Editorial: Homeless Strategy Is Working in the Palisades

Jeff Kositsky, the new czar in charge of moving thousands of homeless people off the streets and into supportive housing in San Francisco, is taking an approach similar to what is going on in Pacific Palisades.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Kositsky has created an Encampment Resolution Team that is dedicated to clearing the city’s homeless encampments.

Simultaneously, he’s working “to streamline the efforts of the more than 70 nonprofit agencies that work with city government on everything from shelters to job programs. That will help get people more efficiently into drug rehab beds, mental health centers and housing.”

Kositsky is also establishing an integrated tracking system that will show every service a homeless person has been connected to including jail, rehab, food agency and housing. “That can eliminate repeat tries at something that didn’t work and illuminate each person’s most severe problems so a realistic approach can be crafted to help him or her,” the Chronicle wrote.

Kostisky said it may take as many as two years for his system to be fully operable, but he noted that integrated tracking programs in Houston and Salt Lake have been successful.

The Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness (PPTFH), established last fall, is using a similar approach. After raising money to hire two OPCC social workers in January, the task force’s first step was to find the homeless in the Palisades and identify them.

The next step was to increase local law enforcement, by not allowing the homeless to live illegally on the beach or in high-hazard fire zones, such as the brush-covered hillsides above PCH. Once homeless people aren’t allowed to “camp out,” they are more likely to accept housing.

A reality to overcome is the fact that even if someone is offered housing and accepts, it can be one step forward, two back. The two social workers said at a recent PPTFH meeting that one homeless individual took several weeks to become accustomed to sleeping inside. He would spend a night indoors, then go back to the street for a few nights and then come back. Gradually he has transitioned to housing.

Last fall, in an interview with the Post 283 News, Veterans Administration spokesman Vincent Kane noted that the VA adopted a “Housing First” program in 2011. “When someone is in permanent housing, statistics show hospitalization and other costs are less,” Kane said.

Nationwide, the program has had an 84 percent success rate with veterans since its implementation. “There has been a 33 percent decrease in homeless veterans on the streets,” Kane said. “It has been a game changer.”

Kane said the program was inspired by Malcom Gladwell’s New Yorker February 2006 article, “Million Dollar Murray.” The article detailed the travails of an ex-Marine who had a chronic drinking problem and kept cycling in and out of hospitals and prisons. Reno police reported that often he was sent to an emergency room because of intoxication. Sometimes he would stay in the hospital for days, while he was stabilized. Local police tracked both the number of times Murray stayed in the hospital and the expense over 10 years for police time, paramedics and medical costs. The total was almost $1 million dollars.

That same problem exists in the Palisades, with emergency and medical personnel repeatedly called to help homeless who have similar issues. Jessie, who lives by the bus stop at Vons and PCH, has had repeated runs to the emergency room, but on August 30, he finally got into a car with a social worker and is headed to housing and services.

Although some residents in the Palisades would prefer to see the homeless simply carted off to a new location or put in jail, and others think the best way to help the homeless is to feed them or give them cash—the real game changer in this town has been the PPTFH approach.

Aided by Palisades volunteers, the LAPD and the OPCC social workers are continually identifying the homeless living here and making contact. Names and stories are exchanged and those living on the street and in the canyons are given choices.

Our homeless people are being tracked, much like San Francisco is going to be doing, and offered housing, much like the VA is doing.

If our homeless can’t follow the law, they will be removed from the town. But, these same homeless can also choose services that are readily available in Santa Monica and on the Westside. Every homeless person who comes into contact with the police is given a business card (printed by PPTFH) with a number that goes directly to the two social workers.

Clearly, the Palisades model of compassion, law enforcement and services is working (and is already being emulated by Malibu). Seventy-nine homeless individuals have been identified here, and 17 have chosen housing.

We urge everybody to help PPTFH complete its funding of the social workers for 2017 (an additional $20,000 is needed)—and donate towards a third full year ($120,000) by visiting its website: pptfh.org.

A vast amount of money will be required to address the various homeless issues at the city, county and state level in the coming years. But right now, the problem exists in our community, the need is immediate—and the Task Force strategy is on the right track.

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