Los Angeles

Los Angeles' Project 50

Taking a Page from Community Solutions’ Playbook for Resolving Homelessness

In a corner of downtown Los Angeles the neighborhood name says it all:  Skid Row. Also known as Central City East, this four square mile area is said to have the highest number of homeless residents in the country.

Skid Row is also a landmark example of how Community Solutions brings a practical, results-oriented approach to resolving homelessness in any community.

Project 50 started as a pilot program in late 2007 when L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Deputy Flora Gil Krisiloff championed the hiring of Common Ground's national team, now Community Solutions, to help create a new approach to homelessness on Skid Row.  The goal:  To permanently house 50 of Skid Row's most chronic, longtime homeless.

A Powerful Tool + Cross-Sector Teamwork = Lives Saved

First, the Community Solutions team trained County employees to go into Skid Row and administer the Vulnerability Index, a simple survey that puts names and faces to homelessness, and reveals those whose health conditions put them most at risk of dying on the street.

“What’s most powerful about Community Solutions is how they change people's thinking. They show people that there really is a solution to homelessness. That changes the way we do our work.”
— Molly Rysman of Skid Row Housing Trust, a Project 50 partner

"When communities understand these are vets, seniors and others for whom housing is a life and death matter, they become very creative about finding solutions," says Becky Kanis, who advised Project 50 and now directs the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

Community Solutions helped Project 50 bring together 24 different government, non-profit and business organizations.  Using data from the VI—names, photos, and health conditions—we prioritized the most vulnerable for housing. "We then worked with the County and the larger, cross-sector team to create a coordinated process for connecting isolated people to homes and stabilizing support," says Kanis, who developed a similar model in New York City's Times Square that virtually eliminated homelessness there.

Changing Perception: Homelessness Can Be Solved

Project 50 housed 67 of Skid Row's neediest inhabitants.  People like 57-year-old Lucy P. Evans who battled homelessness and drug addiction for more than a decade. Shortly after volunteers surveyed her, Evans moved into her first home in more time than she could remember. Says Kanis: "If communities can house people like Lucy who have lived on the street the longest through the worst of circumstances, it's clear that a systematic approach can help anyone overcome homelessness."

Project 50 also proved that getting vulnerable people into housing saves taxpayer dollars. In the first year, those housed spent a combined 150 fewer days as hospital inpatients and 600 fewer days in jail, cutting jail and medical costs by over $550,000.

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky says that Community Solutions' use of metrics, its innovative approach to outreach and emphasis on permanent housing and support helped the County "explode the myth that we can't get chronically homeless people into housing, and that they won't accept desperately needed health and mental health services, or substance-abuse treatment."

Lasting Impact: L.A. Adopts Historic 5-Year Plan

Project 50 had wide impact, laying the foundation for Los Angeles policy makers to subsequently embrace a housing-based approach in Home For Good, its new, historic plan to end chronic and veteran homelessness in five years.

Says Yaroslavsky: "Many consider Los Angeles the homeless capital of the nation, and it's a daunting task to meet the housing and service needs of more than 10,000 chronically homeless County residents. But that's why dealing with them as 50 or 500 individuals at a time made so much sense to me, and Project 50 established the template."

Since Project 50, eighteen communities in L.A. County have joined the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national effort led by Community Solutions to house 100,000 people by July 2013.