Getting even one homeless person off the streets is a difficult task. Housing a homeless family poses a set of particularly unwieldy problems: securing jobs, getting children into schools, providing a family member with mental health or substance-abuse treatment (or both) and, of course, finding the right place for the family to live. On any given night in Los Angeles County, there are 7,391 homeless family members. That's about 2,464 households.
Among the many programs that help homeless families, one has shown promising results. Started last spring with county and city funding, it aims not just to rapidly rehouse families — the priority these days — but also offers locations throughout the county where people can show up and have their problems assessed in one place. At these Family Solutions Centers, families can be directed to health and employment services, get emergency transitional housing or rental assistance for more permanent housing. Officials say that from the program's inception in March through December, the centers assessed 1,452 families that were either homeless or on the verge of it. Of those, 302 were able to avoid homelessness in the first place with help from the centers. Another 305 were placed in interim housing. And 417 were placed in permanent housing.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal to expand this program, setting up more centers to cover more territory and offering more on-site services from substance-abuse treatment professionals and county social service case managers. The current program, which operates on $3.7 million, would become the Homeless Family Solutions System and would receive another $7.2 million that is currently allocated to other programs that help homeless families. The new Family Solutions System would essentially absorb the functions of those programs. Proponents say this would knit many county services into one program.
Indications are good that the current Family Solutions Centers program is working. But it has not existed for even a full year; the county should consider watching its progress for a longer period before ramping it up. Its results must be compared against those of other programs from which money would have to be taken. And the county must be relatively confident that the positive outcomes of the Family Solutions Centers are being sustained over time.
That said, the county should not put the program on the back burner or delay an evaluation so long that it risks losing continued funding even at its current level. Not all programs for the homeless have great outcomes, and those that work well deserve all the help the county can direct their way.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times