, and I oversee the city’s operations for homelessness response and prevention, including day-to-day operations at the MSC. For this month’s column I’m stepping in for Kelly Colopy, the Health and Human Services Department director, to talk about a day in the life at our MSC.

Many readers have heard of the MSC and some of the work we do. But I want to pull back the curtain so you can have a better understanding of the day-to-day work that supports people experiencing homelessness in Long Beach. This work helps uplift our entire community.

Since opening our doors in 1999, the MSC has been connecting people who are homeless to services.

But never have we had the volume of people in need that we have now.

In some ways, this isn’t good news, because it means that we have more people living on the street, in their cars and in other unstable, precarious situations. There is a positive, however: more folks visiting the MSC means more people have taken the incredible step to accept services — and we are there to support them in any way possible.

We have been stepping up our support to meet the need.

Here’s what a typical day at the MSC looks like:

8 a.m.: The morning is our busiest time, and typically 60 to 80 people have checked in within the first hour of opening. By the time we open our doors, in fact, we typically have a line of 50 people or more, all waiting for services.

Throughout the day, someone walks into the MSC, on average, every 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

9 a.m.: After the first hour, the number of new people coming in slows to a pace that is a bit easier to manage.

More than half of those visiting the MSC have complex medical conditions. About a third of clients have significant mental health issues, for which many have not been receiving support. These range from learning difficulties and traumatic brain injuries to people who are actively experiencing auditory hallucinations and have difficulty organizing their thoughts.

During this early part of the day, we start providing services to clients. We provide many services at the MSC, both from city staff and our community partners, from basic services such as showers and mail access to more intensive services, including case management, linking eligible people to interim and permanent housing, public benefits assistance, mental health support, substance use services and employment programs.

We also connect people to programs specifically for veterans and families.

And we have a medical clinic operated by The Children’s Clinic on site, as well as a Homeless Court (in partnership with the City Prosecutor’s Office) that allows people to address misdemeanor crimes on their record that may be a barrier to housing or employment.

Noon: The MSC is closed from noon to 1 p.m. It’s important to make sure our staff can break before regrouping in the afternoon. During this time, maintenance staff does a thorough cleaning of the lobby and restrooms, and people seeking services are offered lunch in the park behind the MSC.

1 p.m.: With only three hours before the MSC closes, time is of the essence for meeting with everyone who has checked in and working with people who are concerned about where they are going to sleep that night.

I wish we had enough beds and housing for every person experiencing homelessness in the city. But despite having made incredible strides in recent years, there is still more need.

Some people, however, can’t wait – not even one more day: pregnant women, families with children, older adults with health issues, people who are blind and people whose lives are in danger from an intimate partner are among those emergency cases. That’s when we go into overdrive.

Staff are wrapping up with some people and trying to get others to a safe place before the end of the day. Sometimes, that means connecting a person to a domestic violence program or a crisis bed in order to give staff more time to develop a long-term plan with the person.

4 p.m.: The MSC closes at 4 p.m. but our work is far from over. While we no longer take walk-ins after 4 p.m., we don’t turn clients away who are in the middle of receiving case management or other services, either.

And then, once the clients’ cases are wrapped up, it’s time for staff to finish paperwork, plan for their following workday, regroup with team members and prepare for the more than 175 people the MSC will see the following day.

Supervisors work to address any pressing issues that occur after closing.

If someone is having a mental health crisis or a medical emergency, staff will work to get the person stabilized; it often takes a lot of creative problem solving to get the person to a safe space for the evening. It is not uncommon to see a supervisor supporting and engaging people around the MSC until 7 p.m.

7 p.m.: The MSC parking lot opens for people signed up for the safe parking program, which allows folks to sleep overnight in their vehicles, with on-site security and access to restrooms.

Of all the feedback I get as the Homeless Services Bureau manager (and I get a lot of feedback!), one of the most consistent is a request for longer hours at the MSC.

We know that homelessness doesn’t only happen from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. And while we are looking at strategies for increasing hours and access through telephone support after hours, there will always be a limit to what we can do.

Even if the MSC were open 24/7, midnight visits wouldn’t enable us to connect people to the dozens of partner organizations we rely on to help us carry out our work.

And while the MSC isn’t open on the weekends, it’s important to know that our outreach staff is out in the field seven days a week connecting with people experiencing homelessness and providing in-the-moment support.

If you are experiencing homelessness, or think you are at risk of becoming homeless, and need help, you can call MSC staff at 562-570-4500. If you want to help someone experiencing homelessness through outreach, you can call 562-570-4MSC (4672). If it goes to voicemail, please leave a voicemail with your name and number. We listen to every message and we follow up on your requests. Finally, if you have suggestions for me, or the MSC, please email us at homelessness@longbeach.gov.

We are all in this together as a community and your thoughtful suggestions are always welcome.

Paul Duncan is the city’s Homeless Services Bureau manager within the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services.

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