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Blowback: This time, county supervisors are serious about ending homelessness

The Times' Robert Greene has asked why we should expect the current effort by the city and county of Los Angeles to combat homelessness to succeed when past attempts have failed.

Mental illness continues to be the major factor contributing to the homelessness problem. Addressing the issue requires strong linkages to treatment opportunities and proactive access to mental healthcare, drug abuse treatment and traditional medical care -- especially for those whose illness precludes them from understanding and consenting to treatment.

The current county Board of Supervisors has not just "formulated programs" or made financial commitments. We voted unanimously to restructure the governance of county operations, establishing lines of responsibility and accountability directly with the board instead of a bloated CEO management structure. We also established a new Los Angeles County Health Agency to integrate care, consolidated jail health services under the Health Agency, created an Office of Diversion and Reentry for low-level offenders, and established the CEO's Homeless Initiative Office, which is responsible for developing a homeless plan that will maximize the impact of funding dedicated to eradicating homelessness.

The supervisors are united in their commitment to end homelessness. We are successfully working with community groups, partner agencies and cities to do the following:

  • Establish mental health and public safety programs that target homelessness, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's countywide Psychiatric Emergency Teams. These teams of mental health professionals and law enforcement personnel directly engage homeless individuals, offering shelter and medical treatment.
  • Fully implement Laura's Law, a compassionate, cost-effective program that provides court-ordered, intensive mental health treatment to homeless people, many of whom are incapable of consenting to treatment due to the nature of their disease. It has successfully reintegrated participants back into the community with a 78% reduction in incarcerations and a 77% reduction in hospitalizations. These reductions significantly improved the lives of program participants and cut costs to the community and taxpayers by 40%.  
  • Link homeless hospital patients to housing and aftercare through the Housing for Health program operated under the Department of Health Services.
  • Expand housing and critical care to inmates upon their release under the Diversion and Reentry Program.
  • Leverage funding to increase permanent and transitional housing for foster youth as well as housing for veterans.

Unlike the fragmented board of years past, the supervisors serving today are committed to facing problems without the divide-by-five mentality to truly ensure that people leaving foster care, domestic violence, hospitals, jails, shelters and other institutions are not simply released to the streets.

Michael D. Antonovich is a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

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