CLASS event to highlight housing disparities throughout LA County

By Diana Vasquez, April 20, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences will host an event on April 23 that will cover the racial inequities that exist within homeownership.

In Los Angeles County, 66,463 people experienced homelessness in 2020, including 722 homeless people in Pomona, according to the LA Homeless Services Authority — the regional planning body that coordinates housing and services for homeless families and individuals in the county.

The city of LA alone accounts for a homeless population of 41,290, an increase of 16.1% since 2019, according to a LAHSA report released June 2020. In Pomona, 48.46% of its homeless population were living in the streets while 46% were living in cars, vans and RVs in 2020.

Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao

The CLASS event hosted by the California Center for Ethics and Policy will be moderated by Alvaro Huerta, associate professor in urban and regional planning and ethnic & women studies. The CCEP selects a handful of students to spend the year investigating the annual theme, this year- Racial Gaps in Homeownership, Income and Savings.

The panelists of the event include Anaid Yerena, assistant professor in the school of urban studies from the University of Washington; Lori Gay, president and CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services LA and Gary Painter, chair of USC’s Department of Public Policy and director of the Homelessness Policy Research Institute.

Painter believes it is important for students to understand why racial and ethnic gaps in housing exist and become the political source to change policies that cause these gaps. Painter has conducted extensive research regarding social innovation and increasing homelessness.

“Black and Indigenous populations are three times more likely to be represented among those who are experiencing homelessness than other populations,” said Painter. “One-third of the homeless population in LA County live in their cars. So this is 20,000 people who are living in cars. That’s a lot of people. And we don’t often think about cars as homelessness, but certainly the most stark manifestation of homelessness are people living on the streets.”

In 2009, Painter conducted household formation research which involved a survey in South LA and Central LA to see how financial burdens were affecting these areas. Interviewing 800 households, the research indicated that immigrant populations were likely to have more people living in a housing unit. According to Painter, 35% of people in LA are under the poverty line.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau Facts, 17.9% of people in Pomona live under the poverty line. Pomona’s population ethnic breakdown is 71.7% Hispanic, 10% Asian, 5.6% Black and 47.5% White.

The CPP Bronco Initiative is able to provide students facing housing insecurity options of grants, two week hotel stays or connect them with Jovenes, Inc., a homeless shelter based in LA for youth ages 18 to 25 that partnered with CPP in July 2020. This partnership allows students to have more than a two week stay and connect with longer term housing solutions, according to Judy Crawford, CPP Care services coordinator.

“When a student, especially a student who receives financial aid, is trying to receive services through the county, they may be waiting a lot longer for services or not able to find any because usually the highest need are people who are literally living on the streets, or people who have more than one disability,” said Crawford. “That’s why I think it’s really important for us as a college community to be able to connect students’ services.”

With the pandemic and mandated quarantines, some shelters have reduced the number of people they could serve including Pomona’s Hope for Home. Hope for Home in Pomona had around 200 beds pre-pandemic but currently averages 50 community members, according to Donyielle Holley, homeless program supervisor of Pomona.

The pandemic also took a toll on the Hope for Home’s facility when quarantine procedures locked down all homeless people within the facility. However, that did not stop Hope for Home from opening up its medical clinic with three exam rooms in the summer of 2020, that provides medical and mental health services.

Despite the pandemic challenges and housing insecurity, homeless people residing in Echo Park were removed on March 24 by the LA Police Department. Sachin Medhekar, Echo Park resident and part of the neighborhood council, was doing outreach work in the park when the LAPD arrived to clear the peaceful protesters and the Echo Park encampment that the LAPD had declared unlawful.

According to a police statement released on March 26, the protest was declared unlawful due to the dismissal of dispersal orders and individuals within the protest flashing high-powered LED lights at officers.

“I think it took me multiple days until I fully processed what happened,” said Medhekar, also the policy chair for SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition. “People are saying it was between 200 and 400 armed officers, folks in riot gear. I mean, the neighborhood was like a war zone.

There were helicopters. So many streets were blocked off. I saw someone get their arm broken in front of me by a police officer.”

Out of the 200 people residing in Echo Park, only 166 were offered temporary housing through Project Room Key, a housing program established in March 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to ABC News.

Medhekar believes that the rehousing quota is inaccurate.

“Blatantly false,” said Medhekar. “I know many people who were residing at the lake and are now on the streets somewhere else right now,” said Medhekar. “I know a lake resident who has a job that goes later than 7 p.m. He couldn’t even accept Project Room Key because they won’t let him in after 7 p.m.”

To qualify for Project Room Key, a person must be 65 and older and must not be symptomatic or COVID-19 positive. There is private security on site for 24 hours, each day. The LAHSA program has rules of conduct participants must follow including only permitting residents leave their rooms between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The program is temporary and will come to a halt at the end of the pandemic.

“The most heartbreaking things that I hear is neighbors on social media or in public comment at city council, calling in to praise what happened,” said Medhekar. “To just force displacement of people through threat of violence like was done here, that cannot be how we handle homelessness.”

For more information on how to attend the CLASS event, Racial Gaps in Homeownership, Income, and Savings (and Why They Matter): From Fair Housing to Fair Savings students can register here.

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