In The News

Reducing homelessness is impossible without ending mass incarceration

Times opinion - May 15, 2019

photo - Tents on skid row near downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 24. (Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Los Angeles will never reduce homelessness unless public officials reduce the causes of homelessness: mass incarceration and the resultant number of young people in foster care, 50% of whom will be homeless and involved with the justice system by the time they are 21. (L.A. spent $619 million on homelessness last year. Has it made a difference?)

No one who was homeless at time of arrest should leave county jail without a plan for housing, healthcare and employment services. Diverting moms, as an editorial in the L.A. Times suggests, would help reduce the demand for foster care. Diversion must be accompanied with wrap-around services for the entire family, with special attention given to the children. Yes, these services will be expensive, but homelessness has a moral and public health cost to everyone in Los Angeles. Re-arresting, re-trying and re-incarcerating the same people costs more money than investing in solutions that prevent crime as well as homelessness.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

Anti-recidivism programs won’t work as long as they’re offered only in prison

Times opinion - Feb 16, 2019

photo - Inmates walk through the exercise yard at California State Prison Sacramento near Folsom in 2013. (Rich Pedroncelli-AP)

To the editor: Of course anti-recidivism programs in prison don’t work. Prison is a punitive environment in which inmates are constantly subjected to violence or threats of violence. That’s not an ideal learning environment.

Collectively, the clients of the nonprofit group that I lead have a recidivism rate of about 20%, and most participants get jobs. To lower the recidivism rate, crime and homelessness, no person should leave a state prison without a program for housing, healthcare and help with educational opportunities and employment.

Community-based programs may sound expensive, but they don’t cost as much as new crimes committed and re-arresting, re-trying and re-incarcerating the same people over and over again. And homelessness hurts everyone, including those who experience homelessness and those who want to live in a clean, healthy and compassionate environment.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

L.A. has enough money to take thousands of people off the street and house them in motels — right now

Times opinion - Feb 24 2018

photo - The former residents of a cleared-out encampment along the Santa Ana River wait to board buses to motels on Feb. 20. (Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Thanks to U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who would not allow Orange County officials to clear a large riverside homeless encampment without providing services to the residents, the people who were evicted from their campsites received motel vouchers that provided for monthlong stays. ("Orange County's riverside homeless begin trading tents for motel vouchers, other aid as camp is cleared," Feb. 20)

We can do this, Los Angeles. Rooms at small motels cost about $85 per night. It usually takes about three months to get a person traumatized by homelessness stable enough to work, or to get those who are disabled qualified for Social Security payments. Los Angeles’ Measure HHH is projected to bring in about $100 million annually. Each member of the City Council has pledged that 222 housing units for homeless people will be built in his or her district. But building all that housing will take years.

Do the math: The cost to house someone in a $85-per-night motel for three months comes to $7,650. Do that for 222 people in 15 City Council districts, and the grand total would be about $25.5 million. That’s a fraction of what Measure HHH is supposed to bring in a year for new housing. Using motels and case management, the city could get about 1,000 people off the streets every month starting now — and now’s the time to start.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

It's time to say 'yes, in my backyard' to homelessness projects

Times opinion - Jan 30 2018

photo - Tents lined up along South Beaudry Avenue in downtown Los Angeles in November 2017. (Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: The apocalypse is now. This degree of homelessness isn’t just deplorable, it also indicates the breakdown of our society. What about seniors on a fixed income who live in non-rent control buildings? When rents go up, another senior takes her belongings in a cart to the street. Teenagers leaving foster care sleep on sidewalks and in alleys every day. Parents with small children are living in their cars. With more than 58,000 people living on the streets of Los Angeles County, if there is a bed somewhere, someone is in it. Let’s have some of the Measure H and HHH money for more interim housing when people need it — now.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

Can housing in California's urban areas ever be affordable again?

Times opinion - Sep 12 2017

photo - A residential area is seen in San Jose in 2009. California is struggling with a housing crisis. (Associated Press)

To the editor: Lopez's column is tragically juxtaposed in the print edition with the story about unsheltered people seen as a nuisance on the Santa Ana trail in Anaheim. ("Anaheim considers declaring local emergency as homeless population continues to grow along Santa Ana River trail," Sept. 9)

The root cause of the intolerance of people experiencing homelessness is the oldest human instinct. In the earliest days of our species, tribalism induced automatic alarm at the sight of the "other." Homelessness should be different because once homeless people are housed, they aren't homeless people anymore — they're just people.

Fortunately, the people of California have organized themselves a government that has the capacity to write laws to make it more difficult for narcissistic homeowners to object to affordable housing in their neighborhood. Just like the California Fair Housing Act of 1963, which ended racial discrimination in housing, this change is long overdue.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

Homeless advocates and residents are fighting over a Venice that no longer exists

Times opinion - Oct 21 2016

photo - Chris Buck, center, who has been homeless for the past year, wheels his portable, small home along the boardwalk in Venice Beach. (Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Venice residents opposed to locating services for homeless people in their neighborhood — as Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin proposes for the area — do not want to see these individuals in their alleys, doorways and parks. But these same residents would rather not have these people housed in their area either.

Sounds like an insupportable position to me. People, you don't get to have it both ways. People who say they don't want formerly homeless people (as they would be once they have housing) in their neighborhood because they are afraid for the safety of their children are apparently ignorant of the fact that about 90% of children who are abused are harmed by their parents or someone they know, not by some random stranger down the street.

My suggestion is that people grow up and face the reality that all of us are in this together.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

Building long-term housing is great, but what about helping the homeless now?

Times opinion - May 6 2016

photo - Homeless people gather near tents on skid row in downtown Los Angeles on May 4. (Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: We can't build our way out of the homelessness crisis. New construction takes time, and it's often at least five years before someone gets a bed. If current trends continue, there would be a 90% increase in tents on our sidewalks before new housing comes online.

Homelessness for veterans went down. Why? They got a housing voucher and a case manager. At the maximum, that costs $20,000 per person. To reduce the current number of people living on the street by half would cost $940 million.

That sounds like a lot of money unless you're the city and county of Los Angeles, which are helped by the federal government. A housing voucher and a case manager means people can improve their health outcomes and stabilize enough to live independently and pay their own rent. It's that easy.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

From a street corner to a room of his own -- starting the journey out of homelessness

Times opinion - feb 5 2016

photo - James Lonon in his new room. (Carla Hall / Los Angeles Times)

As volunteers fanned out across Los Angeles County last week to count homeless people, I knew of one homeless person in particular who had just days before escaped being counted on the streets.

I met James Lonon as he sat on a concrete bench on the corner of 22nd Street and Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica in mid-November of last year — about a month before he turned 56. He was neatly dressed, a small cart of belongings at his side and a crisp brown bag set up at his feet for offerings of cash from passers-by. He smiled warmly as I approached. I pulled a dollar out of my handbag and as I held it, ready to deposit it in his bag, I asked if he had a place to go that evening. I write about homelessness. I was curious. "You mean, do I have a home to go to? No, I don't," he said.

On the corner, he was adept at making money and acquaintances. He had enough of an infrastructure -- cellphone, email address, a storage unit -- to ground him even on the street. Well, I meant, would he be going to a shelter. But I was struck by how lucid he sounded, how rational he seemed. Sure, he was homeless. But by comparison, earlier that morning, I had passed a woman a block away sitting on the sidewalk conducting a loud and energetic conversation with herself, oblivious to people walking by.

We began chatting. He had been homeless a year, he told me, after his unemployment benefits ran out. In 2014, he lost a nine-year job as a clerk at a big retailer. He had a bachelor's degree from Cal State Long Beach, he said. On the street corner, he was adept at making money and acquaintances. He didn't want to go to a shelter (most homeless people do not) and he had already been through a nonprofit program, he said, that offered a regimented group living arrangement. He didn't want that either. And he had enough of an infrastructure — a basic cellphone, an email address, a storage unit — to ground him even as he lived on the streets.

"All the people out here in Santa Monica — it would seem like they would have an empty room that they would offer to someone," he said. He had enough cash to pay $200 a month for a room, he explained. "It's just a waiting game — waiting for the right person who will respond to that type of request." I highly doubted any person was going to walk by and offer him a room for any amount of money. I didn't know whether his story was credible or not.

What I did know was that officials of the city and county of Los Angeles are desperate to solve homelessness, spending tens of millions of dollars (and promising more) on programs and permanent supportive housing and transitional housing and rapid re-housing for homeless people with all kinds of backgrounds, disabilities and mental problems. Why couldn't someone in that system find this man a room somewhere? Someone did. Namely, Marsha Temple and her colleagues at the nonprofit Integrated Recovery Network. Today, Lonon has a room of his own in a six-bedroom apartment just west of USC that functions as transitional housing. Next week, he starts a part-time job. This is just the beginning of Lonon's new journey. Watching him take this on, I suspect, will reveal as much about him as it does about the system of government and nonprofit agencies that are trying to help homeless people.

Carla Hall

Bank's column was right on the money. And we're talking about money.

Editorial Reply: Banks Editorial - Mar 2015

This is not just a police problem. As Banks points out, it's our problem, the people of the city and county of Los Angeles. If we spent as much money on community-based treatment as we spend on the police who are trying to get mentally ill addicts to behave normally, we could solve this problem.

But we must also look at our policies. How did "Africa" the homeless man who was killed Sunday, get on skid row? He reportedly may have suffered from mental illness, but why was'nt he in community treatment?

If we don't demand better from out elected officials, this every-moment, every-day tragedy will never end.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

Unless they have committed a serious violation of the law, mentally ill people do not belong in jail. It is not a therapeutic environment.

Editorial Reply: County/old Jail Problem - Sep 10 2013

Too often people with mental illnesss who are homeless are picked up for "quality-of-life crimes" such as jaywalking. They go to jail, they destabilize, they are released, the police see them, they look for small offenses, rearrest them, take them back to jail, and the cycle perpetuates itself.

This practice is expensive and inhumane. Diversion into community-based treatment is the only sensible answer.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

Prison's Revolving Door

Recent studies that recidivism is often related to mental health and drug use.

Times Editorial February 5, 2013

One of the standard criticisms of programs to unburden California's overcrowded network of prisons and county jails is that crime will increase as more felons are released on parole and more lower-level offenders are put on probation instead of being sent to jail. The argument goes that inmates are criminals by definition and we can expect them to commit more crimes when they are freed. And if that's the case, we can expect arrest records to show that parolees and probationers make up a huge portion of the population of people arrested for new crimes.

A study commissioned by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and the chiefs of three other California police departments suggests otherwise. In a report released late last month, the Council for State Governments Justice Center showed that the vast majority of people arrested in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Redlands during the study period — 2008 through the middle of 2011 — were on neither probation nor parole, nor had they ever been. Of those who were, most of the new crimes involved drugs, not violence. In fact, relatively few arrestees who were on parole or probation — only 7% in Los Angeles — were arrested for violent crimes.

Especially eye-opening was the very low arrest rate of former prison inmates released on "non-revocable parole," a program begun in 2010 to stop the return flow to prison of parolees who committed nonviolent, "technical" violations of parole conditions, such as failing a drug test or showing up in the wrong part of town.

The study period ended right before counties began taking more convicted felons, both in jails and in probation, under AB 109, broadly known as public safety realignment. A follow-up study is needed.

On Monday, in a separate study, the Vera Institute of Justice reported that a large proportion of county jail inmates from two study areas — Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles — preparing to reenter society have drug or mental health problems.

More research is needed, but the figures from both the Council for State Governments and the Vera Institute suggest that many people who wind up in jail or prison got into trouble at least in part because of clinical conditions, and that many of them come out with the same problems they had when they went in.

If public resources are to be spent effectively, California must cut its recidivism rate, and to do that, it must use data to slice through the posturing of those in politics and law enforcement who claim to "know," without facts or figures, what people, policies or laws to blame for crime. If drug and mental health problems play a large role in landing people behind bars, it stands to reason that focusing more on diagnosis and treatment could save taxpayers money, reduce the criminal burden on neighborhoods and, by the way, address some of the misery and hopelessness of those caught in the revolving jailhouse door.

Turning a Revolving Door into a Gateway

Orange County might avoid another Kelly Thomas tragedy by adopting a program like Integrated Recovery Network, which tries to break the cycle of jail and living on the street.

James Coley is a caseworker for Integrated Recovery Network. With public and private funding, the agency connects with clients in jail and assigns a caseworker to help steer them into therapy, medication and housing. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

James Coley can't save all his clients. He can't slay their demons or change the world they live in. But he goes to work every day and gives it a shot.

On a recent morning in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, his to-do list was growing fast, the day's challenges lined up bumper to bumper. The client he was supposed to meet was running late, and he needed to get over to County Jail to check on another client who had threatened to drink Clorox. Then there was a third client he was supposed to take from jail to a housing and treatment program in Pasadena. And he also had to deal with the call he'd just gotten about a fourth client who drank vodka for breakfast and was in trouble at a board-and-care facility.

I had hooked up with Coley because of something the father of Kelly Thomas said to me a few weeks ago. Ron Thomas had said that his 37-year-old son, who died violently in July after a run-in with Fullerton police, was in and out of treatment facilities after being diagnosed with schizophrenia 15 years earlier.

I hear that all the time — in and out of treatment. Thousands of people who fit that description wander the streets of Southern California. But Marsha Temple, who runs the nonprofit Integrated Recovery Network, says it doesn't have to be that way. A few years ago, Temple, an attorney who once represented hospitals, zeroed in on what she calls the "revolving door between Twin Towers and skid row."

People would land in Los Angeles County Jail because of a crime committed due in large part to a mental illness, hang there for a while, then go back on the street, get into trouble again and land back in jail or prison. There was little chance of breaking the cycle because they were pretty much on their own, with no treatment plan and no one looking after them. "It was shameful," Temple said.

With public and private funding, her agency began connecting with clients while they were still in jail, steering them into therapy, medication and housing and then assigning caseworkers like Coley to check in with them regularly. Temple's staff now handles nearly 100 clients at a time. Since she began, she said, only 20% have gone back to jail — a success rate three or four times greater than estimates for those who get no such monitoring. The cost works out to roughly $10,000 per client per year, which is far less than the cost of churning people through hospitals and the criminal justice system.

Steve Lopez - Aug 28th 2011

LA Times Editorial July 12, 2011

“The tragedy of the County's predicament is that the arrival of new state parolees ought to be an opportunity to focus on the reentry of these ex-prisoners into society. It should fall to churches, mosques and synagogues, to nonprofit organizations, to schools, but above all to county government to ensure that those leaving institutions and reentering their neighborhoods do so in a way that maximizes their chance to become productive and law-abiding citizens.

Even the parolees expected to come to Los Angeles County — those whose crimes were nonviolent, non-sexual and relatively low-level — are more likely than the state's population at large to be sick, addicted, mentally ill, poorly educated and unemployable. Given that California's state prison system has disinvested in prisoner care and rehabilitation, the parolees are unlikely to come home any better prepared to lead productive lives than when they went in. Indeed, the failure of the state's parole efforts is one of the best arguments for turning this responsibility over to local governments, which at least have a fighting chance.”

Tackling Recidivism - They All Come Home

Effective re-entry programmes can keep ex-prisoners out of jail

The Economist - Apr 18th 2011

JEN KWONG NG was released in June after serving 20 years in a prison in upstate New York. Desperate for work, he reconnected with the old "friends" who had got him into trouble in the first place. He had just met them in the park when his phone rang. It was Harlem's Exodus Transitional Community offering him an internship. "I told my boyz", remembers Mr Ng, "I gotta go. I gotta go to work."

Integrated Recovery Network | 2010 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1012, Los Angeles, CA 90057 | 213-977-9447 | Contact