This week, The Chronicle of Social Change is publishing a series of posts from leading candidates running to succeed Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Ridley-Thomas is stepping down because of term limits, and a full slate of candidates is running to take his place on the board, representing more than 2 million residents across parts of South, Central and West L.A., as well as several other communities in L.A. County.
On March 3, voters will go to the polls to elect his successor, who will help oversee an annual budget of $33 billion. We asked several top candidates to share their ideas on the county’s critical safety-net challenges, such as child welfare, juvenile justice, homelessness and affordable housing. To hear more about these issues, join us at a nonpartisan candidates forum on January 31 at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, hosted in partnership with Southern California Grantmakers and United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, youth homelessness has grown by 22 percent over the last year. Nearly 30 percent of homeless youth in L.A. County come from the county’s foster care system. What would you do to stem the foster-care-to-homelessness pipeline?
Herb J. Wesson, Jr.: This issue is created by policies and funding decisions that have created the foster-care-to-homelessness pipeline, and our society has tolerated it for too long. It makes no sense for one government program to release a child when they turn 18, only to be reabsorbed by another, far more foreboding government program. We need to protect our youth and provide them with the education and skills to succeed. As part of my comprehensive affordable housing plan, I will identify sites and develop funding plans for housing that specifically addresses the needs of foster care and homeless youth. Nothing is more important than protecting our youth and helping those that cannot help themselves.
Our youth also need access to well-paying, local jobs. Major opportunities are available through the county to achieve this by creating local hire policies, expanding job training programs with a direct pipeline to private sector jobs (i.e. tech, biotech, healthcare, hospitality, etc.), increasing access to entry- and mid-level jobs in county government, and continuing my collaboration with the Los Angeles Community College District to create curriculum around emerging industry sectors.
As supervisor, I will:
- Let kids stay in the foster care system until they are 21.
- Create specialized curriculum for all foster care youth that includes personal finances, job training and life skills.
- Create youth and student housing options near community colleges on adjacent-owned county land.
- Develop supportive housing for youth that need more than basic services.
- Expand career-technical programs at our schools as well as workforce development and retraining efforts so Angelenos have the skills they need to secure jobs and succeed in new, cutting-edge sectors.
- Ensure local hire for new developments built on unincorporated land in L.A. County.
- Work with faith-based community development corporations to expand mentorship programs.
- Connect low-income, disadvantaged youth with opportunities in high-tech industries.
Jan Perry: I’m alarmed by the lack of affordable housing for juveniles and transitional age youth in Los Angeles County because the need is tremendous. As a city councilwoman, I repurposed the 28th Street YMCA to provide supportive housing to emancipated youth and transitional age foster children. The project was the first of its kind to use county mental health funds. Creating this pipeline of housing will be crucial to addressing this issue.
We also need to examine the way we provide services to foster children. We need intense case management that does needs assessments when a child is about to enter high school. We should evaluate their academic progress, determine their interests and create customized plans for them. Whether a child wants to attend university or become a chef, we should do all we can to support those vocations. That includes creating public/private partnerships with foundations and educational institutions to secure scholarships, tutoring, job training and internship programs.
I would also like to explore extending the age a child can remain in the foster care system with families that are willing to shepherd them through college or vocation programs and into self-sufficiency. Foster children are the only children we ask to become independent at 18, and I believe that is just plain unfair and out of touch with today’s economy.
Jake Jeong: Ultimately, it is my hope that combining House LA with Future LA will address the issue of youth homelessness in a major way. Providing a sustainable method of housing keeps working-class families and their children off the streets. Providing and incentivizing affordable childcare options helps families stay intact. So many of the crises facing our city are intertwined with each other, and I want to take them on as a system.
Under House LA, I propose a new development pathway, one already being used by developers to build luxury hotels, that achieves both the aforementioned goals. With a modular model of construction, individual housing units are rapidly built overseas, uninhibited by the local regulations and codes that add years to development in Los Angeles. They are shipped here, fully furnished, and stacked just like Legos to form complete homes and apartments. The modular model beats the current, traditional model used by the city in almost all departments. In terms of cost, a modular unit only requires $130,000 to fully build and furnish – just a quarter of our current spending, for better living quality and s pace. In terms of time, the modular model is unbeatable: it takes only 10 months for a development to go from inception to full completion. Compare that to our current Prop HHH projects, none of which have yet opened to the public despite being three years in development. Currently, the city barely started or is trying to start, building only 7,000 units by spending a total of about $4 billion of the HHH funds and the federal tax credit funds. With the same funds, if we use the modular model, we can build about 30,000 units. This modular model is known to the city officials, but they are not discussing it at all. As county supervisor, I promise to adopt the modular model. Instead of wasting tax dollars on costly projects that take multiple years to build, I will invest in an alternative that has been proven to be both significantly cheaper and faster. Our county owns thousands of square feet of unused land. When we develop this land with modular units, each costing just a quarter of the current amount and taking only 10 months to build, we stand a real chance at eliminating homelessness in L.A. County once and for all.
Los Angeles is experiencing a full-blown child care crisis. L.A.’s defunct early child care and education system has allowed hundreds of thousands of children to slip through the cracks, to become young adults without the guidance they needed during development. When I become supervisor, I will dramatically increase funding for, and availability of childcare in our county. Our children are the future, and we must do everything we can to help them succeed. I will increase county spending to incentivize creation of more child care centers and promote the crucial work of in-home providers. When we increase the supply of child care across all of Los Angeles, costs must go down. I will revamp county and city regulations for childcare providers to streamline the childcare approval process. No one should have to wait months on end to help their children.
Changes to the foster care system have been shown to have positive effects on the homeless; when the age a youth can stay in foster care was raised from 18 to 21, the percentage of the youth graduating into adulthood that became homeless decreased from 24 percent to 16 percent. Although this is an encouraging sign, more individualized attention is needed. This is especially true for kids in foster care and juvenile hall, as they face disadvantages from the get-go. An alarming 90 percent of kids in juvenile hall have an open mental health case, no doubt from being forcibly removed from their families and being placed in an unfamiliar environment.
Children in the foster care system also have a harder time completing education and obtaining higher paying jobs. For these children, early intervention is crucial. Among youth who face the prospect of persistent homelessness, the chief concerns are the difficulty to obtain stable jobs. I’ve spoken with groups such as A Place Called Home and the LA Urban League who focus on such early intervention. They offer programs and services that teach young people that they can be productive members of society. These can include job training, education counseling, tutoring and mentorships that give young people skills to survive and thrive in society.
The solution is to incentivize employers through subsidies to employ high-risk youth, or to provide opportunities for higher-education and professional training. The data shows that investing in such measures, along with a comprehensive package of re-employment services to help people get back on their feet quickly, is financially justifiable when compared with the increasing costs of the unemployed homeless – the longer individuals stay homeless, the harder and more costly it becomes for them to find a home. With the combined effort of my House LA and Future LA plans, we can combat and put an end to the foster-care-to-homelessness pipeline.
Holly J. Mitchell: We must reinforce our transitional age services with job placement, rent assistance, mental health services and on-going health care to ensure that foster youth are able to be independent without the threat of becoming homelessness. I am committed to ensuring our county departments are effectively allocating funding towards on-going wrap around services. I will also work to invest in career pipelines with a priority for foster youth to receive skill training that is aligned with the high growth industries in our county. This will require public private partnerships that are intentionally cultivating young people for the family sustaining wages and career advancement.
Stay tuned for more responses from candidates running for the second district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week. You can RSVP for a community forum on these issues, taking place January 31 at Los Angeles Trade Tech College, by clicking here.