By Brittany Levine, firstname.lastname@example.org
8:45 PM EDT, March 24, 2012
With the winter homeless shelter season now at an end, Los Angeles County officials are already turning their attention to next season. They're especially interested in looking at this year's community-run operations as they work to make the county's program better.
The shelters in Glendale — which this year severed their county ties to go it alone with Burbank, taking in fewer clients in an effort to transition them into more permanent housing — and Pasadena are just some of the operations being looked at by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to see if their best practices should be incorporated into the county system, officials said.
“We are looking at communities taking care of their homeless locally and if their [strategies] can be used regionally,” authority spokesman Peter Griffith said.
Hamstrung by a reduced budget, the county had some difficulty attracting contractors to run its larger regional shelters this past winter. With smaller per-bed payments, the enticement just wasn't there. On top of that, some past providers expressed frustration with sluggish federal reimbursements for homeless services.
Compounding the problem was the recession, which pushed more people onto the streets, driving up demand for shelter.
Glendale set out on a different path this season, opting to forgo the county system, instead operating a smaller 50-bed shelter — down from the typical 150 beds — to service clients referred by local service providers, including from Burbank, so case managers could focus more intently on getting them counseling and temporary housing.
It was a departure from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority's goal of getting as many people out of the cold as possible, but the result was 38 of 90 participants finding temporary housing that will last well beyond the shelter season, thanks mostly to intense case management and $100,000 in federal stimulus money to subsidize the rents.
Glendale's homeless services coordinator, Ivet Samvelyan, said county officials took notice of the achievement.
“They want to look at more innovative projects and different types of programming,” she said.
But that does not mean that the county intends to give up on its standard goal of reaching as many people as possible. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Griffith said, wants to maintain a low barrier to accepting the homeless.
County officials are also reviewing Pasadena's shelter, which organizers said had to absorb clients who would have typically stayed in Glendale.
Unlike the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which contracts with service providers to operate its shelters, Pasadena relies on religious groups.
“We involve the faith-based community very much,” said Pasadena Housing Director Bill Huang, adding that the shelter is run by the Ecumenical Council Pasadena Area Congregations.
Rather than the typical 170 people a night, Pasadena serviced 220, said Pat O'Reilly, executive director of the Ecumenical Council Pasadena Area Congregations.
He attributed the increase to the smaller Glendale operation, which only accepted clients based on referral.
“It was really stressful for us,” O'Reilly said.
It could get even more stressful next season as Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority directors consider changes to the regional shelter operation that could lead to an overall reduction in the number of available beds, or even cut the amount of time they're open.
The authority's board of directors, which met Friday, put off a decision on the matter for two weeks, near the deadline for when county officials must settle on next season's plan in order to solicit contracts with service providers.
Reporter Jasmine Elist contributed to this report.