Finding 'Somewhere to Exist' in Los Angeles

Finding 'Somewhere to Exist' in Los Angeles

H4WRD Blog

Persons experiencing homelessness on the streets of Los Angeles face a number of daunting challenges on a daily basis: deteriorating physical and mental health, lack of access to nutritious food and medication, inadequate sleep and rest, and exposure to extreme weather and ongoing threats to personal safety and well-being, to name just a few. For these reasons, homelessness leads to mortality rates 3.8 times higher than in the general population of LA County residents. 

The hopeful news for persons experiencing homelessness – and for the people who care about them and want to help – is that there are many providers in the area who offer daytime services designed to meet many of our unhoused neighbors’ needs. Unfortunately, as a recent report from the Rand Corporation’s Social and Economic Well-Being division makes clear, too many of these programs “remain siloed and inefficient, with limited coordination across systems, out of reach and mismatched to the level of need.

The RAND report, entitled Somewhere to Exist: Understanding the Landscape of Daytime Services for People Experiencing Homelessness in Los Angeles County, was prepared on behalf of United Way of Greater Los Angeles and based on data collected from a survey of service providers*, in-depth interviews with provider staff, as well as in-depth interviews with clients with lived experience on the street. The project was undertaken between November 2022 and April 2023, and included a cross-section of providers that overlaps with a significant portion of the Hollywood 4WRD coalition:  

  • Nonprofit organizations, defined as secular public or private registered organizations.
  • Faith-based organizations that are religiously affiliated and charitable.
  • Community-based organizations, also known as mutual aids, which are informal and volunteer-based. 
  • Public agencies, which are government operated at local, state, and federal level. 

The report was released in June 2023 and offers a thorough and focused review of LA County’s daytime services. Rick Garvey, one of the RAND authors, explained the report’s focus:

“Having a safe, convenient, meaningful place to be during the day, in other words ‘somewhere to exist,’ is critically important to people’s immediate and long-term well-being.”

The aptly titled report makes achingly clear how hostile and unforgiving life can be on the streets, especially when people don’t have access to these “safe, convenient, meaningful places.

For Louis Abramson, a homeless advocate who sits on the boards of both Hollywood 4WRD and SELAH, the report is essential reading for everyone committed to preventing and ending street homelessness in LA.

“What’s clear to me after reading Somewhere to Exist is that each inefficiency in our system represents another life falling between the cracks.”

Many of the inefficiencies that exist in our current systems of care, the report states, can be traced to the problem of providers being siloed off from each other. The report found that many of the providers studied operated “with only limited coordination across systems, out of reach and mismatched to the level of need.

According to many of the providers' clients who were interviewed for the report, access to facilities was one of the more frequent complaints. These “access difficulties” were experienced across all types of service providers, manifesting in several ways:

  • Sites that are overcrowded: Sometimes when you get there, there's a line. Some people wait out there in line for about an hour before they start.”
  • Sites that are a long distance away: Finding a food bank. Sometimes those aren't real close.
  • Sites that are open only at restricted times: It's hard to get anything down to a schedule when you're homeless.”

Among the providers who were surveyed, nearly three quarters of them (74%) were interested in expanding the capacity of their current services to meet what they recognized as the greater needs of the community. But funding, whether from private or public sources, is always a challenge when expansion is being considered. Sarah Hunter, another of the report’s authors, said that providers often experienced funding frustrations even in success.

“Even when funding does come through,” Ms. Hunter shared. “It often does so with restrictions, or the providers must allocate the new funds to higher operating costs rather than expanding services.”

Another significant threat to service expansion is local community NIMBYism, ie., the not-in-my-back-yard attitudes that can be expressed as concerns over property values, increased crime, and simply not wanting persons experiencing homelessness in their neighborhoods. Dealing with such resistance causes an additional drain on resources as organizations with tight budgets and already limited human resources must engage in appeasement, education, and outreach.

Louis Abramson, a Hollywood resident himself, understands his neighbors’ concerns, but hopes they’ll read this report.

“From every perspective -- whether you're focused on the human suffering they cause, or the fact that, when people fall through them, they land outside your front door -- this report hammers home the reality that our collective future depends on closing these service gaps.”

More hopefully, the report also points out the many positive features of these daytime programs, and includes testimonials from clients who have benefited from their services. Those organizations receiving high marks included features such as:

  • Staff that were friendly, nonjudgmental, and professional: They do all they can, they understand when you can’t make it.
  • An atmosphere that was welcoming, and that participants often described as “calm.” The courtyard, the atmosphere, the calmness of it. The greens. Everything. 

Somewhere to Exist also offers strategies on how to increase meaningful collaborations between nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, and public agencies. These strategies are captured crisply and helpfully in the report’s recommendations:

  • Increase Availability of Drop-In Centers with Expanded Services and Physical Capacity
  • Invest in the People Doing the Work
  • Build a Culture of Data
  • Invest in Inter-organizational collaboration
  • Include Clients in Program and Policy Decisions
The Hollywood 4WRD community is fortunate to have many examples of the report’s strategies and recommendations being implemented right here in Hollywood. 

For one thing, we have a number of cutting-edge, best-in-class daytime providers in its coalition. These are organizations who offer their clients the kinds of “one-stop shops” the report’s respondents found most helpful, where they could be connected to longer-term care, such as health, housing, social, and financial support services.

As the community liaison for LACDMH’s innovative pilot program, Hollywood 2.0, H4WRD has also had a ringside seat as H20’s first intentionally “non-siloed” assets have come online in the past year. 

Working alongside other recently launched initiatives like The Hollywood Partnership’s Community Dispatch Center and the Mayor’s CIRCLE program, H20 is bringing to the Hollywood community just the kind of “better inter-organizational collaboration” the report recommends. This type of collaboration, the report suggests, will come with a range of potential provider benefits, such as the avoidance of duplication in activities, more effective sharing of assets, and waste reduction, while potentially increasing capacity by re-deploying underutilized resources.

H20's Community Map & Legend

Despite the many advances in Hollywood, there is still much work to be done throughout LA County to better capitalize on the collaborations that currently exist, and to shape and expand the synergistic collaborations providers will need to deliver better quality and coverage.

With the recommendations from Somewhere to Exist in mind, and the recent progress in Hollywood as inspiration, here’s hoping all committed advocates and allies are ready to do the work necessary to ensure that all persons experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles will soon be able to access “safe, meaningful places” every day.
Young clients embrace at My Friend's Place

Download and read the full RAND Report, Somewhere to Exist HERE

Additional resources on this topic:

* -- Hollywood 4WRD was one of the organizations who helped distribute the RAND/United Way survey.

Photos courtesy of the RAND Corporation, except where otherwise noted.