Homelessness Prevention is Thrust of New LA County Program

header-title-decorationHomelessness Prevention is Thrust of New LA County Program


Media Contact:

Holly Ferris, (562) 746-8461, holly@ferriscomm.com, for Housing for Health

LOS ANGELES – Nov. 29, 2021 – While Los Angeles County is housing record numbers of people experiencing homelessness, the number of newly homeless individuals continues to grow.

The homelessness crisis will never be resolved until the number of people being housed outpaces the number of those who are newly unhoused. That’s according to Dana Vanderford, who leads the innovative new Homelessness Prevention Unit of Housing for Health, a division of the Department of Health Services of Los Angeles County. The new unit is a partnership of Housing for Health, LA County Department of Mental Health, and the California Policy Lab at UCLA (CPL).

The foundation for the team’s work is a new and innovative predictive analytics tool created by CPL. Using data from various County systems, CPL helps predict which County service recipients are at the highest risk for homelessness, and then Vanderford’s team reaches out to these individuals to connect them to homeless prevention and housing stabilization services.

“The idea is that if we can predict homelessness, then maybe we can prevent it,” explained Vanderford, Associate Director of Homelessness Prevention. “We are identifying who are high-utilizers of County systems and services. Those are clues to conditions that could lead to housing instability.”

Janey Rountree, Executive Director of the California Policy Lab at UCLA and one of the co-authors of the report on predicting and preventing homelessness, explains, “The goal of predictive modeling is to get homelessness prevention services to the right people, at the right time, before they’re in a full-blown crisis It’s not only better for the individual who is getting connected to services, but it also enables the county to target limited resources to the people who are most in need.”

In July, Vanderford and her Housing Stabilization Team started reaching out to individuals found to be at high risk for becoming homeless. So far, the team has served more than 50 individuals in retaining safe and stable housing. The team is currently equipped to serve up to 140 individuals at any given time with case management services.

Vanderford explains that a high-risk individual may have made frequent use of County health and mental health services, with frequent visits to emergency rooms and regular crisis-level interactions with the County’s mental health system. Perhaps the individual also has received public disability benefits, or there have been psychiatric hospitalization for mental health crises, she said, and maybe there have been frequent arrests by the County sheriff’s department.

“These experiences may be indicators of housing instability that could, in fact, lead to homelessness,” she said. “With the end of the eviction moratorium, we expect to see increased numbers of people losing their housing, so this is a critical moment for early intervention to prevent more individuals from becoming homeless.”

According to Director of Housing and Services for Housing for Health Leepi Shimkhada, who oversees the new program, for every 20 individuals who secure some form of housing in LA County, another 27 individuals become homeless. “Clearly, we need to understand more about how to prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place,” she said. “We need to know which service sectors can offer resources to keep people housed. Homelessness prevention has been a largely under-explored area.”

Vanderford adds, there is a need in the prevention landscape for a program that targets resources to those who are not able to take the initiative to access services for themselves.

“Many prevention and problem-solving programs are referral-based,” she said. “The Homelessness Prevention Unit will complement those efforts to reach individuals who might be most in need of prevention resources, but least likely to receive them.”

The Homelessness Prevention Unit’s Housing Stabilization Team includes two program managers and four case managers, under Vanderford’s leadership.

“We have just begun to identify and cold-call individuals who we believe to be at high-risk of losing their housing,” Vanderford said. “It may take several calls and the offer of some incentives – such as gift cards for gas or groceries. Those immediate resources can build trust that can lead the individual to connect to additional services.”

The goal of each call is to let the individual know, with great sensitivity, that because of their frequent use of County services, they are eligible for enrollment in a new four-month case management program to help them access support for greater housing stability.

The program will provide services in two categories, depending on each person’s needs. For example, financial assistance may be provided to help with payment of past due rent or utilities, vehicle repairs, legal services, food or household goods.

In addition, referrals might be provided for an individual to connect with unemployment benefits or a job training center to work toward employment. There may be a referral to the Department of Mental Health for mental health concerns, or the Department of Public Health Substance Abuse Prevention and Control for services related to addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Throughout the process, the housing stability and homeless prevention team will make what they call “warm handoffs,” as they connect individuals to the services they need.

These services are made possible through funding from Measure H, LA County’s tax-based program to generate funds to support homeless services and short-term housing, as well as a $1.5 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

“Thousands and thousands of people in LA County are considered to be at high-risk for becoming homeless,” Vanderford said. “Our goal is to fill the gap in the homeless prevention landscape by employing a data-driven, proactive approach to serve the most vulnerable Angelenos who can’t seek out resources for themselves. We are deeply grateful for this support that will allow our team to meet the immediate needs of our clients, putting them on a path to stability and keeping them housed.”