New LA County website streamlines requesting help for the homeless

As homelessness has spread throughout Los Angeles County, online communities have sprouted up on Facebook, Nextdoor and other websites in which people express alarm and dismay, as well as frustration over not seeing more improvement.

Sandy Capps, a Sunland-Tujunga resident who does outreach with several homeless individuals in her neighborhood, said a common response to homelessness is to “complain that there’s a homeless person laying on the sidewalk” on social media or comment streams.

But other than reporting and documenting these changes in their community in online forums, there have not been many options available for the public to quickly urge help people for who are experiencing homelessness, she said.

In the city of Los Angeles, the 311 smartphone app can be used to request sanitation crews to clear away homeless encampments, but “all that does is send the city out to tag (the encampment) and remove the items,” Capps said.

And police can often be called to respond to incidents involving homeless individuals.

The one thing that has been missing is a simple, clear-cut way to request outreach workers to come out and offer services and housing to the homeless, Capps said.

This may be changing, now that an online portal has launched aimed at doing just that, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority officials said this week.

LA-HOP, the new Los Angeles Homeless Outreach Portal online, went live Wednesday evening. It gives residents the ability to make a request for an outreach team to come out and offer help to a homeless person.

The website can also used by people who are homeless to request help for themselves.

The website is funded by Measure H, which raised the countywide sales tax to pay for programs aimed at alleviating homelessness.While a seemingly common-sense step, the new tool has the potential to make a difference in the way people can help those in need, Capps said.

“It’s difficult to get around to try to help everybody, and that portal just seems like it will identify and document everything, and then the agencies that are paid to do what they’re supposed to do can go out there and do it.”

Navigating outreach efforts for the homeless has notoriously been a head-spinning experience, especially for members of the public who often find themselves getting bounced from one public agency to the next.

Tom Booth, who is co-chair of the West Hills Neighborhood Council’s Homelessness Committee, said his experience has been that outreach services are not very well coordinated.

“I would call many different organizations just to get one outreach (team) to help,” he said.

LAHSA officials said the website, which will also serve as an air-traffic controller-like role for deploying the roughly 500 outreach workers throughout the county, is only one part of a larger effort by to create a more “coordinated outreach” strategy.

Before taking on this “special” effort to centralize deployment of outreach workers, “it wasn’t an easy process … even for the best of us,” said Colleen Murphy, who leads another program at LAHSA aimed at centralizing the coordination of services to homeless individuals.

For awhile, teams had been deployed based on whether a city had a contract for outreach services, so there were “big pockets of the county that were not covered.”

This meant that LAHSA had to sort out whether a call for outreach services was coming from an area that was covered by a contract, Murphy said. It also was not uncommon for several different agencies to get called out to help the same homeless individual.

“Because people were concerned about the person in need, they might actually call three different agencies and hoping that one of them would stick,” she said. “And so sometimes three outreach teams might descend upon a location, which is not a good use of resources … and then it just felt chaotic for everyone involved, most importantly the person experiencing homelessness.”

LAHSA and county officials said the website, which prompts people to read a page of text about its purpose, is a way to raise public awareness about what outreach is and isn’t.

Libby Boyce, a director with the Department of Health Services, said the portal is focused on outreach, rather than removing encampments.

“There’s maybe a sense that people will come out and make the homeless folks disappear,” she said. “We don’t sweep people away. That’s not how this works.”“It takes time to engage folks and get them to a point where they’ll let us assist them,” Boyce said.

But for some members of the public, the portal’s goal of deploying outreach workers in a more efficient way may not produce the kind of results they are expecting.

Fern White, who operates a Facebook page where West San Fernando Valley residents discuss homelessness, said the portal appears to be a “great resource” but “the bigger problem is if they (homeless individuals) will accept the help.”She said that “the problem (is the) community wants the encampment cleaned up ASAP.”

Article Date: 
Wednesday, August 1, 2018