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LBFD’s Operation HEART also presents on helping the homeless

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At the May 15 Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance, Inc. (WANA) meeting, Long Beach Police Officer Rudy Garcia reports on recent police activity.

Anita W. Harris | Signal Tribune

By: Anita W. Harris
Staff Writer

At its May 15 meeting, the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance, Inc. (WANA) heard from Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) representatives about recent developments using data to strategically target student interventions. Long Beach Fire Department’s (LBFD) Operation HEART also shared about their ongoing efforts to reach out and help the area’s homeless population. Officer Rudy Garcia reported on recent Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) activity.

Dr. Felton Williams, LBUSD district board member, and Dr. Christopher Lund, assistant superintendent of research and school improvement, presented on new efforts to ensure student success by making information more accessible to teachers, counselors and parents.

Lund described LBUSD’s early-warning and intervention systems that use data to flag students who need help and to set up strategic interventions based on those needs.

“How do you prioritize [!] which students have the most needs, and how do you then differentiate the support based on that?” Lund asked, adding that it takes a cooperative effort between parents, counselors and teachers.

Because LBUSD has its own data-tracking and reporting system, Lund said, it can adapt quickly to changes in district needs. Recent changes include better accessibility of student data and better communication with parents.

Lund showed interfaces that teachers and counselors access online highlighting scores and other information indicating student risk of failure, including historic comparison that may indicate a new problem.

“Typically when a student’s attendance is really strong and then suddenly it’s bad, there’s something going on,” Lund said. “Something changed in that child’s life.”

Now parents can also view this data through an interface called ParentVue.

New system changes implemented in January also allow communication with parents on a more regular and proactive basis, Lund said. In addition to automated messages regarding attendance, parents also now receive a weekly reminder of any classes their child might be failing.

“Instead of waiting for a parent to go online to check the grades, or waiting until a report card comes, [!] every week you’re getting a communication reminding you that your child’s failing,” Lund said.

Beginning in August, parents of 9th to 12th graders will also receive letters twice per year customized to their child’s progress toward college and career goals, Lund said, including admissions requirements to Cal State University Long Beach (CSULB), to which LBUSD students get priority consideration.

Another new element in the online student tracking system are highly visible flags indicating the level of student risk for failure, built into attendance screens for teachers and also accessible by counselors, principals and parents.

System changes since September 2016 have allowed LBUSD to also track student interventions. While interventions for at-risk students are not new, Lund said, tracking that information is.

“This new system [!] allows us to then monitor who’s getting support and who’s not,” Lund said.

Lund showed that data collected since September indicates that 21,240 students out of LBUSD’s approximately 75,000 students have had at least one intervention, about a third due to grades and another third for attendance.

Williams explained that the biggest blocks to student success stem from poverty and that Long Beach has a 75-percent poverty rate. There are also 56 different languages spoken by LBUSD students.

Despite these hindrances, Williams pointed out that in a recent independent study, Long Beach ranks as one of the world’s top 20 school systems and one of the top three in the nation. Williams attributes this success to community involvement.

“You don’t have a lot of communities with the same characteristics as this one,” Williams said.

Williams credits special relationships between LBUSD, Long Beach City College (LBCC) and CSULB, as well as the 1,800 business partners who provide services such as eye and dental exams for students, internships and free school uniforms from the Assistance League for those who cannot afford them.

Student success attracts scholarship funds from across the nation, Williams said, but also impacts the local economy.

“That attracts businesses to this city,” Williams said. “And also keeps your property values high.”

In response to a meeting attendee’s question about a recent news article on LBUSD suspension rates, Williams stated that the district is working to reduce suspensions for minor infractions such as missing homework and is increasing teacher training.

But Williams said that more serious suspensions, such as bringing a weapon to school, stem from poverty.

“Gangs are recruiting those kids in high-poverty areas,” Williams said. “So, that may drive some suspension rates.”

Williams added that LBUSD is working to address this systemic issue.

“We try to mitigate that by looking at how we can keep those kids busy. How we can get jobs for those kids,” Williams said. “How we can change the dynamics in those areas to take away the environment where crime can proliferate, where gangs can grow.”

Williams concluded that LBUSD efforts include adding trade schools, such as for culinary arts in Signal Hill, for students not interested in college.

“The foundation for all we do in this country is built around our schools and preparing our kids to work in our world,” Williams said. “The challenges that we deal with in a big city school district, they’re very real, they’re very upfront.”

Operation HEART
Joel Davis and Justin Verga, paramedics with the LBFD, described Operation HEART, a new two-man homelessness education response team established in November 2016.

LBFD realized that a large number of their service calls were related to the homeless, Davis explained, but there was no long-term approach to addressing the issue.

“Why don’t we form a team that can bridge between what the fire department does, what our health department does, and what our police department does with some more outreach?” Davis said about the formation of the unit.

The team covers all 52 square miles of the city, responding to dispatched calls involving the homeless. As paramedics, they provide medical assistance, if needed, but otherwise offer outreach.

“We first off start to build rapport with that individual. We gain some trust,” Davis said. “[We] find out what their needs are, beyond just a medical need. Is it something as simple as needing a driver’s license, or something to the level of getting a house? We get them down that path, if they want it.”

Davis explained that this approach reduces service callbacks on the same individual.

Since the team began service in December, Davis said, they have responded to 320 calls with 165 involving such proactive outreach.
Davis emphasized that frequent contact is the key to building rapport with the homeless.

“At the point they’re ready for some help, then they already have somebody they can trust and somebody that’s there to listen to them,” Davis said.

He and Verga have connected 29 people so far to resources for mental and substance-abuse issues, housing and counseling.

“Our real measure of success is if we can actually get somebody to say, ‘Yes, I’d like some help’ and get them to a resource,” Davis said.

Citing the recent homeless count showing a 21-percent decrease, Davis admitted it was unexpected, but only because the homeless are moving to more visible areas so it seems like the number is increasing.

“We’ve progressively gone down in numbers, from about 2,800 six years ago down to 1,800 this year,” Davis said, crediting the efforts of over 30 outreach programs in Long Beach.

Verga emphasized the humanity of the homeless.

“Every one of these people has a story, every one has a family somewhere, every one of them has needs,” Verga said.

He added that there is no easy solution to the problem of homelessness, and sometimes cooperation with the police is needed in the case of the mentally ill.

“It takes one-and-a-half to two years to get someone off the street and into housing,” Verga said. “There’s no quick fix to this. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s not illegal to be homeless.”

For residents who wish to help a homeless individual find resources, the team suggested contacting the Multi-Services Center for Homeless (MSC) at 1301 W. 12th Street, the main place to which they refer their clients. A message left by calling the hotline at (562) 570-4500 will prompt someone to be assigned to reach out the next day.

“All these people have needs, just like all of us,” Verga said. “Just because they don’t have a house doesn’t mean they don’t have needs also.”

Police activity
Officer Rudy Garcia reported on LBPD’s efforts to curb driving while under the influence (DUI) on May 5 for Cinco de Mayo celebrations from 6pm until 2am the next day. Sobriety tests were given at checkpoints to 35 drivers, and five were arrested. An additional 10 citations were issued for unsafe driving.

“Some of the things that come with [!] DUI is jail time, fines, fees, DUI classes, and your license suspended, and the costs can go all the way up to $10,000,” Garcia said.

Garcia further described a recent incident during which a Long Beach husband and wife, both senior citizens, were held at gunpoint while their car and other items were stolen. The car was later involved in a collision in Westminster, and the suspects were arrested.

Finally, Garcia reported on a cooperative law-enforcement effort to recover several stolen guns from a North Long Beach residence. The couple arrested had been selling the guns online.

Closer to Wrigley, Garcia reported that LBPD recently facilitated evictions from a residential unit at 164 E. Eagle St. after numerous complaints of public drinking, loud music and crime. The owner of the building was cooperative and gave the residents an eviction notice, though it took several months to implement.

One meeting attendee asked Garcia about a growing homeless encampment underneath the Wardlow Road bridge, saying that it impeded the horse trail and there was evidence of debris, needle drug use and stolen bicycles.

Garcia replied that officers have been investigating but there is some question as to whether the bridge is under Long Beach or Caltrans jurisdiction.

Davis later reiterated how jurisdiction issues can impede dispersing such camps.

Next meetings
WANA President Joan Greenwood reminded meeting attendees of a June 4 community mixer at the Dominguez Gap Wetlands Restoration Project, beginning at 4pm.

Wrigley resident Renee Lawler announced that at next month’s WANA meeting, LBCC film student and producer John Salcedo will screen his short documentary film, “The Last Long Beach Ranch,” made with Dr. Ray Sumner of LBCC’s geography department.

To provide context, Lawler explained that Wrigley is the last district with equestrian property dating back to the historic ranchos of the 1800s. Despite zoning protections implemented in 1977 to preserve the open space necessary for equestrian activity, Lawler said, development has been cumulatively encroaching upon equestrian zones.

The next WANA meeting will take place Monday, June 19, at 7pm at the Veterans Memorial Park Community Center, 101 E. 28th St.

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Serving Bixby Knolls, California Heights, Los Cerritos, Wrigley and Signal Hill
LBFD’s Operation HEART also presents on helping the homeless