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Helping the Homeless: Public-Private Partnerships in Los Angeles County

Can the public and private sectors effectively partner to provide temporary shelter assistance to the homeless? For the citizens of Los Angeles, California, this is no idle question. With 46,874 homeless, the “City of Flowers and Sunshine” is host to nearly 10% of the United States’ homeless population. To put it another way, a little under 0.5 percent of the overall population of the city is living in the streets. Not unsurprisingly, LA has been fixated on how best to reduce homelessness, exploring numerous policy options and devoting an annual $1 billion in assistance to those on the street.

Despite the massive effort and spending, the number of people struggling with homelessness in LA continues to grow each year, with an increase of 5.7 percent from 2015 to 2016, while 74 percent of LA County’s homeless remain unsheltered.  While the city of LA proper maintains a concentrated population of homeless, the vast number of cities comprising LA County make homelessness widespread from city to city, requiring a variety of shelter options, support services, and innovative solutions to housing this vulnerable population. One such innovative solution is the public-private partnership.

This case study of an LA-based, temporary homeless shelter is an assessment of the effectiveness of such programs. My observations are directed toward a unique partnership between the East San Gabriel Valley Coalition for the Homeless (ESGVCH), a non-profit receiving public funding, and two of the city of Glendora’s leading churches. Together, Glenkirk Presbyterian Church, St. Dorothy Catholic Church, and the ESGVCH combine public and private money with community and congregation volunteers, offering a rotational winter shelter for the local homeless population.

As the primary agency serving the homeless in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care, the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) has put public funds to good use with innovative solutions that harness the power of the private sector through non-profit partnership. A good example is their annual Winter Shelter Program. Operating during the cold winter months, the LAHSA distributes grants countywide to non-profits, and the ESGVCH is one of the beneficiaries. Using the funds, an annual $300,000 grant, from the LAHSA, the ESGVCH runs a rotational Winter Shelter Program for the local homeless population that runs each year during the cold months. The ESGVCH provides bus transportation, several professional staff, security, support services, and cots.

Last winter, between December 2015 and March 2016, the ESGVCH served 1,041 people. Even so, LAHSA funds were not enough to cover the cost of real estate. To close the cost-gap, six local church communities provided housing, meals, utilities, and volunteers; all funded through private contributions and church donations. Every two weeks the location rotated to a different church, allowing for this group of faith-based communities to assist in the rehabilitation and support of their neighbors in need.

In my case study, I focus on the following question: What are the benefits gained from the city of Glendora’s model of partnership between the private and public sector in assisting the local homeless population? Hypothesis 1 is that the localization of homeless shelters and community-based support is more cost-effective than other mainly publicly funded shelters. Hypothesis 2 is that the church-run shelter allows for greater care for the individual and is more successful in meeting the needs of the local homeless population. This element of the research is conducted through personal testimonies of homeless individuals visiting Glendora’s church shelters. This case study’s findings support both Hypothesis 1 and 2. The public-private partnership shelter proved to be more cost-effective than the other two popular shelters in LA County that were analyzed. Additionally, the personal interviews with homeless clients at the ESGVCH shelter proved that the majority of clients interviewed, who had visited a shelter not operated by the ESGVCH, preferred the church-run shelter. Clients indicated that this preference was due primarily to the church-run shelter’s exceptional staff, volunteers, and environment. My research affirmed the benefits of this particular public-private partnership shelter as both cost-effective and successful in meeting the needs of the local homeless population.

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