“We very much can solve homelessness:” A roundtable discussion with advocates in Denver, LA, and NYC

Denver city employees swept a migrant camp of 400 people near the Quality Inn on January 3rd, 2024. A city employee looks inside a tent. Photo Courtesy of @housekeysactionnetworkdenver on Instagram.

Since last July 2023 in Denver, 1,512 individuals have been moved on indoors from unsheltered homelessness, but the average length of stay once they moved indoors is  just 104 days. That’s according to Denver’s current dashboard for the All in Mile High Initiative, which used to be called House1000. That’s Mayor Mike Johnston’s initiative to move individuals indoors from unsheltered homelessness.

Initiatives like these are being taken on by local governments across the country, but they’ve prompted a question that lots of organizers and community organizations are asking: Where do these people go after their stays end?

I spoke with one individual from Denver, one individual from Los Angeles, and one individual from New York in a roundtable setting to compare and contrast the experiences that they’re all having while trying to help their unhoused neighbors, the ways in which their local governments do or don’t support those efforts, and what they hope or expect to see in the days, weeks, months, years to come.

V Reeves is an organizer with House Keys Action Network Denver.

“We’re trying to ensure [safety for] people who are incredibly vulnerable, who we know personally out on the streets – people like Gary or Mindy, both of whom have colostomy bags, and when they’re camping out in the cold, their colostomy bag literally freezes so that they have a bag of urine attached frozen to their leg and they’re trying to maneuver and often times they experience leaks. They have to cut the whole of the colostomy bag to fit to their organ using nail clippers because shelters will not allow them to take scissors, regardless of medical notes, things that are just absurd that you can’t believe that this is really the kind of conditions we’re forcing on people, but again, there’s no prioritization for people who are in most need of safe spaces.”

“We can’t expect these different services or programs or agencies to be taking care of the problems without us. We need to understand that if we expect them to act without us, they’re going to act in ways that we don’t appreciate and…that don’t serve our needs because of money interests. And so recognizing that you’re as much a part of that process as anybody else is really important. And then I think maintain your discontent. It’s normal and it’s healthy to feel absolutely enraged and disappointed and drained and, you know, exhausted from seeing this kind of trauma. And I think when we numb ourselves to it too much, we risk complacency. We risk becoming part of that population that accepts that this is the normal. When it really isn’t. We shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to the absolute worst, like, ‘Well, at least we’re not, you know, bombing our own people.’ That’s not even true, history has shown we’ve done that, and we could do that, and we still do that. There’s a lot of violence happening right now. And we cannot just decide that that’s life. So I hope that folks do find ways to heal and to find community in the meantime and to realize that community and people power is really what’s going to get us through all of these hurdles.”

V Reeves (left) stands with a man who arrived in the United States from Columbia, after a violent encounter with Columbian police. Housekeys Action Network Denver helped him find a hotel room after he spent time sleeping on the streets of Denver. Photo Courtesy of @housekeysactionnetworkdenver on Instagram.

 

Kitty Davis-Walker is the Vice President of Public Relations at the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles.

“Programs will not work unless they provide affordable housing. Otherwise, it’s going to be a continuous stream of folks. Um, this is a crisis that is a FEMA-like crisis, and it should be treated as such. And that’s not what’s happening here in Los Angeles. It’s sad. We’re going to continue to do what we do. And hope that other folks will come on board and do what we’re doing because we know what works. And we’re on the front lines. We’re, we’re on the front lines here on Skid Row. So, you know, someone sitting in their office making policies and things and have never been on the front lines to see what is happening, like what Vis talking about. And, and, and what Nathalie’s talking about, what’s going on in, in New York. We’re the ones who know we’re on the front lines.”

“If you give somebody everything you’re not really giving them a hand up. You’re giving them a handout. So we are providing services and programs where you’re investing in your own recovery of what’s going on with you of why you became homeless in the first place. What’s not working is just getting folks off the street, putting them into a shelter and with no accountability, basically just putting them there, providing food and shelter, and that’s it. That’s, that’s what’s not working.”

Kitty Davis-Walker (right) stands with Denise and Violet, a mother and daughter featured on Union Rescue Mission’s Angels of Hope fundraising television special. Photo Courtesy of Kitty Davis-Walker.

 

Nathalie Interiano is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Care for the Homeless in New York City.

“I think when we have these conversations, especially in my work, you know, in policy and sort of talking to people, educating them about homelessness, I do want people to understand that we very much can solve homelessness. Of course, we focus on a lot of the issues that we need to be focusing on because then that leads to the solution, but we know what the solution is. We we’ve seen it in action. We’ve seen the impact. I think it just takes a lot of systems that need to work together at the same time, and that coordination is sort of what’s lacking.”

“A lot of what we’ve seen, especially since the pandemic, there were some really great interventions that came from the federal government, but also locally that really address housing instability for people. We actually saw in numbers the impact that it had in a very small time frame. And yet, we have to make the case that we need to continue the funding because it’s on deaf ears. It happens at every level of government, city, state, and federal. The reason we’re seeing the incredible increases in homelessness right now is because all of those interventions stop. And we have been sounding the alarm for two years, three years saying, ‘This is going to happen if we don’t go back to what we had before.

Nathalie Interiano speaking on behalf of Care for the Homeless. Photo Courtesy of Nathalie Interiano.

 

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    APublicAffair_2024-05-01 Jackie Sedley

Transcript:

Jackie Sedley: 8:35 on listener-supported KGNU.

You’re listening to A Public Affair. Since last July 2023 in Denver, 1,512 individuals have been moved on indoors from unsheltered homelessness, but the average length of stay once they moved indoors is  just 104 days. That’s according to Denver’s current dashboard for the All in Mile High Hotel and Micro Community Outcomes Program, which used to be called House1000. That’s Mayor Mike Johnston’s initiative to move individuals indoors from unsheltered homelessness. But the question, “Where do these people go after their stays end, after they leave?” is something that a lot of individuals around the country are asking themselves and their local governments as they work to help those living on the streets, their unhoused neighbors. I spoke with one individual from Denver. one individual from Los Angeles and one individual from New York in a roundtable setting to compare and contrast the experiences that they’re all having while trying to help their unhoused neighbors, the ways in which their local governments do or don’t support those efforts, and what they hope or expect to see in the days, months, weeks, years to come. I’ll allow them to introduce themselves now and we’ll get right into that conversation.

V Reeves: I’m V Reeves. Uh, first name is just the letter V. Last name is Reeves, like Keanu, now relation. And I use they, them pronouns. I’m here in Denver and I’m an organizer with House Keys Action Network, Denver.

Kitty Davis Walker: I’m Kitty Davis-Walker and I’m at Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles and my title is Vice President of Public Relations.

Nathalie Interiano: My name is Nathalie Interiano. I use she, her pronouns. And I am the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Care for the Homeless in New York City.

Sedley: I want to go around and give each of you the opportunity to introduce the initiatives you take part in that provide aid for the unhoused in your communities. So, V, starting with you over in Denver, what would you say are the main goals of House Keys Action Network Denver and what kind of steps are you taking currently to achieve those goals?

Reeves: Yeah, thank you. Um, so HAND is currently fighting for housing to be a human right for all, and that looks like, um, a lot of policy and legislative change, um, we do so by making sure that the voices and the presence and the leadership of the unhoused themselves, the ones who have the experience, are leading the efforts, and so any kinds of solutions or programs or things that are brought forth that directly impact folks, Need to be led by those who are directly impacted. So we have a lot of experience bringing folks to speak to city council, to the mayor, and to speak to press about their situation and really bring light to their experiences so that folks feel that they are seen and heard. Because we know that oftentimes the unhoused are treated with a sense of invisibility. It suggests that they don’t exist or they live on the outskirts of society when they are fully part of our society and just victim to a system that preys on the impoverished and keeps people in a cycle of poverty. We also make sure to lead with a racial justice lens that recognizes marginal identities and intersectionalities with being unhoused. We also were working with city council to push no freezing sweeps bill. That was able to pass with city council, but not with the mayor. The mayor vetoed it, even though it’s something that he had said during his initial campaign that he would support, that he would not be doing sweeps and freezing weather, clearly that wasn’t consistent, that didn’t end up being the case, so we’re just making sure that people have their rights protected and expanded upon while they’re experiencing houselessness.

Sedley: Thank you V. Kitty, moving to you in Los Angeles, how would you describe the work that Union Rescue Mission does and what does that provide for Angelenos living on the streets?

Walker: So we’re a 135-year-old Mission and what we do is we provide shelter, comprehensive programs and services for men, women, and families. And we really don’t turn away anybody. We are a clean, sober living environment for our guests. That is the main thing that we have. Partnerships with USC Dental. Um, they come and provide dental for our, our, our guests. We are in partnership with Pepperdine University for legal issues that our guests may have. And also in partnership with them for our mental health, uh, counseling. For our guests here as well, uh, and, um, we also provide medical and the comprehensive services that will help folks get back on their feet and connect them with housing or whatever it is that they need. So we meet them where they are, and then they’re case managed, and then, uh, they’re able to, to leave us with whatever resources it is that are needed to help get them back on their feet, to move into housing.

Sedley: All right. And Nathalie, moving to you, tell me a bit about your organization Care for the Homeless and how you serve the unhoused population in New York City.

Interiano: Certainly. Thanks to both of you. That’s really great work that you’re both doing. So at Care for the Homeless in New York, we take a little bit of an interesting approach because we’re primarily a healthcare organization, and we provide shelter services as well, specifically to people experiencing homelessness through 26 federally qualified health centers, We also operate, at this point, three shelters. There’s different modes of shelter here within our system, and so we operate a safe and even, and two shelters for single adult women. We’re about to open a single adult men’s shelter, um, in East New York. Um, but the one model that we have always is an FQHC on site, so understanding sort of that link between homelessness and healthcare, and access to healthcare, so that’s the two big things that we do, and then the third is the policy part, which is what I do, and it’s really advocating for policies to prevent it in homelessness, and specifically focusing on three issue areas that we think are incredibly important to the population that we serve, and one is Making the health care system responsive to people experiencing homelessness or unstable housing, so having better access to medical and behavioral health care, which includes both mental health care and substance use treatment. Um, and then also stable housing is an incredibly important part of addressing homelessness in general, especially for addressing, uh, the health of a person, um, and then equity and social justice issues are really trailing too. Um, challenge the roots of oppression that have led us to the point where we have homelessness, and specifically who is represented in the population of people experiencing homelessness, um, in New York City and nationwide, being largely, um, people of color. Um, and every, you know, sort of city is different, and certainly a population that we have in New York, it’s different than other cities because we have a large shelter system. We have the right to shelter, which kind of changes the way that we provide services. Um, and although we do have an unhoused population, it’s certainly not as large as other cities, um, like Los Angeles, Denver, um, and so on. So, um, it’s a little bit of a different perspective, but certainly a lot of things align in terms of what other folks are doing in other cities.

Sedley: Thank you to all three of you for that information. I think to start just by giving some context to those general populations. Starting with V and then moving to Kitty and then Nathalie, do you have an idea of how many people live on Denver streets, Los Angeles streets, and New York City streets currently? And if not, is there a reason that that number is unclear starting with V?

Reeves: Yeah, I would say that it’s hard to assess. We’re dealing with unprecedented numbers of migrants coming in right now, which has totally tipped the scale. Before, I would say it kind of depended how you looked at it because there were certain systems. That showed that around 25,000 people would be applying for the lottery or applying for unhoused services and resources, but then you’ve had, you know, accounts that kind of fluctuate between two, 3,000 people experiencing this at a time in the streets actively. Um, sleeping in the streets at that moment. So it kind of shows, I think, that a lot of the times people get missed. There are plenty of people who, uh, were unable to pay rent and are in this intermediary period where they’re living on someone’s couch or they’re living in their car before they’re truly, um, in the streets. And, and I think that unfortunately a lot of those people don’t have access to the same services because they don’t meet the high definition of Being unhoused or being homeless, um, which means that you actively slept in the street the night before. We face this problem when we try to house, um, migrants who are families with small children, and we try to keep those small children indoors. So they may be ending one program and they may have spent that night in a hotel the night before, but they wouldn’t actively qualify for another program until they actually spent the night in the street, um, the night before, which is kind of maddening. Um. But that’s, you know, the way that a lot of these guidelines work. So yeah, really, we’re, we’re fighting for not just the current unhoused, but also the people who are going to become unhoused and that’s actively what we’re looking at. We’re looking at huge spikes just because rent in Denver continues to go up as I’m sure it does everywhere else as well. And it’s becoming much more unlivable and creating much harsher conditions. So. Really, we exist to advocate for all people so that if anyone finds themselves in this situation, they’re going to have the supports needed.

Sedley: Kitty, can you speak at all on the population size of the folks living on the streets of Los Angeles?

Walker: It’s absolutely horrible, Jackie, and I want to commend Nathalie and the folks in New York for their right to shelter folks because, they’re keeping the numbers very, very low, but here in Los Angeles, it’s over 75, 000 plus devastated by homelessness, about 55, 000 unhoused. It’s, it’s more than that actually, but that was the last recent count and also as V mentioned, that number has an error because there’s folks living in their cars and perhaps couch surfing and some people do have money. So even during the count might’ve been the time where they had some money and they got a hotel room that night, so they weren’t counted. The numbers are staggering here and we are known in Los Angeles as the holiest capital of the U S and that’s just a horrible thing to be known by. Uh, so we actually have three places, one on Skid Row, which is Union Rescue Mission, uh, and. We have a place about 22 miles away for moms and children and senior ladies, and they can stay there up to three years. So they’ll go through the program. They can start taking college classes to up their game so that they can get a better job so that they can afford housing and to be out on their own and take care of their families. Then we also have another place which will be two years in April, and it’s our bridge housing, and that’s for families that are actually working, but need to save money so that they can get back into their own house or into their own housing. And then, of course, here downtown is emergency, and that’s where we have the largest population where bugs are coming in every single day. And we’re making room for them. Our gym on our third floor, we, we don’t use it anymore. We can’t because it’s full of families. Um, and so, um, with that being said, our focus, uh, is to get folks case managed to find out where they are and what it is that they need, uh, and then try and connect them with services and a place to stay. Uh, and again, our focus is a clean, sober living environment. We’re solely privately funded because the monies that, if we got from the state or the city or the federal government, we’d have to allow drugs and alcohol to freely flow. And we’re not that type of organization, Union Rescue Mission, we’re not doing that. Our focus is to make sure people are protected. in a safe, sober, living environment, and that there’s accountability and expectation, if they’re going through anything, to recover from that, and then reconnect them with communities and back into life, uh, and having their own home.

Sedley: Thank you for that, Kitty. And Nathalie, on to you, touching on the numbers of unhoused folks counted in New York City. And if that number is impacted by this right to shelter that you mentioned, I would love for you to touch on that a little bit. I know that that can obviously change demographics.

Interiano: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, sort of adding on to the one estimate that we have from the federal government to show what the numbers look like in every locality, in every state, is the annual homelessness assessment report, the AHR. Um, and this is the point in time count that usually happens in the same day, uh, or the same night in January of every year. And so. In some ways it’s flawed. I think we sort of touched on some of those reasons. There’s a lot of folks that are not captured. For example, if you’re in an emergency room, most of the times you’re not captured. And we understand that it gives us sort of a framework to work from, but also know that it doesn’t actually capture everyone. So, for example, for us in 2023, last year, we had about 5,000 people that were unsheltered. It’s a significant increase from what we’ve had the last couple years, but that’s for a couple of different reasons. Now, the reason that we don’t have the same numbers that Kitty NV we’re talking about is because we have what’s called the right to shelter, and one, we’re really one of the only localities that has that in. It’s only to New York City. It’s not even to New York State. And it was a consent decree that happened in the 1980s. Um, and it essentially means that if you are in need of a bed, so you come to the Department of Home Resources and say, I am in need of a bed, depending on certain requirements, um, the city is required to provide that for you. And so for us, our shelter system and our numbers of people experiencing homelessness look different because of that right to shelter. Part of, I think, what V was touching on, and I think is really important, is that it’s an ever changing situation, and so these numbers, again, we use them as frameworks, but, for example, in the last year, there has been, you know, some challenges to the right to shelter in New York City, specifically from the mayor. Some policies have been enacted to specifically focus on migrant and asylum seekers. For example, if I go into the shelter system, I would not have a time limitation in terms of how long it could be there. But there have been time limitations set on folks that are either single adults or families with children that are within that emergency population of migrant and asylum seekers coming in. So, I mean, there’s, there’s a lot of nuances when it comes to how policy affects the numbers that we’re seeing. And I think both of you have really touched on how that can look. And part also I think is as policy people or people who work in the field is understanding how those specific policies are going to look down the line and the kinds of things that we have to prepare for, which I think sometimes we are much better at doing than say like government officials or government representatives.

Sedley: Thank you for that explanation. And I think that that’s a really good segue into a conversation about your organization’s respective relationships with city officials, especially with mayors who often take on responsibility for initiatives to help the unhoused in their communities. We’ve talked on KGNU about HAND, House Key Action Network Denver’s relationship with Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, who worked to provide shelter for the unhoused and close encampments across the city for that. His office says that they successfully housed over 1, 000 individuals in the second half of 2023, and are planning to continue their efforts this year. Do you want to speak more on that relationship with the Mayor, V, or opinions on his efforts to start us off?

Reeves: Always want to speak more on that. Yeah, as you said, the average length of stay was less than a month, and they were counting those numbers as housing 1, 000. Um, I think we continuously throughout. This entire program that he had, we’ve been really highlighting the fact that he’s been using the wrong vernacular. He’s been saying housing. He’s not housing people. He’s briefly sheltering people. He has expanded the shelter system. We are grateful for his focus on hotel shelters and a kind of sheltering that does offer some more dignity. It does offer a closed door, privacy, um, your own access to bathroom, and in some cases, kitchenettes, and these are things that people have been asking for and need. However, definitely, um, you can’t house people effectively if you’re creating these intermediary systems, and then, as Kitty was saying earlier, there’s nowhere for people to go to after that. So you now create the system, and unfortunately, the mayor refers to a large population of people as being shelter reliant. Um, and we really are against that term just because it’s negligent of the kind of harm that the city and the government has done to create a reliance because there is no other system, there is no way for people to have housing with the kind of services they need to keep them in that housing and the kind of support that would be able to sustain that. The House1000 program has had a lot of criticism from us. Um, we have seen him continuing to close camps and, and sweep entire streets without offering hotel shelter, and this has caused a lot of indignation in the unhoused community, why are they getting it, why am I not getting it, and even in certain areas where they did designate, uh, camp closure to result into hotel stay or hotel sheltering, they, uh, Don’t often have enough room or capacity to include all of the people at the camp, so they start creating a buy list a week earlier, and let’s say somebody’s at work, or somebody happens to get there later, um, regardless of their vulnerability, regardless of their conditions, and other aspects that should be taken into consideration when we talk about who’s going to be prioritized for housing. And for sheltering opportunities, um, instead, he has continuously pushed that he’s just doing it geographically, and it’s very clear to us that this is much more about visibility, um, than about vulnerability, and if he can make the streets look like there weren’t any unhoused people ever there, and kind of wipe them from existence, then out of sight, out of mind, the public is gonna Give him higher ratings in the next election. So we’re pretty disappointed by this approach.

We’re trying to ensure that people who are incredibly vulnerable, who we know personally out on the streets. People like Gary or Mindy, both of whom have colostomy bags, and when they’re camping out in the cold, their colostomy bag literally freezes so that they have a bag of urine attached frozen to their leg and they’re trying to maneuver and often times they experience leaks. They have to cut the whole of the colostomy bag to fit to their organ using nail clippers because shelters will not allow them to take scissors, regardless of medical notes, things that are just absurd that you can’t believe that this is really the kind of conditions we’re forcing on people, but again, there’s no prioritization for people who are in most need of safe spaces.

So, the result is people have been kicked out at high rates. They have incredibly stringent rules. Some people might choose not to go to the hotel shelter because they’re not allowed to have family or friends visit. You can’t have something that isolates people from their community, their support networks. These are incredibly needed. You know, they also have curfew rules. The locations of a lot of these places are really out in the middle of nowhere. So you’re now removing their access to their resources that they usually need to go to, including medical resources. There’s no transportation support. People find themselves stranded. There’s limited food that they’re provided that is not sufficient for a lot of diets. There’s no consideration of medical conditions. The list can go on and on, and actually we know that a lot of people internally within government, a lot of people from the Department of Housing and Stability, they have their own critiques, and folks who have been doing this work for years, let alone the people living it and experiencing it who know the very best what those barriers are, are just not being listened to throughout this process.

So, uh, we would wish that the mayor would stop campaigning. He’s already in office. And also we can’t forget that in doing so, it offers him the opportunity to increase criminalization of people who are still on the street under the false pretense that he’s provided so many opportunities and so many spaces for folks, and if you haven’t taken advantage of that, then it’s your own fault. And you’re the one who now needs to be maybe forcibly institutionalized or into a jail system and, and further. Oppressed. So yeah, we, we hope that things will change. He’s already admitted to being wrong about his approach before. He’s already admitted that the definition for what they were using for housed was insufficient. So I hope he keeps learning, and I hope that he’s open to the many fallacies of what he’s put forth and listening to the people who are going through this and what they need.

Sedley: Thank you for that input, V, I appreciate it. If you’re just tuning in now, you’re listening to KGNU FM 88. 5 Boulder, KGNU 1390 Denver. This is A Public Affair. You are hearing a conversation between myself and three individuals working with the houseless population across the country. One is V Reeves. They are an organizer with House Keys Action Network Denver. There is also Kitty Walker at Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, and Nathalie Interiano, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at CARE for the Homeless in New York City. We’ll go back to that conversation right now.

Moving over to Kitty in Los Angeles. Kitty, I know that the current mayor, Karen Bass, as her first act in office declared a state of emergency on homelessness in LA County. I also know that LA County is home to Skid Row, the 45 block area where one of the largest unhoused communities has consistently lived since at least the 1930s. What kind of conditions are you seeing there and what is the Union Rescue Mission’s relationship with Mayor Karen Bass and her efforts for Skid Row and beyond to the greater Los Angeles unhoused community?

Walker: We’d like to have a closer and better relationship with her. She’s doing the best that she can. She is getting a lot of pushback. There are a number of programs and services, but it’s not enough, and I say it’s not enough because if, if, uh, recovery, if mental health services, if substance abuse services, if those services are not connected to those housing programs, or getting folks inside safe, and if those services are not connected, it’s not going to work. A lot of billions have been misspent. In terms of making those things happen, because if people aren’t held accountable and responsible, then it’s just going to be a continuous cycle of out on the street, bringing you into a place, and then doing some of the same things that were happening out on the street, is not going to help somebody get back into society, because you don’t have a foundation to help you do that. To budget, to even know if you need mental health service because you have been out on the street for so long, or that has caused your mental health issues. To, to to go down if you’re self-medicating, uh, by using substances and things of that nature. And with the funding that comes from the federal government, from the city, they have the harm reduction model. And the harm reduction model allows drugs and alcohol to freely flow. It allows, um, places that are. Sub human folks shouldn’t even live in some of the apartments and places and things that, uh, receive that kind of funding. And, and, and so again, the only thing that is going to decrease our unhealth population is the services have to be connected to whatever shelter to help them in those areas of mental health, substance abuse. So things have to change. And they can only change if we do make our city, state, and federal, uh, officials accountable for what’s going on in our cities, in our states, across the country. That’s the only way it’s going to happen. And so those of us who vote need to make sure that we are making our voices heard and demanding that the programs and services that are. Available need to align with and make sure that they are addressed, um, when taking care of folks.

Sedley: Thank you for that perspective, Kitty. And moving on to Nathalie. Now, Nathalie, I know that New York City. is obviously known for its large unhoused population. It’s also known for this historic reputation of poor infrastructure on the streets for sanitation and living conditions. Uh, New York City Mayor Eric Adams made headlines in late 2022 for enforcing the state law that allowed first responders to involuntarily commit people experiencing a mental health crisis. A year later, so in November of 2023, he announced that initiatives like these did lead folks living with untreated severe mental illness and those experiencing homelessness to shelter and support. Does Care for the Homeless have a stance on the mayor’s efforts in this realm? And if so, what does the relationship with the mayor look like for your organization?

Interiano: You know, it’s, it’s a good question and I think that’s an interesting policy to look at and building off of what Bea was talking about, I think there’s been, uh, a pretty significant move across the nation to respond to homelessness, very punitive approaches to addressing, especially unsheltered homelessness and, and part of what Mayor Adams has done since coming into office is really try to expand, uh, a current law that already exists. To allow for transferring someone to a hospital, whether or not they actually are a danger to themselves or others, or it expands it to say that the responder can make the assumption or make the call to say, you know what, we need to transfer you because you are not able to take care of your own personal needs. We haven’t seen a lot of data in terms of what actually has happened from that. What we have heard is that most people that get transferred don’t stay because they’re not befolded to have to stay at the hospital. And I think we touched on this really well as well as these are all emergency response systems, right? They don’t end homelessness. And so part of our shelter system, part of the very specific interventions that we have for people who are unsheltered, like safe havens, drop in centers, rapid rehousing, Rapid rehousing is maybe the one thing where we are actually addressing homelessness, but the rest of it is just to sort of get people into a space where they’re not having to deal with the elements. But then what? And I think that’s what the mayor is missing is that yes, we need to focus on the emergency system because that’s important. We have to be able to provide those emergency services, but then what do we offer people afterwards? And what does that actually do in terms of ending homelessness? So if we don’t have enough housing to offer people, if we don’t have permanency to offer people, we don’t have services like mental health services or connections to community based services, Then what happens? People languish in these emergency services and that’s not what the overall goal is. And a lot of times, even within our hospitals, and I think Kitty talked about this, a really important aspect too is that a lot of our systems don’t talk to each other. And so if someone is coming out of the hospital system and getting discharged to the street, the outreach team doesn’t know that’s happening or that they were hospitalized and therefore they’re not able to intervene much more quickly or much more efficiently. Or, for example, if they get discharged into the shelter system, sometimes we as shelter providers don’t know that that happened, and therefore we can’t try to set up a plan for them to maybe prevent that from happening next time.

And I think Jeff Olivet, who’s the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council of Homelessness, he does a really good analogy to think about, you know, it’s a faucet running of people who are unstable and unstable housing, possibly becoming homeless. And there’s all these leaks and somehow we expect the emergency response system to then actually solve homelessness when we’re actually talking about all of the other systems that interact with it. Um, and so I think, you know, I’ve sort of talked about a lot of things right now, but I just wanted to sort of address with both B and Kitty in terms of like how that actually looks on the ground. And really what’s happening in all of our cities, it’s, it’s the same thing. It’s just sort of looks different depending on what policies have been enacted. And every mayor is kind of doing the same thing. They’re just taking different approaches to not really solving the issue. And the issue is one housing, very important. Uh, but then also really scaling up those, those other supportive services that a lot of people need, even when they get into permanent housing. So I’ll stop there.

Reeves: Well, I commented something in the chat about what you were saying, I love so much what you’re talking about, I think that rapid rehousing is playing itself out differently in Denver, and maybe it’s just because now people are timing out. So the rapid rehousing, the way it’s been working is it’s temporary financial relief for around a year. The idea that a lot of people were sold on. Especially in a lot of shelter programs, they were actually using rapid rehousing when they were closing down a lot of these COVID shelters because the funding was no longer there and they were promising that after a year you’d be able to reapply and you could continue if you still had that financial need. Instead, we’re now getting to a point where people are timing out of that program and we’re, are actually facing eviction and not being offered a way to apply for another voucher or some kind of other program to take over payments. So here in Denver, we have a lot of of people who are reaching out to us and saying that they’re confused. They don’t understand what happened. They were able to save up, they were able to take care of things. They were able to get to a place. But now being faced with market rates, again, with housing, and it’s like a, it’s, it’s from zero to a hundred. Right? And folks just can’t. Um, afford that. And so there is a lot of insecurity there. So, I’ve seen, especially with Salvation Army, I’m going to name drop right there. I’m sorry, but I’m going to do it, because they deserve it. They worked really hard at tanking their reputation with folks here in Denver. They just have, and they’ve had a lot of folks really pushing, especially through the House1000 program in order to continue having capacity to take new folks in, they’re actually pressuring people into unstable and unsustainable housing situations with the promise of rapid rehousing for a year. And we just know that it’s not going to last. And these are not the folks who can afford it. There are folks who, like Kitty was mentioning too, there are people who just need a place to stay or just need financial assistance. So I wish we had the same kind of communication here with rapid rehousing, um, that it sounds like they have in other places, but it really sounds like it’s being used as a quick ticket for case managers to be able to get folks out and invite more people in. So, yeah, we’ll, we’ll see if that changes.

Interiano: That’s, that’s very interesting. And I’ll just sort of add to that. I think when you have these new initiatives, a lot of it is contingent on funding. And, and a lot of what we’ve seen, especially since the pandemic, there were some really great interventions that came from the federal government, but also locally that really address housing instability for people. We actually saw in numbers the impact that it had in a very small time frame. And yet, we have to make the case that we need to continue the funding because it’s on deaf ears. It happens at every level of government, city, state, and federal. The reason we’re seeing the incredible increases in homelessness right now is because all of those interventions stop. And we have been sounding the alarm for two years, three years saying, “This is going to happen if we don’t go back to what we had before.” And I think this is a very prime example of that. It’s so, so I, I appreciate you bringing that up because I do think that it’s different in certain places in the way that it’s actually been implemented. Um, that’s a really good question to sort of follow up on.

Reeves: And, and I also love like the point that you bring up that actually COVID by. Creating a, a situation where now a large majority of the population are experiencing what marginalized populations have been experiencing for so long. Um, now there’s a willingness to create accessible programs that address this for the masses, um, and lower all these barriers and put people in hotel shelters rather than congregate that are actually better for everybody’s health and safety. And so, yeah, to see that they’re now peeling it back again. incredibly disappointing, but hopefully, hopefully we’re able to make sure that a lot of that sticks around. And like you said, we’re able to convince them to, to get back on the bandwagon and follow what works.

Sedley: Kitty, is there anything in Los Angeles related to rapid rehousing that you know of that you can speak on right now?

Walker: Um, I can tell you that there was a program or programs for rapid rehousing. Um, but again, they don’t, really work if you, um, don’t have something in place that you put a time limit on it, and then you’re stressing the folks to get out at a certain time, knowing that they only have a week or six months or what, what have you. Programs will not work unless they provide affordable housing. Otherwise, it’s going to be a continuous stream of folks. Um, this is a crisis that is a FEMA-like crisis, and it should be treated as such. And that’s not what’s happening here in Los Angeles. It’s sad. We’re going to continue to do what we do. And hope that other folks will come on board and do what we’re doing because we know what works. And we’re on the front lines. We’re, we’re on the front lines here on Skid Row. So, you know, someone sitting in their office making policies and things and have never been on the front lines to see what is happening, like what Vis talking about. And, and, and what Nathalie’s talking about, what’s going on in, in New York. We’re the ones who know we’re on the front lines. I’ll give you an example before our former president CEO, God bless his heart. The Reverend Andy Bales, he actually went and spoke in Sacramento about Um, hospitals just dumping folks after they’ve gotten sick, maybe their insurance ran out or whatever, but they would just dump folks right here on Skid Row, in a hospital gown, and, but, he got those policies changed, uh, because they started fining hospitals. You have to have a connection, and so, those are the kinds of policies and things where we, as folks who work on the front lines, have to be at the table. And working with our, our mayors and our governors and all of the folks, our public officials who have the power and the authority to make things happen.

Sedley: I appreciate that, Kitty. And I think that I really want to draw attention to the fact that although all three cities are different, there is this through line through everything that all three of you are saying, where these are people that we’re talking about. And these are people that are important to humanize if we want to provide aid, and also they’re a population that is suffering at the hands of systems that we have created. And so being on the front lines, like you kept saying Kitty, obviously exposes you to things that people that are sitting at offices and making policies, like you mentioned, might not otherwise see. So I wanted to ask all of you, if you can speak a bit on, maybe something that you feel like hasn’t been working either within the community to help these folks or from your organization’s perspective and something that has been working, something that you think has been helping folks.

Walker: So for Union Rescue Mission, what has been working is providing a safe, sober living environment where people can thrive. and providing them with shelter and the comprehensive services that come along with that. Now for us, we have programs here where if you have some income, you have to save 50 to 60 percent of your income. We also have a fee after like three month period or so. to get you to begin to budget so that when you do move from us, you’ve saved so much, and now you can begin to, uh, prepare yourself. But when you do move out on your own, you’ve got to be accountable for paying your rent and paying the regular bills that come in all the time. And basically, if you give somebody everything you’re not really giving them a hand up. You’re giving them a handout. So we are providing services and programs where you’re investing in your own recovery of what’s going on with you of why you became homeless in the first place. What’s not working is just getting folks off the street, putting them into a shelter and with no accountability, basically just putting them there, providing food and shelter, and that’s it. That’s, that’s what’s not working.

Sedley: Thank you, Kitty.

Interiano: There’s so many things that are not working. And I think when we have these conversations, especially in my work, you know, in policy and sort of talking to people, educating them about homelessness, I do want people to understand that we very much can solve homelessness. Of course, we focus on a lot of the issues that we need to be focusing on because then that leads to the solution, but we know what the solution is. We we’ve seen it in action. We’ve seen the impact. I think it just takes a lot of systems that need to work together at the same time, and that coordination is sort of what’s lacking, so, you know, one thing that I think has worked really well, and we didn’t touch on it too much, um, in this conversation, but I do think it’s a really important aspect, especially because we’re seeing that as the leading cause of death for a lot of people that are experiencing homelessness, is substance use, um, in New York City, we’re the only locality right now that has safe injection sites, or places where they can come in Use drugs in a way that is in a safe environment. And in the last two years, or I believe five years that they’ve been in existence, they’ve reversed about 600 overdoses, which is huge. Every year, we’re also one of the only localities that does a report on the deaths of people experiencing homelessness, and year after year, the last couple of years, I mean, it’s, it’s increased to about 600 people in the last report that we had, and the highest percentage of substance use, and so. As a healthcare provider, we really want to look at that and say, how do we address that? And another sort of thing that we’ve, as an organization, have been really successful at is addressing substance use with our medical team going out on the street up in the Bronx. And so we, we operate out of a health center that we have there. We have a street outreach team that goes out and just sort of just try to create a relationship with people to feel comfortable to possibly engage with our health, with our health services. And we sometimes induce someone’s right on the street. Um, I think that’s the one thing that’s working. In terms of what’s not working, this probably is the case for most places. We rely a lot on our social service infrastructure to provide a lot of these emergency services that we’re talking about without really, um, investing in it. And so, for example, for us, you know, especially at the city level, there’s been freezes in terms of hiring folks. We have not invested in the human service workforce, which are really the people that are going to be processing these housing applications, right? That are going to be processing these SNAP applications. Public assistance applications that are going to get people into housing out of the emergency shelter system. If we don’t invest in that, then we’re not going to have the people or the workforce to help with that. So I think there’s sort of a lot of moving parts to that, but that’s the part that we’re really starting to see fracture.

Um, and we’re starting to see really significant impacts on the way that people are able to interact with our social services and the kind of responses that they’re getting. But I think, especially for our new listeners, we know what it means to end homelessness. We know that increasing housing stock, increasing access to that housing stock through a variety of different ways, vouchers being sort of one of the most effective ones, but then also providing wraparound services that include health care, that include social services, that include child care, that include job training, you know, there’s a lot of different things that have to act at the same time. We do know what those interventions will actually lead to. It very much is possible to solve homelessness.

Reeves: Yeah, I think there are a lot of great points there and I want to piggyback on some of that too. I think that a very clear example that we actively play out in our own practice, in our own organization, and that should be expanded upon across the board with government approaches and organizational approaches is the idea of outreach and resources versus enforcement. I think outreach, it’s one of our pillars. We go out three days a week to wherever unhoused people are, the shelters, the streets around hospitals, around these hotel shelters, all kinds of places where folks go. And we’re able to connect with them and do a two way communication. We have some very dangerous teams that go out there that claim that they’re doing outreach, but never have any resources and are only there to harass people and tell them that they’re not allowed to occupy public space and in ways that are oftentimes illegal and bending the law. You have increased payment for police. That is going into that as well, suggesting that the police are going to be showing up and providing education and resources when that’s absolutely not their function and not what they’re doing. They don’t have the training for it. They also show up and just by being who they are and the fact that they can check for warrants and fine people result in far more interactions that end up with people being fined who are already experiencing high rates of poverty or being assaulted or thrown into jail. So, we even had instances where migrants now, who have no way of earning any kind of legal income, who are expected somehow to exist for multiple years between immigration appointments, without having any right to work, are going out and trying to offer a service of cleaning a car window, for example, and are receiving tickets from police officers who are otherwise telling leadership that they are providing education, but these are fines with court dates, completely in English. So it’s, it’s all, you know, mind boggling to suggest that somehow enforcement is what people need. They even use it to suggest that if you don’t make camping illegal, then people will choose that over housing opportunities. And all of our research and all of our conversations and everything that we know is that that’s not true, that people want housing. It’s just because it’s not accessible and not the right kind of housing for them. Um, you can’t force, you know, a guy who has mobility issues into a second story, apartment that has no elevator access, but things like that are happening all the time. Also, it’s just about basic humanity and compassion and dignity, recognizing that these are people who deserve choice, people who deserve to be able to choose what they want their life to look like and what fits for them beyond need. So, I think that’s a big focus, uh, that we have, and it’s also really shocking to find out how many organizations don’t have an outreach element. And yet are really involved in policy work. And I think that’s very concerning. So I think, you know, we always have to keep that in mind. What else? I think in terms of when we’re talking about that affordable housing also, it needs to be housing that is not going to be affected by the market rate. Um, social housing, master leasing, um, a lot of the times the city will purchase or, or rent the housing, and then they have the contract with the owner, and instead, um, they can surpass all the different barriers, like, needs for, um, an immediate identification, or credit checks, things like that, background checks, and be able to put people, assign them into housing based on need, And be able to manage that relationship and have, you know, affordable costs passed down to the people who are occupying those units. So, I, I really hope that we start realizing that we need to be moving in that direction, because otherwise, like it was said before, housing is going to continue to be a commodity for the rich to trade and for so many to be without. And that’s really the key thing that we need to keep focusing on.

Sedley: I really appreciate that. My final wrap up question for all of you at the end of this really, really enlightening conversation, so much. As I said at the beginning, and as I want to close with, I’ve talked a lot on these airwaves about the need to humanize, like V said, with compassion, dignity, humanity, look toward people, and try to meet people where they’re at, and ask them what they want and they need, rather than assuming and imposing what you think they need onto them, so, in this last couple of minutes here, I just kind of wanted to go around the circle and see, in a few sentences, if each of you have advice for listeners that would be helpful. Do you want to help provide aid to be unhoused in their respective communities, but they either feel overwhelmed or unsure or, or frightened? Any word that you’ve heard folks say as a reason or a barrier that stands in the way of them helping? What kind of advice would you give them or guidance or feedback?

Walker: I’ll start, Jackie. Everyone can do something. And even if you don’t have. Someone near you, or you know of someone who, who’s experiencing homelessness, you’re talking about a human being, a mother, a father, a sister, a cousin. And there’s a backstory to every person that you see that is experiencing homelessness. And so the compassion has to be for. Humanity. And that compassion can come in the form of organizations, uh, like Union Rescue Mission, go to Charity Navigator and see what their rating is. We have a 100 percent rating. They can volunteer. They can donate some items at shelters, uh, like Union Rescue Mission. Hygiene products, socks, and underwear. Those three things are like really big things. And you can financially give a financial gift. You can also pray. We’re faith based. Pray for us. Pray for our staff who are on the front lines every day, helping those who have been through trauma and, uh, abuse and, and, and, and some things that are just unheard of. So again, we can all do something.

Sedley: Thank you, Kitty. I appreciate it.

Interiano: I think maybe to add up over this is coming from the policy perspective, but I think those are the two things for people that are interested in being involved in this type of work, especially for people that are interested in sort of the housing aspect of things, there’s a ton of opportunities to be involved in tenant organization, in housing efficacy. So looking out for those types, ways to get involved is one way, or I think very basic sometimes too is a lot of the public education, I focus on a lot of that, our work on public education, I always encourage our Consumer Advisory Board, that are people with a lived experience that have gone through this system and have used our health services so that they’re able to speak to folks and talk from experience. And I know that anyone that we talk to, it always has been enlightening for them to understand sort of one, what precipitated someone’s experience of homelessness and what the process was to get out of it and how, how many barriers there were, how traumatic it was. But, and I think part of what ends up happening there is that when you hear people start to talk about, or villainized or stigmatized people that are experiencing homelessness, you have the ability to then say, actually, no, that’s not what’s happening, and this is what’s happening, or this is what I’ve heard, or this is something that I’ve read, or a presentation that I saw, and I think sometimes that’s, especially with changing public opinion, it really starts from those conversations, and I think even, even higher than that is really getting involved in the local politics of where you live, And there really is no locality now that is not focusing on homelessness, and so be part of those conversations that you don’t see these types of policies, these punitive approaches, or criminalizing homeless, that ends up being enacted because a lot of people in the community, only the ones that are loudest and that have really stigmatizing ways of addressing people who are experiencing homelessness, and so you could be the balance for that in those types of conversations and use your power in a local way to be able to sway that to say, no, that’s actually not what we should be implementing. We should be approaching folks with a lot of dignity and understanding that the reason that they’re experiencing this is not for personal reasons, but it’s because of how the system works. That’s maybe the two things that I would add to what Kitty is saying is the policy perspective. There are some ways for you to get involved. If you’re not so much interested in going to volunteer somewhere, because I know sometimes that’s difficult, especially after COVID, for people to take volunteers, that’s another way for you to get involved in the conversation and trying to sway opinion.

Sedley: Thank you, Natalie.

Reeves: Yeah, absolutely appreciate that. I, I think that with houselessness, there’s an aspect of palatability. Certain causes that people feel tied to need to have some kind of palatability, or they have to have some kind of trending aspect. Um, you can look at the BLM movement, you can look at the current Palestine movement that has thousands of people protesting, you can look at, um, the migrant crisis, um, where children and babies in tents, Um, are causing more of an uproar for the sake of being babies and the fact that we’ve been dealing with this crisis for so long. It’s like the analogy of the frog in boiling water. I think people don’t necessarily realize that this is not normal and it hasn’t been normal. And if you are inspired and radicalized by these different causes, you need to stay with it, because it’s really not about what you can do to, to portray to the world some kind of aspect of being a good person. This is about your skin being in the game. This is as much about you than it is about anyone else. And so recognizing that we really are affecting and deciding every single day through these policies, through our individual actions in our own local circles.

And then beyond, we’re deciding what our society and what the future will look like, our future and our lives and the kinds of challenges that we’re going to be facing tomorrow. Um, if we’re not currently facing them, it’s something that marginalized populations have known for forever, that folks who have been going through this are tired, are exhausted. Maybe they don’t look like they want to try, because they’ve been trying and they’ve been having the door shut in their face. Again and again, and it’s exhausting and humiliating and, and it, it’s, it’s so easy to give up because it seems like that’s the only way that you’ll have peace of mind because you’re not gonna set yourself up or further disappointment. So if you have that energy, you are so needed in this work. We need people who are inspired and ready, but, um, most importantly, those people need to sit back and listen and recognize that they need to be learning from the people who have been going through this for years, because they’re going to have this kind of immediate desire and energy to want to do something, thinking that we need to reinvent the wheel, but like it’s been said, um, the solutions are there. We know what they are. So it’s really about creating that pressure. You know, individuals can have huge impacts. Going out and creating that personal connection with people is really important, but you can also do things, if it is from a policy perspective, from the comfort of your home, you can make those calls, you can do those emails, there is real impact there, you can share those ideas, have those conversations. There’s a lot of things that don’t necessarily take, um, money or even a lot of time that could be done to show that support for people who are currently going through it. Um, but I think taking the time to develop your personal understanding to why this is important for you, why this affects you, that’s really essential. And so, I think also recognizing that these, all these different causes, the Palestine cause, um, when we’re talking about mass displacement of people, uh, of people. Hundreds of thousands of people talk about mass displacement here too. It’s talk about the fact that migrants are coming over here and how are we treating them different than we’re treating, you know, white people here in the U.S. but we have to recognize a lot of those racial barriers. We have to recognize these systems are so interconnected that when we start to address them, we’re pulling at the individual threads to hopefully eventually make the fabric of it all of the white supremacy fabric flag fall the f**k apart.

And so. A few of my kind of mottos that drive me are justice is just us recognizing that we can’t expect these different services or programs or agencies to be taking care of the problems without us. We need to understand that if we expect them to act without us, they’re going to act in ways that we don’t appreciate and…that don’t serve our needs because of money interests. And so recognizing that you’re as much a part of that process as anybody else is really important. And then I think maintain your discontent. It’s normal and it’s healthy to feel absolutely enraged and disappointed and drained and, you know, exhausted from seeing this kind of trauma. And I think when we numb ourselves to it too much, we risk complacency. We risk becoming part of that population that accepts that this is the normal. When it really isn’t. We shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to the absolute worst, like, “Well, at least we’re not, you know, bombing our own people.” That’s not even true, history has shown we’ve done that, and we could do that, and we still do that. There’s a lot of violence happening right now. And we cannot just decide that that’s life. So I hope that folks do find ways to heal and to find community in the meantime and to realize that community and people power is really what’s going to get us through all of these hurdles. Um, but at the same time, keep fighting, keep staying involved, be interested, and be willing to be humbled by the perspectives that you’re gonna come across, because again, like, the people that we need to be listening to are the ones who have the most marginalized intersectional identities. And when we’re listening to them, we’re going to expand opportunities and livability for everybody else.

Sedley: Thank you all so much for those, those sentiments. I really, really, really appreciate all of the work that you all do and the vulnerability that you all brought to this conversation.

Interiano: Awesome.

Reeves: Wonderful.

Walker: Thank you, Jackie.

Reeves: Thank you all very much.

Walker: Thank you, Natalie. Nice to meet you guys. Blessings to you. All right.

Interiano: Bye bye.

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Jackie Sedley

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