In recent years, homeless encampments have become one of the defining features of Los Angeles County’s landscape. There are many reasons why people experiencing homelessness may live in encampments, including the natural desire for a sense of community. However, the presence of encampments within some communities has led to tensions, often inflamed by myths that people living in encampments are dangerous, resistant to services, too challenging to engage with, or simply don’t want to find permanent housing. These are fictions.
The truth is no one would rather live in an encampment than a home. People want to come inside if there’s a place for them to go.
For many reasons, L.A.’s unsheltered population is much larger than that of other metro areas. With 44,214 unsheltered individuals, the need to create thoughtful, creative, and effective strategies to address encampments is especially urgent. In an effort to do just that, last year the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the Los Angeles County Health Agency, United Way, and the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative sponsored a pilot project, Encampment to Home. Specifically, the pilot sought to:
- Show that people living in encampments, regardless of acuity, age, family composition, gender, health, and mental health status, want to move indoors;
- Demonstrate how our burgeoning coordinated homeless system, combined with sufficient permanent housing resources, can effectively help this diverse group of encampment dwellers secure housing; and
- Explore ways to improve and expand collaboration and connections between homeless subsystems and other important community partners.
In other words, we aimed to prove that with enough supportive housing, coordinated client-centered services, and strengthened collaboration between entities on all levels, we can collectively turn the tide of street-based homelessness.
From February through November 2018, LAHSA, the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System (HOPICS), The People Concern, the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health (DMH), the Los Angeles Department of Health Services (DHS), and others worked intensively with people living in two large encampments in South L.A. These areas were reflective of the variety of people who experience street-based homelessness in Los Angeles, including individuals, couples, and families of all ages, genders, and needs.
By converging on two specific locations, coordinated outreach teams were able to focus intensely on engaging unsheltered residents, building quick rapport and allowing for workers to expedite the housing navigation process. Biweekly coordination meetings between all partner agencies allowed for nimble, client-level conferencing and barrier-busting to streamline the move from street to home. And, because housing resources were committed to all those living in these encampments, clients were that much more motivated to participate.
Through the combination of this intensive joint outreach, coordinated housing case management and navigation, and resource availability, the project team was able to identify, assess, and provide housing resources to 130 households—all individuals and families who came from street-based encampments. Perhaps more importantly, a year after completion of the project, nearly 93% of those who moved into a permanent unit remain successfully housed.
Based on this, we believe that the Encampment to Home project successfully demonstrated that:
- People do not want to be homeless. Regardless of their demographics, needs, or location, people experiencing street-based homelessness want to get off the streets and have a place to call home.
- Meeting people where they are (literally and figuratively) works. Having skilled outreach teams work intensively with people experiencing street-based homelessness is invaluable. Having the ability to follow someone throughout their journey into housing to help meet their needs—often significant and complex—is extremely effective.
- L.A.’s Coordinated Entry System (CES) is effective. Having two demonstration locations to test the components of L.A.’s Coordinated Entry System (e.g., identification, assessment, resource matching, and navigation with a goal of permanent housing) displayed how large numbers of people can be triaged, supported, and housed via our established system when it is resourced appropriately.
- Permanent housing is the key. Having a variety of housing options that both align with people’s needs and do not require people to leave their broader region is crucial.
At Everyone In we know that homes ends homelessness. The results of the Encampment to Home pilot further demonstrate this simple truth.