In the last 3 1/2 years, there has been an extraordinary statewide growth in homelessness and the many problems associated with it. As a Deputy District Attorney, I know that this growth is largely attributed to changes in state laws that provided little to no financial support for local cities to offer drug rehabilitation or probation oversight to offenders who have been released from incarceration.
For example: Before some recent state laws there was greater incentive for those convicted of drug related crimes to get into rehabilitation because the penalties were more serious. Now, more people are entering jail addicted to drugs, and leaving jail without accepting any rehabilitation services because there is no court-induced incentive to do so.
Last spring, we led an effort with the City Council to develop a strategic plan to address this issue entitled “Comprehensive Strategy Identifying Opportunities to Address Homelessness and Quality of Life Concerns.”
We are currently in the process of implementing this plan by creating out-of-the-box programs, such as the Homeless Work Program agenda item that I brought to council in January. (http://longbeach.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=5723823&GUID=A25A9CCB-6583-4A31-91E9-8C33328761DB) Programs like this will be implemented as pilot programs in order for us to track data and determine whether they are successful. We are working hard to figure out what methods work for long-term success.
This comprehensive strategy includes efforts by key City departments and staff to address a variety of aspects of the homeless issue. These include:
The Long Beach Health Department has a very robust homeless outreach program, which serves as a model for the region. One thing that is often repeated by members of our City homeless outreach team is that the goal of homeless outreach is to encourage long-term sustainable change, rather than short-term assistance. Last year, the homeless outreach team made 903 contacts. 403 of those individuals accepted some type of service through the team. 500 people were offered, but declined services.
- Additionally, in 2016 I initiated a partnership with CSULB’s Anthropology Department to do a study of the homeless to determine why they are refusing service and how we can modify our techniques to increase our service acceptance rates. It is important that we conduct research and develop more information on how we can more effectively and quickly get those in need into the services they need.
The Long Beach Police Department plays an important role in homelessness. Although it is not illegal to be homeless many of the activities or unintended consequences associated with homelessness can be. LBPD has made special commitments to help connect homeless people with needed services and continue to be a key partner in this issue. Frequently police officers are the first City personnel to interact with an individual experiencing homelessness. In the East Division (which included the 3rd District) we have a dedicated Quality of Life officer. Since 2015 I have been working closely with our Quality of Life team to identify issues and trends with transient activity.
Further, as heroin and other opioid overdoses have become a growing concern in the homeless community, I led the effort to get our police officers who work directly with the homeless, equipped with Naloxone, also known as Narcan, which can immediately save the life of someone experiencing an overdose.
The Long Beach Fire Department launched the HEART program in 2015 with support of the City Council. Based on the updates the City Council has received the HEART program has been tremendously successful in connecting those in need with long term, sustained assistance.
The Long Beach City Prosecutor’s Office is tasked with making a filing determination and prosecuting violations of the municipal code and misdemeanor violations of California law and can play an important role in breaking the cycles that lead to homelessness. In 2017 I initiated a 3rd District specific Neighborhood Impact Prosecutor Program. (http://longbeach.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=5573895&GUID=016B5F42-EF63-434A-863F-8AEFC041F6EE) This program will allow our police officers to work directly with the assigned prosecutor to identify quality of life crime trends and to determine the appropriate penalty or treatment for the offender. The tools available include obtaining “stay away orders” to prevent repeat offenders from returning to the same geographic area.
Homelessness is a very complex problem. Be assured that I am dedicated to finding solutions and this issue will continue to be one of the highest priorities during my second term on the City Council.