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From the Director...

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

We are now in a period of social upheaval and unrest, where racial injustice and brutality has been named. The story of racism is being told through the voices of black people who have died as well as those who have been harmed on a daily basis now and throughout American history. This harm did not happen to me directly and it was easy to avoid until friends, partners, journalists, and so many others took advantage of a unique time in history to share the wounds they have suffered due to hate, exclusion, and many forms of violent oppression. Over the past few years, I’ve studied the impact of racial injustice in the data with statistics and created a new intervention with an aim to mitigate the harm.  Now, I’m feeling it in my heart, knowing how I’ve allowed people I’ve loved and cared about to carry their pain alone, without seeing how or where I could or should be changing my own behavior.  I realize that this is not only about me but, since the personal is also the political, I want to acknowledge that sometimes I was clueless, felt powerless, or was afraid to make waves. Overall, it was easy to get distracted or to forget when I participated in social environments where silence was golden and conflict was avoided. This is a special moment where I can become stronger and braver. I hope you, my readers, will join me on this journey!

For this edition of the newsletter, we are featuring a special public health project in south Los Angeles designed to strengthen the social  safety network on behalf of black residents, information on the homeless count, and a new college homelessness resource.   

If you care about eliminating homelessness as I do, please help by fighting against entrenched laws such as California’s Article 34 which allows wealthier neighborhoods to deny development of affordable housing, zoning that has privileged wealthy property owners, redlining that has controlled where black families can buy homes, attitudes that devalue black owned property in comparison to white owned property, practices that keep black people out of higher paying occupations, and the school to prison pipeline that has been documented in poor black school districts where there are insufficient resources for education and overly punitive policies.  All of these factors and more have helped to make the task of ending homelessness an incredible challenge that takes a willingness to challenge injustice and change harmful behavior. Please find a baby step you can take to keep open this window of opportunity for reflection and change.

Fight on Trojans!!

Warmest wishes,


Brenda Wiewel, DSW, LCSW
Director, University Initiative to Eliminate Homelessness

Connect online +  social media:
Tag us in your posts @endhomelessnessusc

USC COVID 19 Resource Center
Students Make An Impact: Building a South LA
COVID-19 Support Network

“I learned about the value of connecting people and organizations with much-needed resources during times of crisis,” reported one student studying towards a master’s degree in preventive medicine and interning with a new south LA project. As the COVID 19 pandemic closed businesses and locked people in their homes by late March of 2020, leaders in south Los Angeles worried that their community would bear the brunt of the impact without sufficient resources to meet resident needs.  In response, thirty community service organizations formed CRSSLA (Coronavirus Community Response System for South Los Angeles) to advocate, network, and fill in the gaps.  They wanted to save lives, keep people safe, and help their neighbors.  Soon after these community members initially met, it became clearer that the COVID 19 pandemic had reached south LA.  Data indicated rates of infection spiking up in April and May (see a study at this link).  From the beginning, USC was a key partner.  The university extended a food and essential supplies distribution operation to the area around the university park campus in south LA.  Realizing that more help was needed to build an infrastructure for the envisioned community response network, a team of 12 Public Health Interns was assembled by Brenda Wiewel, DSW, Director of the USC Initiative to Eliminate Homelessness.  “I was concerned about the south LA community.  They are so vulnerable both from the risk of disease and the economic fallout that can generate increased homelessness.  Our students wanted to help but needed to work remotely and became a partner in this effort,” reported Dr. Wiewel. So far, the intern team has made a total of 370 calls and sent 240 emails to businesses, churches, and service agencies during April and May.  They checked in on status and provided resource info for financial, food/shelter, and advocacy needs. They became a voice of caring, which was appreciated and helped connect people together.  The interns are learning about community organizations, available resources, and the combined health and social/economic challenges that residents face in this area.  Through the rest of the summer, they will be collecting data for surveys about food resources and health education.  The info they collect can support future grant applications as well as public health campaigns combining education, research, and effective evidence-based interventions. This project is a way to bring critical resources through partnerships to communities surrounding USC, designed to improve health and quality of life.  As Los Angeles County Health Director, Barbara Ferrer, M.D., and community activists began to talk of need for a culturally informed approach with more testing and access to support services, a public discussion via webinar was planned for this Saturday, June 20  with Dr. Barbara Ferrer, community representatives, and USC experts. It will explore ways to enhance partnerships for health. Visit to learn more about CRSSLA and register for this event. 

Help Us Champion Housing as a Human Right

It is time to declare that housing is a human right and ensure access to this basic human need for all people.  We know that lack of access to housing reduces life expectancy by an average of 20 years and harms health in multiple ways. It also impacts public health as thousands of people are living on our streets without access to hygiene, food, or personal safety. In addition, it exacts a heavy cost on government institutions.  Furthermore, it creates a cycle of despair that keeps victims trapped,  destroys their options, and wears down their hope for the future. 

Despite a historic alignment of public and private resources, passage of a new sales tax measure, and over 22,000 people being placed in housing during the year, the numbers of persons experiencing homelessness continue to grow due to economic conditions that affect people differentially based on race and class.  The point-in-time homeless count, which happens each year in January, demonstrated increases from January 2019 to January 2020 of 12% for a grand total of 66,000 persons on our streets.  Senior homelessness increased by 20%, perpetuating a trend of chronic adult homelessness that people often age into. Access additional data and detail on the LAHSA Homeless Count here: LAHSA.

Dr. Ben Henwood, professor and researcher at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, leads a team with the USC Schaefer Center for Health Policy and Economics to collect and analyze demographic and youth data for the annual count.  He has worked with LAHSA to ensure that strategies to improve data accuracy have improved each year, providing greater data reliability and validity to help us understand the problem in LA County. However, the systems we have designed to fix the problem of homelessness are cumbersome and onerous even for the many compassionate and hardworking homeless outreach and placement workers who try to get people housed every day. Consumers do not feel empowered and rarely have a voice when systems are being designed for them.  Our current situation represents decades of systemic neglect for the poorest among us, who have fallen off our meager safety net and then been blamed for it. 

The city and county of Los Angeles have dedicated significant attention and resources to ending homelessness.  In terms of housing development, 700 permanent housing units have opened since July 2019 and over 2,000 additional units will open over the next year.  In total, over 10,000 total permanent housing units are in the pipeline.  There has been a commitment to transition into permanent housing for the 15.000 senior or disabled persons who have been targeted for temporary shelter in hotels through COVID 19 -related Project Roomkey.  However, housing each person requires securing an income source, a rental subsidy, and an available unit matched to their needs.  Housing as a human right might look very different from our current structure.  Let’s create a vision of decent housing at affordable prices in every neighborhood; a safety net without holes that lifts up the poorest among us to a basic level of support.  It requires a commitment to social justice; an investment in the dignity and worth of all individuals, and an inclusive spirit. 

USC’s Initiative to Eliminate Homelessness has endeavored to contribute: we engage in scientific research to understand the problem and study potential solutions; we prepare students to make better polices and provide high quality services; and we encourage the belief that everyone has worth-no one deserves to be thrown away.  Our community’s educational institutions can be part of the solution when they take on a mission that directs energy to the wicked problem of homelessness. 

Promising Approaches Support Affordable Housing

Here’s how to fill the regional gap in housing:

Use a Community Land Trust

Does your community have insufficient affordable housing? Do you want a healthier neighborhood with better civic engagement of residents? Do you need to preserve lower cost housing to address disparities for low-income family households of color that have been created through redlining, displacement, and gentrification? Consider a community land trust.  Form a non-profit organization to purchase and own land that is run by residents and caps resale price of structures but allows shared equity so that purchase prices remain below market cost permanently.  For more info: SHELTER FORCE, SEATTLE TIMES.

Or a Municipal Land Bank

Does your city have multiple areas that have declined, where property is blighted in disrepair or neglected? A city land bank can take charge to resolve ownership, handle back taxes, fix up or tear down structures, and get a site back on the market or made available as public space to meet neighborhood resident needs.  It is a partly public agency designed to acquire and manage vacant, foreclosed, or abandoned properties. This can be financed in a number of ways and has helped a number of cities rehabilitate declining neighborhoods as well as provide affordable housing for residents. This tool allows cities to cushion economic ups and downs and reduce disparities that hamper communities of color.  For more info: REUTERS, CITY LAB, SHELTER FORCE.

Local Community College Commits to Housing
for Homeless Students

1 in 5 community college students report experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles, significantly reducing the odds of their success as they attempt to further their post high school education and build a future career.  One community college district recently took action to reduce those odds.  Cerritos Community College doubled down on the College Success partnership they had established with Jovenes, Inc, a local homeless youth service agency, which works with young people ages 18-25 to end their cycle of homelessness. Seven townhouses on property near to the college were recently opened, providing units for students who would otherwise be without housing. Inside Higher Ed recently highlighted this effort, providing the context and details. Many young people are currently experiencing what Kyshawna (a client of Jovenes) went through (her story). Housing support helped her move forward toward success: Kyshawna has just graduated from her community college with a full scholarship to attend Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma!  The trend toward providing housing for homeless community college students seems to be gaining steam nationally (see USA Today).  Given the potential to interrupt cycles of poverty and homelessness in communities across the country, this movement is encouraging.  Congratulations to Cerritos College and Jovenes for leading the way!
In The Community
DUET LA COVID-19 Response
Help provide meals to families impacted by COVID-19. MORE.
Torch Supports Homelessness Here & Abroad
Donate now to help us deliver our product to 500 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles and 600 refugee families in Greece. MORE.
Stay Connected.
For more information on the initiative, please contact
Brenda Wiewel, DSW, LCSW, Director;
Phone: (213) 821-2876

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