In the 1960s, there was a “war on poverty” in the U.S. Now, says Rep. Judy Chu, “We need a war on homelessness in this country.’’
“We need to have concerted resources that will address this problem,’’ Chu, whose 27th Congressional District includes South Pasadena, told the Review during an exclusive interview this week.
Chu’s comments came after she took part in a Los Angeles field hearing on the homelessness issue headed by fellow California Democrat Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee.
The Aug. 14 hearing featured a large number of elected officials and homelessness experts, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and several other members of the California House delegation, including Reps. Brad Sherman, Grace Napolitano, Nannette Barrigan and Jimmy Gomez.
“It was the first major hearing on homelessness in a long, long time,’’ said Chu. “Maxine Waters … decided that she needed to head up a full hearing in Los Angeles, which I believe is the epicenter of the crisis.’’
Indeed, the latest annual homeless count conducted by L.A. County estimated there were some 60,000 people living on the county’s streets — up 12 percent from the 2018 count. In the San Gabriel Valley, the survey estimated a 25 percent increase. In Los Angeles City, the increase was an estimated 16 percent from year to year.
However, homelessness actually decreased in the City of Pasadena by an estimated 20 percent — a fact that, Chu said, could stand as a blueprint for the national “war on homelessness” she is calling for.
Key to that success, Chu said, was the combined resources of federal programs and non-profit organizations such as Union Station homeless services — and using a “permanent supportive housing” strategy that addresses the many root causes of homelessness.
But the largest element of that key, she said, is that, “It is only able to be successful through federal funding.’’
“Since 2011, actually, the homeless count in Pasadena has decreased by more than 50 percent. So I asked what the panelists (at Waters’ hearing) believed were the reasons for this, what was the secret to success?’’ Chu said.
“And what one panelist responded to, and that was Margarita Lares, the chief programs officer for the City of Los Angeles … they talked about permanent supportive housing.’’
Back in 2011, Chu said, Pasadena adopted “what was considered a best practice, which was rather than waiting for homeless individuals to seek the city’s services, they did direct outreach throughout the community and developed permanent supportive housing developments that offer services on site.’’
“That is the fundamental reason for success, which is that not only is there the supportive housing that is built, but actually the kind of services that allow people to remain in housing is actually offered to the people,’’ she said.
Homelessness, of course, is not just one issue – really, it’s the end result of many issues funneling into one, including the lack of affordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, drug abuse and domestic violence.
“That’s why this model of permanent supportive housing is so important, where you have on-site supportive services,’’ she said.
“Another example is Union Station’s recently opened housing development called Marv’s Place — that is another permanent supportive housing facility in Pasadena, and it provides 20 units for formerly homeless families. But the on-site supportive services include case management, job placement, financial advice, mental health services, substance abuse services and health care.’’
Marv’s Place opened in 2017, and immediately provided housing for 63 former homeless individuals, including 26 children.
“We also have specialized populations that need extra help,’’ Chu said. “I actually asked about foster youth, because foster youth face particular difficulties. Of course, when they leave the foster youth system, many of them do become homeless because they don’t have the support system out there – they are on their own, and so many of them, when they are released, they end up doing couch surfing, they may not actually be able to find a job, then end up being homeless.
“Also, those who are LGBT are at the highest risk of being out on the streets because they cannot find that support system out there.’’
What’s the next step?
“In our appropriations process, I have pushed for an increase in funding for these programs as well as others that affect homelessness,’’ Chu said. “So we have been able to do that, and I do have to say that the most recent appropriations bill included a $24 billion increase (nationally) in the Section 8-based