Yea or Nay on Prop H, Services for the Homeless Must Go On

This fall, residents of Los Angeles will vote on Proposition H, a $1.2-billion bond measure to fund the development of new housing for the homeless. The Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing, and Facilities Bond brings high-level exposure to an issue that continues to plague the city, which has one of the largest homelessness rates nationwide.

But is the bond enough?

While the measure will provide housing, critics have concerns about who will foot the bill, and that it does not provide funding for supportive services. Issues such as domestic violence, mental health, and substance abuse all must be continually addressed to treat the root causes of homelessness. Still, others contend that it’s a one-two punch – if you provide housing first, the services can come later.

Meanwhile, on the streets

Support is still needed for organizations that are – and have been – providing both housing and services for the homeless, politics aside.

At Los Angeles Mission, homeless individuals can find emergency services, including hot meals, overnight shelter, showers, clean clothing, and temporary baggage shelter. Then, to address the root causes of their homelessness, they can get access to primary healthcare, testing, education, and counseling.

The work of the Mission focuses on key areas: Recovery, rehabilitation, and restoration. People learn how to reconnect with their families and rebuild their confidence and skills. Through the Fresh Start program, they develop the tools they need to transition back to society:

  • Financial planning
  • Parenting
  • Job seeking
  • Career building
  • Community involvement
  • Self-reliance

Another component of the Mission’s work is fostering connections in the community. Through the Mission, people can find resources for financial aid, mentoring, and professional guidance on re-entering the workforce – all factors that have a long-term, sustainable effect on their lives and livelihoods.

Prop H may or may not go forward. But it does shed light on the state of homelessness in Los Angeles and how equal parts housing and services are needed to truly get people off the streets. Before and after November, Big Changes Advisers will continue to work toward both.

Why It’s My Privilege to Volunteer

I have been a volunteer at Los Angeles Mission since June 2014, shortly after I moved to LA from the Greater Cincinnati Area. I was referred to CEO Herb Smith, via Roger Howell at City Gospel Mission in Cincinnati where I previously volunteered. When I first met with Herb, I immediately felt the presence of something special.

I believed then – and still do – that Los Angeles Mission is a safe place filled with love, compassion, humility, and non-judging people. Whether you are a student, volunteer, or employee, everyone really wants to be there, and all for various, good reasons. Some are starting their journey of recovery and spiritual growth, and many of us are working hard to stay the course. It is a journey, and there is no finish line as it never ends.

At the Mission, I first met with Chaplain Allen Ceravolo, Director of Career Services. It was a great meeting. While at City Gospel, I was involved in New Business Development, which involved identifying potential employer relationships with the students. Allen and I discussed this for quite some time. However, he offered me something special: An opportunity to work directly with Los Angeles Mission students engaged in Career Services and the “Life Start” program. I accepted.

Best decision of my life

My primary responsibility is to help students prepare for job interviews. Many of these students have “hard luck” stories involving poverty, substance abuse, mental disorders, physical and mental abuse, domestic violence victims, or criminal records. Others have high school diplomas or college degrees and have moved to LA in pursuit of their dreams. But once here, they have found it difficult to get by in this large and great city.

These students make a 12-month commitment to themselves, to a better life, and to reconnect with God or a higher power. For many students, it is a challenging and trying process from the very first days to the time of their first job interview.

There are many students who have to work extremely hard, turned inward, and who need to heal and recover from many afflictions. Some also realize that this might be their “last stand,” and they are very devoted to healing and making things right for themselves and their loved ones. They realize they have a great opportunity at Los Angeles Mission, and they work hard to make the most of it. Again, there are also many students who need help and guidance to get back on their feet, mature, accept responsibility for their lives, and of course move forward and do their very best.

Giving what we all need: Hope

I get introduced to students after day 90 of the program, and we start to get to know each other a little bit. At this time, they have many thoughts racing through their heads: questions, fears, doubts. I keep the meetings fairly short in the beginning. I emphasize that they have made a great choice and commitment and that if they choose to stay and work, we collectively can find every student an opportunity. We give them hope!

As you can imagine, many students have some reservations, anxiety, and fear. Some have not had a job in many years. Some have fallen prey to addiction, and some have had to deal with consequences of criminal misconduct. Some fear that if they have to discuss their past in a job interview, they will be judged and not given an opportunity to work and provide for themselves and their families.

At Los Angeles Mission, we make every effort to reassure all students that the 12-month commitment to this program is a sign of strength. We encourage them to be honest and not ashamed of their past. I make suggestions in terms of how they can be truthful but how it is not required to delve into every detail of their past. I empower them not to let the interviewer determine where to take the interview.

I tell students that everything we are doing is “practice,” and there is no pass/fail. I tell them that if they stay committed, we will find them opportunity.

I can tell you that there has never been anything more rewarding in my life than when a student comes back to visit and they walk in confidently with their face all lit up with excitement. They tell me, “Mr. Pomeroy, I did it the way we practiced and I got the job!” I do not have the words to describe this feeling.

I have learned much more about many things in the last 2 and ½ years. Among them are compassion and humility, and the importance of being non-assuming and non-judging. I’ve learned to not take things personally and above all, I’ve learned much more about LOVE. And for that I am truly blessed and grateful. Happy Holidays!

When College Students Can’t Come Home for Thanksgiving

November: It’s a time to give thanks, and for many, it’s a time to come home for Thanksgiving. For college students, it often marks their first trip back since the semester began. But for up to 58,000 students who identify as “homeless” on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” there is no home to come home to.

It’s something many people don’t think about. Homelessness is typically associated with older adults who have addiction or mental health issues, or who have fallen on hard economic times. While those circumstances are often the case, homelessness also can affect students, who are going to school to get an education and ultimately be able to earn a living.

Student homelessness can be the result of parents no longer being able to provide support, or a lack of affordable student housing. Some students have housing while the dorms are open, but have nowhere to go when school is not in session. For some students, family dynamics of violence, mental health issues, addiction, and conflict can make the possibility of going home impossible. Regardless of the reasons, the number of homeless college students is up 75% over the last three years, and that number – one source indicates – is likely an underestimate.

To address this issue on a local level, the Los Angeles Mission has begun to work with Southwest Community College in South Central L.A. and LA City College to address the housing and service needs of students during holiday breaks and year-round. As in much of L.A., there is little affordable housing surrounding these schools. Good jobs are needed in order to make rent or a mortgage. But good jobs require a good education, and thus these kids are in a Catch-22.

As one of the country’s leading non-profit organizations serving the homeless, the Los Angeles Mission extends its reach beyond Skid Row and delivers resources wherever they’re needed, even college campuses. To serve the students of Southwest Community College and LA City College, this means providing basic supplies and emergency assistance to the homeless outreach programs. The Mission is also developing a pilot program for housing students until permanent housing is found.

The Mission asserts that nothing helps reduce the chances of homelessness like education. And sleeping in tents or navigating shelters is not the answer.

Moreover, the Los Angeles Mission provides hope – an inspiration for students that as they’re going through a process that’s challenging even with homes and support systems, their hard work will ultimately pay off.

This outreach with the colleges shows that fighting homelessness demands more than a one-size-fits-all solution. Sometimes it means giving a mentally ill person shelter for the night. But sometimes, it means reaching a college kid who can’t come home for Thanksgiving by letting them know somebody cares.

Either way, just as in business, success calls for agile, responsive approaches: Anticipating needs and thinking outside of the box. Whether you’re addressing homelessness, or taking a company to the next level, it’s about exploring where the needs are, and creating opportunities to make a big change for people and for society.

Reuniting Homeless Moms with their Children

“There are 450 beds at Los Angeles Mission, and behind each of those beds is a family,” says Los Angeles Mission CEO, Herb Smith. Indeed, when people become homeless, it affects more than just the individual. It has a grave impact on all their loved ones. For homeless moms, it’s especially felt by their children.

Up to 50% of the homeless population in Los Angeles are made up of women, and many of them are single moms. What so many of them want this holiday season is to be with their kids again. At this time, efforts for reunification are more important than ever.

Homeless, without their kids

While homeless families, typically headed by a single mother, account for up to 43% of the homeless in LA County, there are also mothers who have lost not only their homes, but the custody of their children as well.

Many women have dealt with domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues that have left them unable to keep their kids. Arriving at Los Angeles Mission, many are fearful and overwhelmed, with a double challenge of getting their lives on track – and getting their children back.

The support homeless moms need

For these women, guidance and hope is critical. Homelessness in any situation is tragic, creating mental, physical, and emotional stress. But these women have the compounded issues of being away from their kids. Guilt, recovery, and legal issues all combine to make homelessness even more challenging. Adding the element of the holidays only makes it worse.

For these moms, being able to see their kids again is often all they want.

Impact on kids

The effect on kids can be just as harsh. Kids who themselves are homeless can experience negative consequences, including infectious diseases, poorer educational attainments, mental health problems, and overall health issues.

Another issue for homeless children is that they are at high risk of falling behind in school due to their mobility. With every move, children can lose three to six months of education. Without the ability to get a solid, consistent education, homeless children are less likely to acquire the skills they need to succeed as adults.

In addition, homeless moms also may worry that even if their children do have housing, their kids may still feel a sense of abandonment when they, as mothers, can’t be there for them. Symptoms of motherhood abandonment for children include low self-esteem, guilt, and feelings of being “unlovable.”

Bringing moms and kids back together

Because of these potential outcomes, Los Angeles Mission makes every effort to make reunification possible. Through the Anne Douglas Center for Women, homeless moms can go through a 12-month intensive rehabilitation program, in which they are provided shelter, meals, and clothing, and taught the skills to make changes in their lives. They are guided to break the cycle of self-destruction, and finally see themselves as women of value.

From there, women can go on to complete a 12-month transition program, designed to prepare them to re-enter society.

Most importantly, by completing both rehabilitation and transition programs, these women are eligible for support services that are critical to reconnecting with their children: Family reunification and liaison assistance for social and legal proceedings.

Smith says the Los Angeles Mission works to do whatever is appropriate and possible to bring these families back together.

Homelessness takes on many forms, affecting students, veterans, families, women, and moms. And during the holidays, implications of homelessness are especially significant. At Big Change Advisors, we continue to keep these individuals in our thoughts and in our hearts.

Measure H Marks a Big Change for Homelessness in LA

In just days, LA residents will be able to vote on Measure H, part of the one-two punch needed to fight homelessness in LA and help finally get people off the streets.

What is Measure H?

Measure H, the “Los Angeles County Plan to Prevent and Combat Homelessness” creates a one-quarter of a cent sales tax, which generates funds for the specific purposes of funding homeless services and short-term housing. It complements Proposition HHH, passed in November, that allows for the building of housing for the chronically homeless.

Working together, both pieces of legislation make for a coordinated front of both housing and services to reduce and prevent homelessness in LA.

And all at little cost. The quarter-cent sales tax for Measure H equates to a “dime on a sweater.” According to the Communities United to End Homelessness, which runs Vote Yes on H, the average consumer would pay “a little more than a dollar a month” in sales tax.

Yet, it adds up fast. The measure results in $355 million a year for the next 10 years to go directly to homelessness prevention services, supportive services like mental health care and job training, and non-profit homeless service providers. Sources say the impact will be immediate and, for the homeless, it will bring quick relief.

The Need is Now

In business, companies often reach a point when they can’t afford to not take action. Likewise, the time to act on a solution to homelessness in LA is now. LA is known to have the worst homelessness crisis in the United States. There are more people suffering from chronic homelessness in LA than anywhere in the country. And, the population of homeless people is growing faster than it is in New York City. Just like in business, LA needs a coordinated, collective response now.

Meanwhile at the Mission

As voters turn out on March 7, they have an opportunity to end homelessness for 45,000 families and individuals within five years, and prevent homelessness for an additional 30,000. Going forward – whatever the March vote brings – Big Change Advisors will continue to support Los Angeles Mission in providing emergency care, direct support, and career services to those in need. As an organization committed to fighting homeless both in our volunteering and through corporate responsibility, we will also stand behind Measure H so the Mission can do even more.

Homelessness in Los Angeles: “Top Concern”

It’s not traffic. It’s not crime. A recent poll indicates that addressing homelessness in Los Angeles is more important than ever.

The poll taken by the United Way and reported in L.A. Weekly shows homelessness is a “top concern.” In the survey 19% of 600 respondents said homelessness or poverty was the most important issue facing the city. Only 12% listed crime and police, and 11% said transportation and parking.

It seems the desire to address this issue is growing right along with the city’s rates of homelessness. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services authority, homelessness in Los Angeles County increased 5.7%, jumping from 44,359 in 2015 to 46,874 in 2016.

In addition, there has been a 20% increase in the most visible forms of homelessness in the LA Continuum of Care, including in encampments, tents, and vehicles.

Solutions needed

Right now debates continue about the city’s plans to fight this epidemic. County officials have been lobbying for a “Millionaire’s Tax” to pay for programs to address homelessness, while the governor is opposing calls to declare a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, thousands of people are suffering on the streets and on Skid Row. Housing is lacking and so are the resources available to address what are often the root causes of homelessness: Substance abuse, mental health issues, addiction, poverty, and lack of job skills.

With an issue so great – ranking more significant and important to residents of Los Angeles than crime or transportation – it’s imperative that the city finds solutions to this growing crisis.

We’re in this together

Homelessness is something that can happen to our families, our friends, and our neighbors. In my volunteer work at the Los Angeles Mission, I see people striving every day to improve their lives and return to gainful employment, stable housing, and opportunities to contribute again to society. I also see people committed to helping these individuals in any way they can.

Big Change for homelessness

This growing epidemic is a top concern for Big Change Advisors as well, and we too seek opportunities to effect change.

Our work is three-fold. One, through our philanthropic business model, Big Change Advisors donates a percentage of our profits to help address homelessness. Our clients can designate a percentage of their fees to go directly to the Los Angeles Mission, one of the nation’s largest service providers to the homeless.

This means that companies looking to meet their business goals through mergers, acquisitions, re-sizing, or capital investors, can also meet their goals for philanthropy, corporate responsibility, and serving their communities.

Second, we work hands-on at the mission to provide career services, assistance with resume preparation, and training on how to interview for jobs and keep them.

Third, we continually explore the issue of homeless and what’s needed to alleviate and eliminate it. From there, we share our insights and raise awareness about the issue through our corporate communications and regular blog posts, including:

  • Build It and They May Not Come: Doing Housing Right for L.A.’s Homeless
  • 3 Essential Elements of L.A.’s Plan to Address Homelessness
  • Big Sweeps Don’t Sweep Away Issues with Homelessness
  • Boots on the Ground Help Homeless in Los Angeles

Addressing homelessness in Los Angeles is an issue that is close to us and important to us – a top concern that has framed our business model since our inception. Stay tuned for ongoing updates and perspectives.