Midtown Los Angeles Homeless Coalition leader Antquan Washington met with approximately 15 volunteers in the back room of the Open Space coffee shop Saturday morning to provide training and start the assessment part of the coalition’s 100-day goal to curb chronic homelessness using the coordinated entry system (CES).
In the outreach part of the assessment, the volunteers split into groups, identified people experiencing homelessness in the Mid-City West Community Council area and conducted 20-30 minute surveys with them. The individuals who were surveyed are now in CES and are one step closer to possibly getting off the streets. The surveys will be conducted by the coalition and volunteers on the first Saturday of the next two months.
By Oct. 17, the coalition hopes to have representation of at least 30 local organizations and stakeholders; train 50 volunteers to conduct at least 75 surveys of homeless adults in the area during the outreach events; assist 30 chronically homeless individuals in getting documents and completing tasks to be eligible for housing; have 10 homeless people in the area matched to housing units; and raise $100,000 to pay for move-in costs and navigation team employment.
“Our hope during our monthly outreach is to not just view with our eyes, but also to engage in conversation with our homeless community,” Washington said. “Through that we’ll be able to identify if folks are really experiencing homelessness and if they are interested in the possibility of being available to receive access to these services through a voucher that CES can provide them.”
The voucher doesn’t come right away. The assessment puts the individuals on the radar for service providers. Outreach teams from service providers in the area who are more experienced follow up with the individuals who were surveyed. They will help the individuals acquire documentation they will need to get housing such as birth certificates and social security cards.
Washington told the volunteers a voucher covers approximately 70 percent of rent costs. CES is not a waiting list, he explained. Individuals are prioritized based off the need. The prioritization is assessed by gauging an individual’s vulnerability or by judging medical needs. Others gauges include judging how likely a person is to die on the streets if they are not housed quickly.
Washington explained that the survey is not something any individual will be forced to be a part of. He also assured the group to not make any false promises about services.
“We don’t want to set promises to any set thing in regards to a timeline,” Washington said. “We don’t give any guarantees so we don’t set anyone up for disappointment. We’re setting people up for an opportunity to be on the radar for housing.”
He instructed the volunteers to make eye contact and to smile because it reduces the intensity of a situation. He also said it’s important to respect boundaries.
“The only way for any of us to really know that boundary starts with the introduction of the smile, ‘hi,’ introducing ourselves, asking if we can have a conversation,” Washington said. “As the conversation goes on, the individual will let you know by their body language how comfortable they are. Whatever they’re giving off in regards to body language is what you want to make sure you’re respecting at all times.”
Washington said the assessment should be done on an “invitation-only” scenario. He taught the volunteers about the “90/10” rule as far as listening versus responding.
“If we come in without our agenda, without our plan, if we come in to listen and hear them out, the relationship is built quite quickly,” he said.
Whether or not the individual completes the survey, the coalition also equipped the volunteer groups with hygiene kit that include socks, toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant and a bottle of water to give the individuals.
Washington said that through his efforts with the homeless communities in Skid Row or in Hollywood, many people experiencing homelessness are unaware of the CES resources. An important part of the assessment is informing homeless individuals about the services.
“It was a great honor to see a guy who had maybe been out on the streets for 11, 12, sometimes 25 years experiencing homelessness come to our office with keys and saying, ‘hey, look. I got it,’” Washington said. “It’s not a pipe dream that’s being thrown out there.”
Washington explained the process involves work, willingness from the individual and time.
The volunteers formed groups of two and three because assessment interactions can be intimate and too many people can be overwhelming for the type of questions being asked – such as why the individual doesn’t have a home and how they got to where they are.
The groups spent one to two hours looking and talking with individuals experiencing homelessness to conduct the survey. Two individuals experiencing homelessness that were surveyed are suspected to have medical issues, and another is suspected to be a veteran.
Washington said veterans and people with medical issues may have better housing opportunities because their need is higher.
After the assessment, Washington said the day was a success. Seven individuals were surveyed.
“If we’re able to build on this, I believe we will be able to reach our goals,” he said.
Washington said the results don’t surprise him, but they show the differences of people experiencing homelessness.
“It’s eye-opening,” he said.
After the assessment, the information is given to the homeless management information system to determine if the individuals are experiencing chronic homelessness. The system then generates leads that equate to housing matches.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines chronic homelessness as pertaining to someone with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for one year or more, or has experienced four episodes or periods of homelessness in the past three years.
“There isn’t this condition called homelessness that they’re just plagued with or diseased with,” Washington said. “But they currently without a home. We respect their esteem and who they are.”
Washington said the coalition is looking for more volunteers. He is calling for people who are interested in helping with little to no experience to volunteer.
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