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California

To keep these mentally ill Angelenos housed, L.A. is looking to Sacramento for help

Sam Blake makes a bed after doing laundry at the Blake Home in Sylmar.
Sam Blake makes a bed after doing laundry at the Blake Home in Sylmar. Funding problems have led many such homes to close, forcing some tenants who are poor and unable to care for themselves into homelessness. Sam runs the Blake Home with his mother and sister.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Alarmed by the shuttering of dozens of board and care homes that serve low-income people with debilitating mental illness, Los Angeles officials are stepping up their lobbying efforts to secure more funding in next year’s state budget.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority appealed to Gov. Gavin Newsom directly in a letter sent Nov. 25.

For the record:
6:07 PM, Dec. 03, 2019 A previous version of this article stated that Peter Lynn, the soon-to-be former executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom. The chair, Sarah Dusseault, and vice chair, Mitch Kamin, of the authority’s commission wrote the letter.

Residents are literally “dying on our streets for want of state action to support this critical infrastructure,” wrote Sarah Dusseault, chair of the authority’s commission, and Mitch Kamin, its vice chair.

The letter cited an article in The Times detailing the financial stress on board and care homes from a state-regulated funding system that limits their income to $35 per day for each client. The licensed homes provide 24-hour staffing, three meals a day, housekeeping services and medication management.

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A study by the state Community Care Licensing Division found that 39 board and care homes closed in Los Angeles County in the three years ending in April, for a loss of 949 beds. The letter said an additional 1,000 beds could be lost in the coming years without a boost in the state reimbursement rate.

“These facilities are often the only bulwark between a life of dignity and support, and homelessness for the most vulnerable Angelenos,” it said.

It urged the governor to “work with the County of Los Angeles, and all the County health agencies statewide, to create a funding environment that supports the long-term health and increase of this vital resource.”

Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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The letter follows a motion approved last month by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which directed county staff to identify opportunities at the state level to improve funding for the homes.

“The state needs to start reimbursing these facilities for the actual cost of the care they provide,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who was co-author of the motion.

The supervisors also instructed the county departments of health and mental health and the chief executive officer to identify county funding and engage philanthropic organizations to “preserve and expand the number of beds serving low-income individuals.”

The “motion lays out first steps for reversing this trend and ensuring that we have an adequate supply of beds for those who need them,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a co-author.

The motion, responding to a consultant’s report on the financial hardships and temptations of a tight real-estate market that have caused board and care homes to close, also proposes establishing a capital fund to help facilities catch up with maintenance that they have been unable to afford.

The county agencies are scheduled to report on their progress this month.

The city of Los Angeles also may throw its lobbying weight into the effort.

Citing The Times’ article, City Councilwoman Nury Martinez introduced a motion to have the city’s 2019-2020 state legislative program include “legislation or administrative action which would increase the state payment rate for licensed board and care facilities which serve vulnerable communities, especially seniors with mental health issues.”

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The motion will be heard early next year in committee at City Hall.


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