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Mayor’s Column: Homeless crisis requires state leadership

WHITTIER – For my column this week, I want to follow-up last week’s column regarding the homelessness situation.

Several months ago Drew Pryor, a co- founder of the Whittier Consortium on Homelessness, and myself authored an article, The Flood: The Deluge of Homelessness in California, the Need to get to the Root Causes and How to do so. Because the article is somewhat lengthy, we will provide the first half of the article this week. And before I forget…see you at the Uptown Christmas Parade which starts at 10:00 am tomorrow!

When it comes to homelessness in California, cities and counties throughout the state are busy mopping up the deluge. And as we have seen in our town, Whittier is not immune. But we need help from Sacramento to address the source of the leak.

California has the highest number of people experiencing homelessness in the nation. Communities, cities and counties are working hard to address the issue, but at the local level we desperately need collaborative leadership at the state level to address the main issues that speak directly to the source of our homelessness crisis.

Mental health, drug and substance abuse, housing costs and recent criminal “reforms” have all converged like a perfect storm to create the explosion of homelessness we are facing. But these are state level issues that cry out for state level resolutions in a coordinated manner. If not, the only sad option is to continue mopping up water without fixing the leak.

Whittier has seen a 44% reduction in our homeless population by head count since 2015. But we saw our first uptick in 2019, along with the rest of Los Angeles County. The percentage of our neighbors experiencing homelessness per population is fewer than half the Los Angeles County average. This is not by accident. Residents here have formed the Whittier Consortium on Homelessness designed to bring various sectors of our community together to discuss collaborative and mutually beneficial solutions to homelessness. The Consortium launched “Imagine Whittier,” a mentorship program that in its first year has seen 100 percent of families recovering from homelessness maintain their housing.

Last year our local non-profit, The Whole Child, housed 244 families in the region.

We opened a new shelter at the Salvation Army for women and children, established a MHET team (Mental Health Evaluation Team) through the Whittier Police Department and L.A. County Department of Mental Health, formed a veteran’s resource center at our public library, created a comprehensive City of Whittier Homelessness Plan. And we are looking to establish a mobile shower program and a Jobs Readiness program in Whittier.

Our city staff, county partners, non-profits, service providers, faith community, business, health, and education sectors have all come together to address our homeless challenges head-on through collaboration, and we are seeing promising results. Yet even with all the success we have seen in Whittier, the problem of homelessness still looms large…

Part two next week.

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