By Sue Pascoe
The Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness (PPTFH) announced at its Jan. 23 meeting that it has received a $100,000 grant from the St. John’s Health Center Foundation.
When PPTFH was first formed in fall 2014, the goal was to fund a full-time, two-person Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC) outreach team for three years in the Palisades at $125,000 per year.
“With this grant,” said fundraising chair Barbara Overland, “we are thrilled to say that we now have funds to maintain the outreach team’s work through 2018.”
She thanked longtime Palisades resident Charles (“Charlie”) Smith for bringing PPTFH’s work to the attention of the St. John’s Foundation.
The statistics for the first year of OPCC’s outreach were announced at the meeting, which featured Judge Michael Levanas speaking about service-resistant transients.
In December, 14 new homeless individuals appeared in the Palisades. They joined 159 who had been previously counted by the PPTFH social workers, Maureen Rivas and Glanda Sherman, who generally have at least one interaction with each transient. The number of homeless fluctuates from month to month, but that number reflects those who are “passing through.”
According to Rivas and Sherman, there are about 90 transients who live full-time in Pacific Palisades and are now in varying stages of accepting services. About 40 of those people are now receiving intensive street-based service from nurses, psychiatrists, substance abuse professionals and mental health professionals.
The remaining 50 have consented to services and have been assigned to a case manager. Thirty-two are off the streets. Eleven have been housed and 12 have housing vouchers, waiting for affordable housing to open.
“This is really remarkable progress in basically one year,” Overland said. “We are starting to see our people move off the street and into housing much sooner than we had expected. We need to shift our fundraising focus to providing first- and last-month rent and utilities.
“This has been our second goal all along. We need a good, solid hand-off so that our people don’t fall back onto the streets.’
Several audience members wanted to know why a long-term transient, Timmy, wasn’t off the streets.
PPTFH member Sharon Kilbride said, “Social workers are watching him deteriorate and many wonder if there isn’t a way to help people who won’t help themselves.”
“I’ll give you the insight of what can be done legally,” Judge Levanas said. “What we can do—with people who don’t want help—isn’t easy.”
He noted that there are four divisions in court that deal with the homeless: 1.) probate; 2.) mental health; 3.) criminal court; and 4.) juvenile.
In probate, a conservatorship can be set up. It usually occurs when a person is treated in a hospital and then is ready to be released, but the hospital doesn’t know who to assign care. A public guardian can be set up.
In mental health cases, the Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) conservatorship gives legal authority to an adult to make certain decisions for a seriously mentally ill person.
This conservatorship covers only mental illnesses listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which include schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It does not cover brain trauma, dementia and alcohol or drug addiction.
The court will not establish a conservatorship unless the person is gravely disabled, which means that because of a mental disorder, the person cannot take care of his/her basic personal needs for food, clothing and shelter.
“This has the highest legal standard,” Lavanas said, noting that the transient can also ask for a jury trial. He explained that many who are brought in will see a psychiatrist, maybe get back on their medication, and look good by the time they go to court. As a result, the LPS standard is often not met.
Timmy doesn’t meet the legal criteria. “I’ve tried to get him on a hold,” said LAPD Officer Rusty Redican, who works with many of the community’s homeless. “He has some enablers.” (When a patient is hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital against his or her will, he or she is placed on a 72-hour hold (WIC 5150). At the end of that time, the doctor may discharge the patient.)
Redican explained that certain Palisadians bring Timmy into their homes during rainy weather and give him food. Their efforts are keeping him on the streets and making it less likely that he will accept services.
As another example, Redican said he took Bonnie, a young blonde who was seen talking to herself, to see a psychiatrist. He spent all day at the hospital facility with her and when he left, was told the Norwegian national, who is also a mother, would be taken care of. Two days later, he was on the Will Rogers beach bike path and saw her. She had convinced a psychiatrist that she was okay and was released. She is currently back in the Via bluffs, where residents are concerned she will start fires.
There are issues in juvenile court because being homeless is not a reason to bring in young adults. Levanas said there may be drug or alcohol issues in the family, or the family may simply not have a place to live.
“Thirty percent of the kids in family care would be back with families if there was affordable housing,” he said.
Many of the homeless that commit crimes do not get the help they need while incarcerated and “we warehouse people with mental illnesses,” Lavanas noted.
Mark Ryavac, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, which has dealt with the growing homeless problem there (from 400 to an estimated 1,000), also spoke. He explained that many service-resistant transients will not seek help unless there’s also an enforcement policy in place.
For example, there are municipal laws stating “no lying, sitting or sleeping” on sidewalks between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. in Los Angeles.
“The city acts if it has no vagrancy laws,” said Ryavac, who believes that once laws are enforced, it might encourage some people to look for alternatives.
In Venice, “There are a couple of pastors who work with the LAPD and routinely offer rehabilitation services, housing or the help to reconnect to a person the homeless knows who might be out of state,” he said.