On any given night, it is estimated that there are 750,000 homeless men, women and children in the U.S. During one year, 2.5-3.5 million people will be homeless for some period of time.
In January 2006 at a press conference announcing the release of the countywide census conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stated bluntly, “This is the capital of homelessness in America.”
Los Angeles County contains the largest population of people living below the poverty line of any metropolitan area in the U.S., and, at the same time, it is one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in which to live. The county has the largest population of homeless people, by far, of any metropolitan area in the U.S. The 2007 LAHSA Homelessness Count estimates that there are 73,702 people in Los Angeles County who are homeless on any particular night. The five boroughs of New York City have 48,155 homeless individuals (2005 census). Over the course of a year, it is estimated that there are more than 160,000 individuals who are homeless at some point in time in Los Angeles County.
At OPCC, we find it deeply troubling that in a country of great wealth and in a city of great wealth, there are so many people who are in such desperate situations, sleeping in homeless shelters or on city streets, in cars, in parks and on beaches.
There are more people on the streets for longer periods of time, in part, due to the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles. Poverty, domestic violence and discrimination, coupled for many with mental illness and addictions, have led to the rise of homelessness as a national and local problem, and one that is particularly acute in Santa Monica and on the Westside of Los Angeles. National efforts to serve chronically homeless individuals now acknowledge that mental illness, physical disabilities, and co-occurring disorders are major factors in the failure of programs to move people permanently into housing.
Homelessness became a widespread social phenomenon in the 1980s. The loss of living wage jobs, the closure of many state hospitals that had previously cared for severely mentally ill people and the proliferation of highly addictive and cheap street drugs all contributed to thousands of people living on the streets.
Many people, sometimes with the help of family, friends, or government or nonprofit programs, find a way to get back on their feet before long. Others find it much more difficult, spending years living on the streets. While OPCC serves all people who are homeless and many who are at risk for homelessness, the agency has a particular expertise in and is commitment to assisting chronically homeless individuals who most frequently are dealing with mental health illness, addictions, and/or physical disabilities in addition to poverty.
OPCC is the largest and most comprehensive provider of services on the Westside to low income and homeless youth, adults and families, battered women and their children, and people living with mental illness, particularly homeless mentally ill women. OPCC not only provides services, but also provides housing, with 257 emergency and transitional beds in six facilities and over 150 individuals living in apartments throughout the region with vouchers obtained by OPCC.
Rooted in a commitment to those disenfranchised in our community, OPCC has grown from an initial single, day center into a complete continuum of care for homeless individuals and victims of domestic violence, comprising emergency, transitional, and permanent housing and supportive services, including mental and medical health programs, food, counseling, peer support, and in-depth preparation for independent living. OPCC’s work is about meeting people where they’re at, and helping them decide where they want to be. OPCC doesn’t change or fix people. The agency provides the resources and support for its clients to make informed choices about their lives, empowering people to rebuild their lives and become independent and self-sufficient.
The City and County of Los Angeles have formed a Joint Powers Authority to address the problems of homelessness on a regional basis. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) plans for and funds contracted providers of services to the homeless, and submits a collective, regional plan to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for 34 governmental jurisdictions, eight Service Planning Area (SPA) homeless coalitions, service providers, faith-based organizations, businesses, foundations, and consumers of homeless services. This “Continuum of Care Plan” is the primary planning tool and mechanism for federal funding for the needs of the homeless in Los Angeles County. Over the past several years, HUD and LAHSA have increasingly stressed the use of federal funding to end “chronic homelessness”.