Responding to Homelessness With Help, Dignity and Hope
Feb 10, 2020 Cedars-Sinai Staff
They are first responders with a singular focus: combating homelessness.
With support from a Cedars-Sinai grant, a team mobilized by Santa Monica-based Step Up helps vulnerable individuals in West Hollywood turn their lives around.
The multidisciplinary West Hollywood Step Up team includes a licensed clinical social worker, psychiatric nurse practitioner, licensed vocational nurse, and a peer advocate who has personal experience with homelessness and recovery. Together, they connect people with much-needed medical services and psychiatric support, help them apply for Medi-Cal and supportive housing, and provide ongoing support to help them lead healthier, more stable lives.
Homelessness in Los Angeles has reached a crisis level. The 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count found a total of 58,936 individuals in L.A. County experiencing homelessness—a 12% jump over the previous year. In the city of Los Angeles, the count totaled 36,300 people, a 16% increase.
Cedars-Sinai provides financial support for safety-net organizations, including Step Up, that serve vulnerable individuals, such as those experiencing homelessness. This year, the institution more than doubled its total contribution, giving $15 million to 108 nonprofit programs and organizations that foster housing stability, provide sustainable programs for homeless residents, and build clinical and financial capacity at community clinics.
Connecting with clients
In addition to daily outreach on the streets of West Hollywood, the team makes weekly visits to the West Hollywood Library. Clifford Roberts, Step Up’s assistant program manager, walks the grounds of an adjacent park and invites people to come to the library to learn about available resources.
Challenges the team addresses
Many who experience homelessness also have severe mental illness, along with untreated medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV, heart failure and cirrhosis of the liver. Some also need substance abuse treatment. "Their medical issues are more severe because of street life, and the stigma of homelessness can be a barrier to accessing appropriate medical care," Roberts says.
How the team builds trust
They show up and do whatever it takes to help: arrange for transportation to a medical appointment, assist in getting documents needed to qualify for housing and employment, respond to emergency calls when homeless people become victims of robbery or assault, provide referrals to low-cost legal services and work with other agencies to provide financial support for living expenses.
"Like my family"
Two years ago, the West Hollywood team approached Kevin Foster when he was living on the street. Foster, 59, says his world became far more stable and secure after the Step Up team connected him with housing, financial support and healthcare. They even took him shopping for furniture and household items when he moved into an apartment in Canoga Park. "They don’t treat me like paperwork," Foster says. "They’re like my family."
The team’s work doesn’t end when clients are placed in permanent supportive housing. Roberts says mental health and substance abuse issues may get worse as people who have been homeless for years adapt to living inside, so he offers psychotherapy and crisis management. His team provides ongoing support to help people maintain housing, access healthcare and complete daily wellness activities.
"I focus on people’s strengths," Roberts says. "People sense when you’re being authentic and really care. The dignity of our clients is our paramount concern."