UNHOUSED - To solve the intractable problem that is homelessness, we must finally acknowledge that we will not build, or even buy, enough affordable housing fast enough to solve LA City and County’s massive shortfall anytime soon. Nor will Senator Scott Weiner and other’s efforts to fill developer’s pockets and build hundreds of thousands of luxury units. If anything, more market-rate luxury units seem to drive the rents of neighboring buildings upward. Trickle-down economics has never been shown to work, especially with housing.
One solution that makes sense is to identify the sources of homelessness and break the patterns to stop creating new homeless individuals. An especially glaring source is the foster care system. While some foster parents invest in helping young people in their care to thrive, there are, regrettably, a high number of foster parents who neglect children placed with them. An additional challenge is that foster youth may be frequently moved from emergency placements or group homes, which disrupts healthy bonds they form with care providers at those locations. Without a trusting, supportive adult in their lives, too many foster youth will emancipate into homelessness, criminal behavior, or both.
Mentoring programs for foster youth are one of the best tools we have for providing diversion from that path. The most notable program is the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. The program provides foster youth with court-approved mentors or CASAs who can help youth with basics like how to get a social security card, apply for a state ID, to look for a job or become college-ready. CASAs also help foster youth secure funding/resources they may not know how to access and advocate for by-right services in court on behalf of youth. Finally, and most importantly, CASAs are a consistent positive emotional support for foster youth. No matter where foster youth may find themselves, they always keep their CASA mentor. These mentorships are life changing in a very positive way.
The State of California provides some of the funding for the CASA program, spending that I believe creates a net savings in the long run by reducing crime and homelessness. But Governor Newsom’s budget cuts - which include reducing proposed funding for the program by $40 million - will be a huge missed opportunity. The cuts are understandable in the context of the State’s budget shortfall, but there are always priorities and choices. The Governor is smart, compassionate and could understand this with more focus on the issue. Eliminating a source of homelessness and crime is a critical opportunity. My hope is that we can all advocate for this critical issue before we see more young people on the streets and in our jails.
(Paul Koretz is a former LA City Councilmember and State Assemblymember.)