I Believe Los Angeles Can End Homelessness
Yup that’s me! A little over 21 years ago, I lived on the streets of Los Angeles homeless and helpless. I sold photos of my pet Iguana to tourists in front of the Chinese Theater to survive. Los Angeles Police Officers called me “Lizard Man”, and “The Lizard Man of Hollywood Blvd” was born.
Hard to imagine that prior to homelessness I had a great job in television syndication. But due to a severe drug problem, I ended up homeless.
I rebuilt my life, buying a three-bedroom house with a new car in the garage. I had a pool in the backyard and a cushy marketing job with success on the horizon. Then the economy crashed and I lost everything again except my sobriety.
In the fall of 2008, the only job I could find was a three-month temporary position working at the Glendale Winter Shelter. I was eventually hired on fulltime as an outreach case manager. During the winter months, my position shifted to family outreach case manager. For the next four years, I worked in homeless services helping those experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles.
During that time, I began using social media to empower homeless people to share their own stories. To end homelessness, we need to listen to the experts. And the experts are people experiencing homelessness: living in a tent, under a bridge, in a car or at a weekly-rate hotel not fit for children.
My work quickly took off and I founded Invisible People, a digital storytelling platform exposing the realities of homelessness and solutions to end it. Invisible People is the only education-based nonprofit working on a national level to educate people about homelessness to affect policy change.
Over the last decade, I have traveled to more than 300 cities meeting thousands of people experiencing homelessness. I have worked with foreign, national and local governments along with homeless service providers around the world.
Breaking Through the Bureaucratic Wall
When I worked as an LA-based outreach case manager, the bureaucracy was maddening. There was always a struggle to get people to work together. I used to say the miracle wasn’t that a person got off the streets, but that the system actually worked. A lot of well-intentioned people were giving their all to end homelessness. However, there was little coordination between communities and service providers.
Prime example: Los Angeles County is divided up into eight Service Planning Areas (SPA). Simply put, a SPA is a specific geographic region within the county. Eight years ago, there was an attempt to get a single coordinated intake form for all homeless service providers to use within the eight SPAs. However, no one would agree or compromise, so it never went anywhere.
In 2013, I remember walking into United Way of Greater Los Angeles and seeing all eight SPAs working together to develop a coordinated entry process. To me, it was a miracle — you would have thought I saw the tooth fairy.
MEDIA: To read the post I wrote about that day click here.
A New Hope — We Can End Homelessness
I currently live in Syracuse, NY where I help take care of my mother. But my heart and passion to end homelessness will always be in Los Angeles. I visit as often as I can. Because I leave for extended periods of time, I return to the city I love with new eyes. While I see how homelessness has spread, I also see the positive changes being made to end it.
A lot of progress has been made since 2013. This past November, I was honored to attend the Annual Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Homelessness Convening. The guest list included many stakeholders working to end homelessness in Los Angeles.
During this event, I learned the city and county were working together and collaboration between nonprofits was being embraced. Homeless service organizations talked about the need for flex funding and peer support programs. The emphasis was on providing homeless people with adequate support so they not only survive, but thrive after being placed into housing. I was thrilled to see a new Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) actively listening to community nonprofits.