Signal Hill City Council learns about increased area homeless: During council meeting, LAHSA, PATH and the SH Police Department describe combating homelessness.

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Courtesy LAHSA
A slide from a Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) presentation during the July 9 Signal Hill City Council meeting showing increasing numbers of homeless housed since 2014. LAHSA shared during the meeting that the number of homeless in Los Angeles County grew by 12 percent between 2018 and 2019.

The Signal Hill City Council devoted much of its July 9 meeting to hearing about how area homelessness has increased by 12% over the past year and what county authorities and local police are doing about it.

It also addressed other council business and heard a presentation by Pete’s Plumbing during its “Small Business Spotlight.”

Increased homelessness
To address the latest results from the 2019 homeless count conducted in January, Signal Hill Police Chief Christopher Nunley introduced representatives from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) and Signal Hill Senior Police Officer Don Moreau– the department’s homeless liaison officer and mental-evaluation team supervisor.

Elizabeth Hager from LAHSA said that the January 2019 homeless-count results released last month show a 12% increase in the number of Los Angeles County homeless since last year.
She said that city-level numbers are still being checked for accuracy and will be released in a couple of weeks.

For the county, she said that though the number of homeless veterans decreased slightly by 8 people to 3,874, the number of homeless families increased by almost 7% to 8,799; chronic homelessness increased by 17% to 16,529; homeless youth increased by 24% to 3,926; and homeless seniors increased by 8% to 5,225.

Despite these increases, Hager noted that LAHSA housed 21,631 individuals and families in 2018– 23% more than in the previous year. Housing placements have more than doubled since 2014, she added.

“We’re definitely on the right track,” Hager said. “We just need to make sure we can decrease the number of homeless individuals and families.”

The main drivers of homelessness are unaffordable housing and economic conditions causing job loss, she said.

But Measure H funding has helped by not only increasing LAHSA’s homeless outreach-and-housing efforts but in prevention, Hager said. LAHSA has 100 homeless-response teams throughout the county providing emergency services and connecting the homeless with longer-term case management.

“We really want to connect with them and engage with them to make sure they can move on,” Hager said.

Hayley Fuselier, a PATH regional director, explained that her agency’s mission is to end homelessness through such outreach, case management and finding appropriate resources for those on the streets to get into housing.

“We have a ‘no wrong door’ approach, meaning anywhere or anytime they need access, we allow them to come in for services, whether it be for mental health, substance use or housing,” she said.

Fuselier also discussed LA-HOP, LAHSA’s year-old website and mobile-phone app that allows users to ping the location of a homeless person so that a response team can contact them within 72 hours. A person who is homeless can also refer themselves through LA-HOP, she said.

Fuselier noted that Signal Hill users made 17 requests on LA-HOP in the last year and that overall it receives hundreds of requests each day.

Moreau said that the Signal Hill Police Department (SHPD) works with PATH, LAHSA and other agencies in addressing area homelessness.

SHPD’s mental-health evaluation team (MET) has partnered with the county’s Department of Mental Health in deploying a MET about 40 times per year in the last two years and 21 times so far in 2019.

Moreau also said that a homeless-outreach service-team (HOST) grant has allowed the SHPD to pay for overtime shifts for officers to engage exclusively with the homeless. The grant has funded 62 such overtime hours in 2018 and 44 so far in 2019, 25 of those just in the past month.

In the past 12 months, SHPD has cleared five homeless encampments on city property and six on private property mostly owned by Signal Hill Petroleum, Moreau said.

SHPD also partners with Long Beach’s Multi-Service Center to provide homeless assistance and checks parks, public libraries and summer day-camps before children arrive, Moreau said.

Officers also check freeway embankments and respond to many calls to the police department for service, he added.

Nunley said that pending state legislation such as Senate Bill 102 and Assembly Bill 101 would provide more such grants and build homes and shelters.

Councilmember Edward Wilson said that he learned from a recent regional Council of Governments (COG) meeting that the state is building some housing campuses with mental-health treatment centers.

“There’s more to it than housing,” he said. “A roof over someone’s head doesn’t totally change their situation.”

He also said that the homeless problem started in the 1980s when the federal government defunded mental-health services.

“It created the situation we have now,” he said. “It was the start. And unfortunately it allowed society to think that people living on the street was okay. But it’s not.”

According to LAHSA’s data, 29% of the county’s homeless identify as having mental-health or substance-abuse issues, Hager and Fuselier said. They added that the number could be higher because self-reporting individuals may not be willing to disclose that information to surveyors.

But Hager said that LAHSA operates from a housing-first perspective regardless so a homeless individual has a roof over their head first before further treatment or assistance.

Councilmember Tina Hansen said that it’s sometimes hard for residents to understand why they see so many homeless on the streets despite all the outreach.

“Just because a contact is made doesn’t mean that person wants services,” Hansen said. “You can have every piece in place that could help them– you could offer it– and they still may decline it for whatever variety of reason. And if they do, there’s nothing really that we can do except move them off of one place to find another.”

Fuselier concurred, adding that her agency prefers referring to its encounters with the homeless as “engagements” rather than “contacts.”

“People do have self-determination and can say no,” she said. “We go out, and we keep going out, even though they say no.”

Moreau said that it can take more than 13 contacts on average to get a homeless person to accept assistance.

“It’s not if they will accept services, but when,” Mayor Lori Woods added. “It’s a long-term perspective.”

Courtesy City of SH
Architect Robert Coffee drew the above rendering of a dinosaur-themed children’s area under construction in the new Signal Hill Public Library, set to open Aug. 10.

Other business
The council also accomplished the following business:
• Conducted a second reading and adopted an ordinance that had been introduced at its previous meeting on June 25 establishing patron rules for the new Signal Hill Public Library set to open on Aug. 10.

• Passed a resolution approving an engineer’s report for an annual landscape-and-lighting maintenance-fee assessment for the California Crown neighborhood. It also approved conducting a public hearing about the fee during its next meeting on July 23.

• Approved an agreement with the Central Basin Watermaster Water Rights Panel– representing local municipal water producers– for Signal Hill to provide secretarial assistance at an hourly reimbursement rate of $38.84. Another Signal Hill representative– City Manager Charlie Honeycutt– already serves as the panel’s vice chair. Honeycutt said the secretary position will provide valuable experience to a public-works department employee and increase the city’s presence on the panel.

• Received and filed Wilson’s and Wood’s reports of their experiences at the Gateway Cities COG retreat last month, learning about public-private partnerships (PPPs), housing and homelessness, a regional business database, municipal population densities and stormwater-runoff activity in light of Measure W parcel-tax funds.

Woods presented a proclamation to Terry Rogers, currently serving as chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, recognizing July as the national “Parks Make Life Better!” month.

During the meeting’s “Small Business Spotlight,” Patty Hillis, owner of Pete’s Plumbing at 3099 E. Pacific Coast Highway, shared that her company has been in business since 1972 and in Signal Hill since 2003.

“It’s been a great fit,” she said of being in Signal Hill. “We’re now a full-service shop. We have seven trucks out in the field. We do anything to do with the plumbing system– gas, drain, water re-piping. We also focus on the small-residential owner as well [and] we do a lot of condominium associations.”

Hillis said the company is family-oriented and all five of her sons have worked there, though her husband and company founder passed away five years ago.

Patty’s son Josh shared some plumbing facts, such as which way toilet paper should hang (“the patent shows it’s supposed to go over the top”) and when the first bathroom was put on a space station (2007, for over $1 million). He also said the company’s plumbers work by the hour.

“You’ve got us for the hour,” he said. “Whatever you need us for, that’s what we’re here to do. […] We’ve got great guys– really honest. […] We try to set the standard.”

The next Signal Hill City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, July 23, at 7pm in the council chamber at 2175 Cherry Ave.