Friday, July 28, 2006

Homeless Youth

True leadership requires following as much as it requires leading. By listening to community members in my district and from all over the city, I can learn the real issues facing our city and the best ways to improve the quality of life in Los Angeles. In a rare opportunity for my colleagues and me to hear directly about life on the streets, Councilmembers Jan Perry and Bill Rosendahl joined me in hosting a special meeting of the Ad Hoc Homelessness Committee dedicated to the problems faced by homeless youth, held off-site at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood.

We heard testimony from service providers such as My Friend's Place, the Gay and Lesbian Center, Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, Covenant House of California, the county Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Hollywood has been a destination for homeless youth for well over three decades, but their demographics have changed. Thirty years ago, Hollywood attracted homeless youth from many other parts of the country; today, the vast majority of homeless youth in the area are from Los Angeles. My Friend’s Place estimates that 80% of homeless youth have been involved with the county ward system, or DCFS. Virtually all of the homeless youth are out on the street because of a family conflict. Many have problems with stepparents, or come from homes with a history of substance abuse or mental illness.

After hearing these reports, we heard a number of recommendations from Susan Rabinovitz, the Associate Director of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Children’s Hospital. Perhaps the most pressing need as the city combats its homeless youth problem is to find ways to coordinate the efforts of our various services providers with ongoing city projects. For example, one of the strongest tools at our disposal is our WorkSource system, made up of centers where individuals can get the training that will allow them to become productive members of the workforce.

Coordinating these programs and bringing agencies and government together to turn the lives of homeless youth around is a long-term problem with no quick fix. But the dedication on display at the special committee meeting gave me hope and inspiration that we can help these young people find jobs, homes, and better lives.