Juan Pablo Garnham is the Urban Affairs reporter for The Texas Tribune. Previously, he was the editor of CityLab Latino, senior producer of the podcast In the Thick and he has also worked for El Diario and NY1 Noticias, in New York. In his home country of Chile, he worked as a reporter for Qué Pasa magazine and El Mercurio newspaper.
Across departments, coordination is key.
With a vacancy rate of 2 percent, Long Beach’s housing market is struggling. “At some point six months ago, there were 600 vouchers out there, [but] people were not able to lease up because there was no available housing,” explains Teresa Chandler, bureau manager of Human Services for the City of Long Beach. But despite the constricted housing situation, the city is achieving strong results in its fight to reduce homelessness.
Across the whole of Los Angeles County, homelessness increased by 23 percent between 2015 and 2016—but the City of Long Beach experienced a decrease in 21 percent in their own biennial count, which compared 2015 to 2017. In a recent conversation with CityLab Latino on Facebook Live, the mayor of Long Beach, Robert García, hailed this achievement as the pride of his city.
“We’ve worked [hard] to build smaller houses and apartments, to build for homeless people and veterans, and we’ve put aside a lot of resources for this,” said García. “We have the best laws for homelessness in all of California, and this has helped us lower our numbers while others’ are going up.”
Since 2015, Long Beach has increased housing units for homeless residents and veterans from 1,354 to 2,144, according to the local KPCC radio station, and has dedicated significant resources to rapid rehousing. But some experts point out that one of the ingredients for success is how everything is coordinated.
“A lot of times in homeless services, people [have] meetings and meetings, and not a lot gets done,” says Steve Be Cotte, president of the Long Beach Area Coalition for the Homelessness, an organization representing different actors working to fight the issue. “Here, it’s not just talk and having meetings, but solving problems—from increasing housing stock to coordinating services better. And there are a lot of things going on here.”
Organizations that receive public funding, as well as NGOs, churches, and other groups sustained by private funds, keep in constant communication about everything from general strategy to providing specific types of assistance. “Our Continuum of Care board is a 16-person group made up of different entities [in] faith-based organizations, the business sectors, nonprofit sector, folks who are experiencing homelessness or previously experienced homelessness, the school district, and others,” Chandler explains. “They help make decisions in regards to what's happening in terms of policy and procedures.” And there is also a Homeless Service Advisory board that gathers once a month to coordinate with the city council.
People working on the ground also follow this spirit and talk daily. This includes a quality of life team in the Police Department, as well as firefighters and officials from Parks and Recreation. And all of them know that they have one common home base: the Multi-Service Center.
“This is a hub for our coordinated entry system,” Chandler says. “Having a system like this is required by HUD, but not everybody gets a building where everyone is co-located. Everything happens in the same place and it is easier to coordinate that way.”
The Center offers basic services, case management, and a health clinic. There are also showers, a place to receive mail, and a roster of development classes. There’s even a van to take patrons to lunch providers. Visitors can also be referred to other organizations appropriate for their specific situation.
And even the agencies’ structures fit the goal of coordinating across departments. “In Long Beach, the Housing Authority also falls under the Health Department, so this makes for a stronger coordination and preparation about Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers,” Chandler says.
With a population of around 470,000 people, Long Beach has resources, but their effort is smaller than what the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority can marshal. “Long Beach might be big enough and small enough to make all this possible,” Be Cotte adds.
Plus, they are one of the few cities in the country that has received the Unified Funding certification from HUD, which happened five years ago. “What this means is that we have local control over our funds and can move them around depending on local needs,” Chandler explains.
Still, Long Beach can’t rest. Homeless people move, and external factors—for example, the opioid crisis or a cut in government benefits—can make things harder in the future. But at least the city should benefit from Measure H, which passed in a county vote in March and will provide $355 million to support homeless services in the county over the next decade.
No matter what, coordination will stay.
“We have different departments, but they are not working separately,” Chandler says. “We are in sync with each other.”