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Commentary: Compassion, collaboration called for in face of homelessness epidemic

Across our state and at every level of government, few issues are as topical and imperative as homelessness. As I have said numerous times before, the greatest immediate problem California faces is the housing crisis and the subsequent homelessness epidemic that has led to upwards of 100,000 people living on streets throughout our state. Most of us do not need to look any further than our own neighborhoods to understand the desperate and dire conditions under which our fellow Californians live. While finding a solution may at times seem like an insurmountable challenge, hope is growing as community leaders and elected officials work together to take care of our vulnerable neighbors.

In June, I worked with my colleagues here and in Sacramento to secure $600 million in state funds to increase services for homeless Californians. And the people of Los Angeles are to be commended for voting to tax themselves to help fund homelessness services and shelters. The overwhelming majority of the funding will go to block grants for local governments to help them meet the needs of their residents. It’s critical funding that will go toward outreach, treatment and housing in communities across our state and it’s long overdue. I’m proud of the work we’ve been able to do in the Capitol to invest in communities, but I’m even more proud of the advocates and service providers that work to provide care and compassion.

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Every day in Los Angeles County, we have a dedicated corps of service providers working tirelessly to help Californians in crisis. With the help of county officials, they’re able to come together once a month to provide essential services in the field through Homeless Connect Days. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to coordinate a Homeless Connect Day in Los Feliz with other local offices, community groups, and neighborhood councils.

A Homeless Connect Day is a one-day event that brings together providers and government agencies at a specific location where individuals in need of care can access a wide range of services. For the Los Feliz Connect Day, I partnered with the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, Council District 4, the city of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council, the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. We held the event at Griffith Park’s Friendship Auditorium due to its proximity to the Los Angeles River, a location chosen to help the underserved and difficult-to-reach homeless population living in the area. The logistics alone are impressive.

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Over the course of the day, we were able to connect over 70 people with services and individual care. Providers were on hand to offer everything from medical care, showers, clothing and haircuts, to help with enrollment into the Coordinated Entry System and information about employment, mental health and substance abuse programs. We even had DMV staff on hand to help attendees access ID cards.

The result of the collective effort of these volunteers and organizations was powerful to behold. Every service was provided with compassion and tailored to meet the individual human needs of every participant. While it’s impossible to change a life in an afternoon, it was amazing to witness the transformation that takes place and the hope that’s offered in the short amount of time between when a person checks in to when they leave.

This event made it clear to me that when tackling homelessness, compassion and collaboration are essential. We are not going to solve homelessness by pushing this population further out to the fringes, but by opening our arms and embracing them as our neighbors. Our neighborhood councils exemplify the success of welcoming our homeless and viewing them as part of the community. Members of SELAH (a neighborhood homeless coalition), the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council, Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, as well as the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and the Los Feliz Improvement Assn. all played key roles in the coordination of this event and providing funds for lunch for all the participants.

It is awe-inspiring to see everyone do their part, and I would like to thank those involved with this event. My hope is that this is just the first of many Los Feliz Connect Days for this section of my district, and that as the events continue to take place across Los Angeles County, people in need of services can continue to find vital help that will improve their lives and lead to stability and housing. Homelessness is not an unsolvable problem, but finding solutions is going to take communities across our region stepping up to work collaboratively and taking active roles. I am committed to continuing to work in partnership with all stakeholders until the homelessness crisis is under control. If you want to know how you can help, please contact my district office at (818) 558-3043.

Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) represents La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, Glendale, Burbank and neighboring communities in the the 43rd Assembly District.

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