Local cities launch homeless hotline

NORWALK - In an effort to stifle chronic homelessness in Southeast Los Angeles County, Norwalk and 26 other Gateway cities have joined forces with non-profit agency People Assisting the Homeless to conduct community outreach and offer permanent supportive housing to residents in need. "It's been in the works for a couple of years at least," said Norwalk city manager Mike Egan. "The board of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments talked about a regional services program for the homeless...the county provided a substantial grant, over $1 million to the COG to run the program."

Using those funds the Council of Governments hired Los Angeles-based People Assisting the Homeless Partners last July to spearhead the homelessness project known as Gateway Connections.

With the help of four partnering agencies, PATH Partners now provides a regional outreach program in Gateway communities and refers homeless residents to agencies that seek housing opportunities for people in their specific coverage area.

Over the next four years, PATH Partners says it plans to service 500 homeless people on the street while finding permanent homes for 665 households, including couples and families.

"Outreach teams have been out in hot spots identifying individuals and so far 22 individuals or families have been placed in permanent supportive housing," said Egan.

When outreach workers discover a homeless person, he or she is now offered help in finding a permanent home.

If he or she gives consent, workers will refer the person to one of the four partnering agencies, which offer other support services such as counseling and health care information.

"Each region has a team and they deal with more than chronic homeless...they encounter drug abuse, mental illness, alcoholism," said Egan who recently announced a homeless hotline for residents needing services. "The hotline is the first step. We published it in our newsletter and have given it to staff...we're slowly rolling it out."

Jeremy Sidell, chief development and communications officer for PATH, said residents from Norwalk that contact the agency will be referred to Bellflower-based Our Place Housing Solutions, which serves as local coordinating agency for the cities of Norwalk, Artesia, Bellflower, Compton, Downey, and Paramount.

"There are two types of calls we get," Sidell said. "Either from homeless neighbors who need assistance and housing options or from business owners, residents, city officials who see a homeless person ill, or if there's a nuisance or new encampment."

While Sidell acknowledges the project has not been highly-advertised region-wide, he maintained that the services are in place for the homeless residents who need them.

"This is a multi-year process, coordinating services between 27 cities...including street outreach and permanent housing for homeless residents," he said. "Our marketing efforts have been putting postcards in their hands, not campaigning."

Egan is hopeful that as more residents learn about the service, more homeless residents will receive the assistance and housing they need.

"Homelessness isn't any larger in Norwalk than any other city, but we have our share," he said. "It's problematic enough that we as a local community are looking for new ways to resolve it."

To contact PATH regarding services for the homeless, please call (562) 373-5264 or e-mail gatewayconnections@epath.org.