A Tree Grows in Hollywood: The Genesis of Hollywood 4WRD

A Tree Grows in Hollywood: The Genesis of Hollywood 4WRD

H4WRD Blog

Part One: The Genesis

The seeds for what would become Hollywood 4WRD were planted in 2004 when PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) launched their Project: YIMBY (“Yes, In My BackYard”) Campaign. The initiative was a response to the resistance of many Angelenos to providing housing support and services for persons experiencing homelessness (PEH), and catches the attention of Kerry Morrison. As Executive Director of Hollywood’s Business Improvement District, Kerry was becoming increasingly aware of the many challenges homelessness presented to the Hollywood community.

In December of 2005, Project:“YIMBY” hosted the first Homeless Connect Day at the Hollygrove Children’s Residential Treatment Center (which once housed a young Norma Jean Baker, aka Marilyn Monroe). The one-day event is a collaboration between the County of Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles, the State of California, and non-profit agencies in SPA-4 to provide free one-stop services to PEH and families needing assistance. Phil Mangano, head of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), attends and emphasizes that “ending” homelessness will be much less expensive than simply “managing” it.

Over the next several years, Kerry is joined by a wide range of stakeholders in the Hollywood community – including business leaders, local government officials, social service providers, local residents, and the faith community – begin meeting to discuss their shared commitment to finding more effective solutions to the crisis of homelessness in their midst. By early 2008, they are meeting monthly and decide it’s time to formalize their expanding coalition. The group calls itself Hollywood 4WRD (for 4 Walls, a Roof, and a Door) and, heeding Mangano’s guidance, aims to end homelessness in Hollywood in ten years… by 2018. 

In addition to their ambitious goal, the newly-minted H4WRD proudly proclaims its grassroots adherence to a “No B’s” policy: no Budget, no Bylaws, no Building!

Part Two – Growing Pains and Gains

With their new name and a heightened sense of determination, Hollywood 4WRD hits the ground running. In March of 2008, they collaborate with PATH to host the fourth Project YIMBY Homeless Connect Day at the Music Box Theater. Close to 200 volunteers, primarily from the Hollywood community, participate in the day-long effort to connect PEH with various services and providers intended to offer stability. More than 500 participants receive services that day.

In May of that same year, H4WRD secures the financial sponsorship of the United Way to host an invitation-only event in Hollywood at the Roosevelt Hotel. Their intent is to engage business and community leaders to exercise leadership in ending homelessness (rather than “managing” it). They secure a friend in a very high place to be their keynote speaker for the evening – Philip Mangano, now known informally as President Bush’s “Homeless Czar”. Mangano introduces a new concept to the gathered attendees that is both inspiring and challenging: to accept responsibility for those who are homeless in your community, and to set performance and housing goals to better measure your progress. 

Two other early H4WRD initiatives include organizing a visit for stakeholders to witness the PSH locations established by Step Up on Second, and a “snapshot count” of Hollywood’s homeless, ranging from La Brea to Western, and Franklin to Santa Monica Blvd. Their goal with the site visit is to show their stakeholders that Hollywood’s homeless are more deserving of compassion than fear; their goal with the count is to respond to Mangano’s call for better metrics to measure more accurately the scope of the challenge they were addressing.

Perhaps most significantly, H4WRD takes part in the creation of the first Hollywood Homeless Registry in April of 2010. In partnership with Common Ground from New York City, H4WRD volunteers fan out over the course of 3 nights to survey PEH, take their photo and provide them with $5 Subway gift cards. Nearly 300 of the most vulnerable are identified by name, creating a “Vulnerability Index” for this first Registry, aligning with the new Mangano-led American strategy of housing the most vulnerable first. 

The effort unifies the community and leads to the formation of the Hollywood Homeless Outreach Team (HHOT). H4WRD founding member Rudy Salinas and his team become the ‘air traffic controllers’ for HHOT, a visible sign of progress in the march to end homelessness in Hollywood.

Part Three – Community Activation and Advocacy

In April, 2012, H4WRD gathers with the community to celebrate the grand opening of Villas at Gower, the first example of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) in Hollywood. The project took years to come to fruition due to fierce resistance from some in the community to this type of housing. The new residents and staff at the Villas express gratitude to H4WRD for their fierce advocacy and support. The opening represents a meaningful triumph for H4WRD, and serves as a catalyst for continued growth of the coalition.

In the Spring of 2013, after five years of existence, H4WRD organizes its first retreat for its members in a rehearsal room at the Hollywood Bowl. Among the providers who join are PATH, Step Up, GettLove, Housing Works, Blessed Sacrament  and several youth agencies. Facilitated by volunteer leaders, they discuss formalizing their advocacy agenda, while identifying the key challenges they needed to tackle, including: 

  • How to help those who were defined as “super-chronic” homeless anchors that seemed impossible to help. This results in the creation of the Hollywood Top 14 list (the 14 most vulnerable PEH most in need of their support).
  • How to effectively update/revise The Homeless Registry, which was determined to be out of date. Their subsequent revision served as one of the building blocks to the piloting of the CES (Coordinated Entry System).

Two years later, H4WRD holds its second retreat in downtown LA, this time with the formal intention of creating a more robust advocacy agenda. They move into Breakout groups and emerge with four clear goals: 

  1. How to address the impact of the “frequent service utilizers”
  2. How to further the assistance offered to the Top 14
  3. How to increase effectiveness of the CES
  1. At that time, they needed to find housing for 850 people
  1. How to better coordinate the outreach being done by various organizations in Hollywood.

In the wake of the homeless count of 2017 revealing more than a 20% increase in PEH in LA, H4WRD holds a third retreat at Salvation Army. Among the key issues they discuss tackling are ensuring Hollywood has the capacity to access Measure H dollars and addressing youth homelessness and the specter of a lost generation. But by far the most important outcome of this retreat is the decision to formalize their coalition so they can speak more effectively with a unified voice and data to back up their advocacy efforts.

Part Four – Onward, Upward, and 4WRD

In the Spring of 2020, as the world begins to shut down due to COVID-19, the stakeholders of H4WRD are aware immediately that the Pandemic will hit Hollywood’s PEH community the hardest. Determined to address this greater need. They hold their first zoom meeting in late March, and will continue to meet every week for the next year, as the Pandemic’s impact reinforces the need for a stronger coalition. 

The Hollywood Partnership (formerly the BID) provides the support needed for them to create a strategic plan, which now includes the clear priority of hiring their full time staff person. Thanks to initial seed funding from The Partnership and Hudson Pacific, that goal is realized in May of 2021 with the hiring of Brittney Weissman as the first Executive Director of Hollywood 4WRD. The coalition might have abandoned a couple of the B’s in their “No 3 B’s” mantra – after all they now DID have Bylaws AND a budget – but they picked up a killer B in return with Brittney!

In her role as Executive Director of NAMI Greater Los Angeles County, Brittney had been part of the delegation who’d traveled to Trieste, Italy, to observe the progressive, community-based treatment of the mentally ill practiced there. The delegation, organized by H4WRD’s Kerry Morrison, included LA leaders from various disciplines – judges, mental health, homelessness agencies, advocacy organizations, law enforcement, district attorney’s office – along with Dr. John Sherin, the Director of Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) at the time. The group’s time in Italy was deeply impactful, and they returned to Los Angeles determined to bring Trieste’s model of “radical hospitality” to an American community that needed it badly. 

What started out as the original Mental Health Services Act-funded TRIESTE pilot transitioned during the pandemic and the advent of CalAim into Hollywood 2.0, an innovative pilot administered through LACDMH that would attempt to replicate Trieste in Hollywood. Because of the large imprint they’d made in the Hollywood community, and because of Brittney’s existing relationships with DMH leaders, H4WRD is chosen as the partner and community liaison for the Hollywood 2.0 pilot. H20’s launch in July of 2022 coincided with the expansion of the H4WRD staff as Tim Davis comes aboard as the organization’s new Communications and Operations Director.

Now nearly 15 years after its founding, H4WRD’s position as a hub in the Hollywood community is strong and growing stronger, fueled by the passion of it’s diverse and expanding coalition to continue providing better support and services to the homeless population who need it the most.