LONG BEACH HOMELESS COLUMN:Why now is the right time for a proclamation on homelessness
In Kelly Colopy's seventh column on the homelessness crisis, Long Beach Health Department & Human Services Director talks about why Long Beach declared an emergency on homelessness — and why it matters.
Take a read below. This column first appeared in the Press-Telegram.
Colopy: Why now is the right time for a proclamtion on homelessness
The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to proclaim a homelessness emergency. This is a step that both Los Angeles city and Los Angeles County also have taken.
The questions that I keep getting are, why now and what difference will it make?
The city has been working for many years to end homelessness.
In the years immediately prior to the pandemic, we saw decreasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness. But then, our 2022 point-time-count found a 62% increase.
The reasons people experience homelessness include job loss, family disruption, trauma and violence, all of which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The city and its partners just have not had the capacity to meet the need of the more than 250 people per day showing up to the Multi-Service Center, or to provide safe, warm housing to the more than 2,000 people in Long Beach who are unsheltered.
Like other places, we have a comprehensive strategy in Long Beach — staff and community partners provide robust services to help people move from the streets.
But more is needed.
While there were challenges before, the issue is now urgent, particularly during the winter months when people face great danger living outdoors. If we are going to make any significant change, now is a critical time to act.
We saw from the COVID-19 emergency what could happen under an emergency proclamation — the focused attention, reassigning staff, streamlining processes, and increasing access to resources allowed us to do so much very quickly.
We are taking a similar approach to homelessness.
How can the emergency proclamation help?
The emergency homelessness proclamation brings us a number of tools to expand our already comprehensive approach.
Declaring an emergency, for example, enables us to bring together leadership and staff from across city departments in reassigned roles focused on finding solutions and putting them in action. It also allows us to streamline city processes, such as staff hiring, procurement, building siting and construction, so that safe shelters and services can move forward more quickly and efficiently.
Ultimately, by proclaiming an emergency on homelessness, we as a city can take actions that would otherwise be more challenging or take longer.
What’s being done?
In just the couple of weeks since the emergency was proclaimed, the city has expanded services for people in Long Beach who are unhoused, and we will continue to build on the established services and resources in place with new and enhanced strategies, and an equitable approach.
Our first step was to assign more than 100 city leaders and employees to the emergency response.
Public Works Director Eric Lopez and I have the privilege of serving as incident commanders for this emergency. Workgroups continue their work daily, and we all meet weekly together at the Emergency Operations Center to provide updates and work across issue areas.
Key focus areas include intergovernmental partnerships, community partnerships, public health and safety, housing access, data and technology, communications, procurement, personnel, and logistics.
We have also launched a Mobile Access Center — essentially an MSC on wheels – to address immediate needs.
The MAC has been operating downtown and will move throughout the city based on need. This brings about 10 more hours per week of MSC access to the city.
People can enroll in services at the MAC, be referred to mental health and substance use treatment, begin the process of accessing documents and much more. And we will continue to grow capacity. Once we bring our second MAC staff and vehicle online, we’ll provide 60 hours per week of services via this way, and we’ll use data to bring the MACs to the areas of the city that need services the most.
What’s more, we made a call to action to property owners to participate in our Emergency Housing Voucher program and help provide permanent housing to the nearly 200 people who hold vouchers but cannot find a place to stay.
And we announced new affordable housing being developed in our city. These developments will add 200 more affordable homes to our city’s housing stock.
In the next couple of weeks, we will announce a second emergency shelter site, more safe and supportive overnight parking, and an interim housing strategy for those whose only source of shelter is their vehicle, as well as an RV dump station for those living solely in their RVs in Long Beach.
We are also accelerating long-term solutions, including the development of permanent supportive housing.
To have the greatest impact, we must also work closely with the community, local stakeholders and regional partners to address the root causes of homelessness.
While it’s vital that we continue to connect with businesses, our educational institutions, nonprofits and faith-based organizations for an all-hands approach, we must do more. This will mean making funding available through grants, for example, for businesses and organizations to support their engagement in the city’s effort.
This is a public health crisis
As the city did with COVID-19, it’s vital that we come together now to put solutions into place to address our current homelessness crisis and prevent it from growing.
We must do everything we can to support the well-being and dignity of all Long Beach residents, with a strong focus on community members who are unhoused, as there are tremendous barriers that keep them from living healthy lives.
Our approach over these next few months will have a meaningful impact on our city, and those who live, work and visit here. We must do everything we can to shift the momentum to significantly reduce the number of people who are falling into homelessness and those who are currently unhoused.
Kelly Colopy is the director of Long Beach’s Department of Health and Human Services.