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Antonovich objects to Project 50, orders county report

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said Tuesday he found a series of stories in The Times on Project 50 to be “very disturbing” and said he feels misled by answers he was given when he raised concerns two years ago about the county program to house Skid Row’s most vulnerable homeless residents.

His complaints were countered by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who said he welcomed scrutiny of a program he said has proved highly effective.

Antonovich, speaking at the Board of Supervisors meeting, said he was disturbed by a passage in Sunday’s story about participants leaving mental health and substance problems untreated. He also cited as troubling the description of county public health nurse Carrie Bach watching helplessly as a participant took her welfare money to search for drugs.

Antonovich then read aloud from a 2008 board meeting transcript in which William T Fujioka, the county’s chief executive, assured him that county officials would not tolerate participants’ use of drugs while living in taxpayer-funded housing.

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“We now know the facts and it’s not being done,” Antonovich said, who criticized the 3-year-old program as “warehousing without healing.”

Antonovich then ordered county officials to produce a report within 14 days on the participants’ substance abuse while being housed at taxpayer expense.

Yaroslavsky, who has championed the Project 50 program, said he welcomed such a report and predicted that it would show that “100% of the clients at Project 50 received one or more of the following treatments: mental health services, physical health services or substance abuse treatment.”

“Some of them received substance abuse treatment and then relapsed,” he said.

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Yaroslavsky said county officials were right to extend housing to participants without any guarantee that they would cooperate with extensive therapy options made available to them by the program’s case managers.

“If you take the 50 most vulnerable or the 62 most vulnerable people on skid row or anywhere else in this county and say, ‘Hey, we got a unit for you, but we want you to go see a psychiatrist first,’ he’ll tell you to take a walk.... So you end up with 60,000 people on the streets of Los Angeles County.”

Yaroslavsky noted that more than 80% of the 62 surviving participants remain housed. Six participants have died.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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