Los Angeles officials recently announced that unarmed homelessness nonviolent call response teams will soon appear in the two blocks, available 24/7 through 911 starting this month.
This is the city’s latest attempt to show its constituents action in the face of the homeless crisis after many proposals for additional housing and resources have been launched in recent weeks. Approximately 41,000 homeless people live on the streets in Los Angeles City and 66,000 throughout the county as of 2020.
Venice and Hollywood are designated areas for the Pilot Crisis and Incident Response through Public Engagement (CIRCLE) program, which will run until June 2022. These two areas were chosen due to the high volume of calls and the homeless population.
The city will hire 48 outreach workers through Urban Alchemy, a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to mental illness and drug addiction among the state’s most vulnerable populations. The total cost of the six-month program is $ 30 million in the county and $ 2.2 million in the city. CIRCLE outreach workers will not be trained in any enforcement tactics.
For Ansar El Muhammad of the HELPER Foundation – a Venice-based non-profit group of gang interventionists – the new program is a step in the right direction.
“We are dealing with a pandemic – not just COVID-19, but also a pandemic of the homeless,” Muhammad told The Epoch Times. His work involves mediating and providing resources to prevent gang activities, which sometimes coincide with the 2,000 homeless people living in Venice Beach.
“When it comes to intervention, prevention or outreach, then it’s up to society,” he said, adding that law enforcement should only be called when a crime is committed.
Councilor Mike Bonin, whose area includes Venice Beach and much of West Los Angeles, said “This is a big turning point for Los Angeles.”
“The cops don’t have to be on the front lines fighting the homeless,” he said.
Bonin was an active supporter of the local anti-police movement and received backlash from some Venice residents who launched a recall campaign against him for how he dealt with the homeless crisis.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) lost an estimated $ 89 million trying to reallocate funds for anti-gang initiatives, homeless services, and other programs. In total, the LAPD receives about 140,000 calls from the homeless every year.
“There is a lot of support for keeping cops out of nonviolent response, and Los Angeles is harnessing this energy to create a model that strengthens the human bonds needed for public safety and seeks to help, not punish, our most vulnerable Angelenos,” said Los Angeles Mayor -Angelesa Eric Garcetti at a press conference on November 23rd.
“We are never going to stop at getting out of this crisis,” Garcetti said.
However, some of these police officers have been associated with the homeless for decades. Deon Joseph, an enforcement consultant and 25-year-old LAPD veteran, told The Epoch Times that he supports the CIRCLE program, but that “most officers are very well trained in how to handle the mentally ill.”
“No matter how much workout you have, there is always the possibility that things will go wrong because there are other variables,” Joseph said, referring to drug addiction and prescription medications.
“This is really a problem when it comes to drugs, when they are dual diagnosed, because now that they are in crisis, it becomes more difficult because now you have a chemical buffer between you and the person in crisis, which is my only concern is with this new movement. “
Joseph said that most officers with 15-20 years of experience know how to prevent dangerous clashes with the mentally ill on the streets, especially in Skid Row.
“You are called by name with people. So you know when someone is about to get into a crisis, ”he said.
Joseph said to this day, “We are still called to help psychiatrists get certain people for help or services,” because sometimes their behavior is unpredictable or they become aggressive.
The unarmed response teams will include one outreach worker, one mental health or licensed behavioral health clinician, and one community ambassador.
Meanwhile, some residents say they have faced recent threats from homeless people and are calling for more law and order, not less.
Venice resident and community worker Soledad Ursua told The Epoch Times that removing LAPD from the equation would result in “unarmed civilians in some of our most dangerous and violent places – teeming with open drug markets, gangs and trafficking. people “. “
In the summer, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deployed its Homeless Assistance Team (HOST) to clean up Venice’s boardwalk, which has seen a spike in crime and camp fires. The move has become the focus of a heated debate over whether law enforcement should be involved in dealing with the homeless.
Lieutenant Geff Didrik, who oversees HOST, told The Epoch Times that the new unarmed program will not affect the work they do, as the program is spreading to the entire city and LASD is working together in the county. The HOST is housed in the campsites as directed by Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
“Thanks to our experience and training, with the stabilization of the crisis … no middle supplier provides training like us, it does not exist. It’s a completely different game, ”Didrik said.
In 2019, Didrik’s team was called intervene in ongoing efforts to clean up the camps in the Alameda corridor, where 120 outreach workers were present for 18 months. Within 90 days, he said, the camp was cleared without delay and 75 people received housing services. Cause? According to him, law enforcement officials create a “guardian mentality” when dealing with the homeless.
“They [outreach workers] there were good people, but there was no security. It was chaos, ”Didrik said.
Last year, there was a rare incident in which one of his parole clients killed an outreach worker. Her body was later found in a Pasadena park. Didrik said such incidents, while rare, are the reason why HOST should be involved in all aspects of customer service.
“This story has disappeared. This contradicts the narrative, and she was our friend, ”Didrik said.
While Muhammad is generally optimistic about the program, he fears the effectiveness of Los Angeles’s massive outreach initiatives compared to grassroots agencies such as his own, which forge close relationships with the homeless and those affected by gangs. He said his foundation has been doing this work for decades, while larger and newer nonprofits receive contracts from the city.
“Smaller agencies should conduct what we call deliberate propaganda, working with agencies that [are] there is the missing link right now, ”he said.
According to the Los Angeles County Homeless and Housing Map, the county currently has 435 temporary housing units with 11,499 beds.
In the city and county, homeless services are difficult to track due to bureaucratic loops; many agencies do not communicate between jurisdictions. The City Council Committee on Homelessness and Poverty recently voted to track data on its newest CARE + teams, which will be the Sanitation Department’s newest informational addition to camp cleanup.
Garcetti’s fiscal 2021-2022 budget includes a $ 1 billion commitment to other forms of public safety as the council pledged to cut LAPD staff. Contracts for the construction of additional residential units were also awarded in an attempt to complement the limited success of the HHH Proposal. A $ 1.2 billion taxpayer proposal passed in 2016 called for the construction of 10,000 auxiliary housing units. Nearly six years after that passed, Los Angeles Comptroller Ron Halperin found that only 489 bond-funded housing units were ready to move in March.
The council also pledged to reallocate funding to Prop. HHH on temporary housing options in lower developments such as Tiny Home villages and additional rehabilitation services. A minimum breakdown by cost allocation has been made.
As a former gang member at a young age, Muhammad understands the complexity of homelessness and actively criticizes the Housing First government model, which argues that building more permanent supportive housing units is the way out of homelessness.
“When I started tackling this problem of the homeless a couple of years ago, I listened to it based on what the so-called experts said it was a housing problem,” Muhammad said. “However, when I really looked at it, I said it was deeper than housing … and when I get to the root of it as a recovering addict, I say, ‘You know what? It’s all about dependence. “