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Housing Works

Newsletter: August, 2020


"Whatever it takes for as long as it takes."
A Note from
Celina Alvarez

Housing Works'
Executive Director
It has been nearly three months since we heard George Floyd’s heart wrenching plea, crying out for his mother.  As the local and national uprising, in response to the overwhelming grief, could no longer be suppressed, human beings around the globe united in solidarity, ushering in a new era of transformation. This moment in time has offered an historical opportunity for people of color in leadership positions to engage in radical dialogue through a lens of revolutionary leadership.

Over the past five years, I ventured into a new sandbox—the executive platform.  As a Latina entering this playing field, with twenty-two years under my belt as a frontline worker in homeless services and zero executive level experience, you can only imagine the various reactions I received from my new peers. I am grateful for my fellow executives who have welcomed me into the sandbox and taken me under their wings, yet the moments that remain vivid are the painful times when others would overtly shush me, reminding me that the recommendations I was bringing to the table were of no value at the time for reasons I can only guess. Sadly, George Floyd had to be brutally murdered before our very eyes for “new” voices to be heard and considered. 

I recently stumbled across a written piece by Mollie Lowery, my late mentor and previous Executive Director of Housing Works.  In it, she stated:

“Let’s look at the systems that are continuing to churn out more people into homelessness. That is the root of the ‘problem.’ The systems are broken (not broke!). Too often we define the ‘problem’ or cause of homelessness as mental illness and/or addiction. The ‘problem’ is untreated mental illness or addiction. Poor and homeless people in Los Angeles have minimal access to behavioral health treatment or recovery services. Until these systems effectively address the needs of poor people, we will continue to have more homeless folks on our streets. Not only are these failing systems perpetuating homelessness, they are creating homelessness.”
 
At Housing Works, we are honored to blaze new trails within the realm of revolutionary leadership; doing so with a commitment to engage in difficult conversations while striving to build healthy and sustainable communities where all feel the warm sense of belonging.  As we continue to grow, we will re-shape and re-mold with the confidence that we are moving in the right direction.
 
In June, Housing Works hosted our first ever Virtual Event. Included were testimonies from Frontline Workers, Housing Works' Participants, and the original Housing Works Founders followed by a panel with leaders in the Homeless Services sector on Revolutionary Leadership, moderated by Val Zavala.
Stream the Video here.
**** Stay tuned for our second video production on the horizon for September 2020! ****
HOUSING WORKS FACES COVID-19
by Amy Pelch and Robert Morrison

As Los Angeles' City Officials declared the "Safer at Home" order, the question on all of our minds here at Housing Works: was how can you be "Safer at Home" when you do not have a home? Housing Works' mission remains to move people experiencing chronic homelessness into permanent supportive housing.


Since the beginning of the county-wide shut down in March, we have moved 59 participants into permanent housing.

While these times have been challenging for everyone, the people who we support continue to be impacted by the disproportionate inequities in our system. We immediately began an effort to contact and provide education and screening to the people we serve. Many expressed high anxiety around developing COVID-19 related symptoms and expressed difficulty in getting their basic needs met, like obtaining food and hygiene products.

The Housing Works team mobilized to respond to these needs by committing to contacting participants at least once a week throughout the pandemic and by providing food delivery services to the 500 households that we support. Our mission remains to move people into permanent supportive housing and to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes, staying the course with the people we serve throughout their lifetimes.

Above: Housing Works' Participants pictured moving into their new apartments.

PERMANENT SUPPORTIVE HOUSING NEEDS ARE MET DESPITE
COVID-19 CRISIS


With the launch of our Tenant Based Rental Assistance program, we have housed 13 individuals since the pandemic began in mid-March and have 23 participants in the program working diligently with their case managers toward finding permanent supportive housing.

One participant was apprehensive about the application process because of  his history with police interaction due to his homelessness. He was initially told he shouldn’t apply to the apartment he fell in love with, because of this past police contact. Housing Works continued to advocate for him, aiding him with the application process and ultimately, despite previous discouragement, he was approved for the apartment he wanted so badly.

Above: Housing Works' Participants pictured with the keys to their new homes.
Housing Works is the dedicated supportive services provider for the first building funded by HHH, 88th and Vermont. The developer of the building is WORKS, our longtime partner who we are excited to collaborate with continuously in order to create and support desperately needed affordable housing. We are responsible for the lease up and supportive services of 46 units in this building and to date, 19 families and 27 individuals who were formerly experiencing homelessness have been housed in 43 units of this building. 

One family's experience with homelessness began as a result of a devastating house fire in which they lost every single item they owned. They were living in their car before this family of 7 moved into 88th and Vermont during the pandemic. This housing placement was not simple due to the size of the family; however, our staff worked with them, jumping through hoops, working diligently to navigate the system. Ultimately, the family ended up with a place to call home: 88th and Vermont. 

We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the City of Los Angeles and other partnering agencies to improve the way that we house people, even as we believe a massive amount of funding and efforts are still needed to create housing for all.
Clockwise: Housing Works' Enrichment Services Coordinators Dorothy Edwards and Monique Jordan deliver food to a participant; Housing Works' MIST Case Worker prepare boxes of food for delivery to participants; Housing Works' Participants pick up supplies and food

FOOD INSECURITY AND HOUSING WORKS’ VOLUNTEER PROGRAM


Throughout March, April, and May, Housing Works has delivered between 800 and 1000 meals each week in addition to hygiene products and other supplemental groceries, all while working with individuals living on the streets to get into housing. Without our partnerships with DHS and other local providers like The Center at Blessed Sacrament and Alexandria House, we would not be able to provide this magnitude of food and hygiene support.

We have been able to complete deliveries at this scale with the support of our newly established volunteer force. We were able to recruit over 34 volunteers to pick up, organize, and deliver food and hygiene products to participants around the county.  

Top: Celina Alvarez, Marlene Muro, and Jayden Alexander organize food and resources for participants. Below: Interns Michael De La Torre and Darron Whitaker ready food for distribution. 

Housing Works conducted a study on food security among the people we serve. Based on the results, we have found that 55% of the 169 participants who agreed to respond to the study are food insecure, with 27% reporting very low food security. Compared to the national average, food insecurity in Housing Works' households is likely between three and five times higher.

With these results, we remain dedicated to connecting the people we serve to existing food delivery resources, partnering with local agencies to obtain needed food resources and deliver them to participants, and advocating for equitable access to quality food.  

With the support of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Housing Works has hired two Americorps interns to develop and support our volunteer and food operations. They will be working with us to ensure the people we serve are connected to accessible food resources. 

If you are interested in volunteering with us, please reach out to volunteers@housingworksca.org to learn how you can get involved. 

INTRODUCING NEW STAFF
Housing Works is thrilled to have these new staff members join our agency. Welcome!
Amy Pelch
Office Manager
Monique Jordan
Enrichment Services Coordinator, 88th and Vermont
Valerie Johnson
Lease Up Coordinator,
South LA Region
Aracely Estrada
MIST, South LA Region
Scott DesJardins
MIST, T. Bailey Manor
Valerie Armaya
MIST, Central Region
Billie Downey
MIST, Teague Terrace
Fabian Gonzalez
MIST, 88th and Vermont
Trina Cruse
MIST, Teague Terrace
Housing Works is excited to announce the following staff are taking on new roles. Congratulations Shara and Marlene!
Marlene Muro
Regional Leader
Central Region
Shara Mathes
Lead MIST Case Worker
Central Region
AmeriCorps Interns join Housing Works for the semester to help coordinate our volunteers and manage our food delivery program. Thank you Darron and Michael!
Michael De La Torre
AmeriCorps Intern
Darron Whitaker
AmeriCorps Intern
Above: Monique Jordan delivers food and a listening ear to residents of 88th and Vermont.
New Enrichment Services Coordinator, Mo Jordan, Dishes Out Comfort on a Silver Platter
By Michael Kearns
“I knew I needed help from the jump,” Mo remembers. After finishing high school, she found herself homeless because her mother “didn’t agree with my sexuality,” Mo says.

Whether you agree with it or not, Mo has been in a relationship for thirteen years, many of them living on the street, and she and her partner are now married. She possesses the likability of a one-name wonder, like Gaga or Elvis—just Mo.

Mo had a fortuitous meeting with Housing Works ED, Celina Alvarez in 2011. “I am passionate about cooking,” she told Celina. “I always wanted to be something." Celina helped Mo do “all the things you need to do” to get her and her partner into Young Burlington, providing a pinch of encouragement and a dollop of hope. They settled into their new digs at YB; she attended cooking school six days a week at L.A. Kitchen while volunteering extra time to prep food for homeless shelters, and graduated from LAK with honors, completing her internship as Chef Monique Jordon. (She does have a last name, after all.)

Then the woman who Mo relied on—the woman “who took care of me every day since I was a baby and never judged me”—her beloved Grandma, died.

With an emphasis on the memory of her Grandmother, her inspiration for a lifetime love of cooking, while not ignoring the fact that her death was likely premature because of “unhealthy eating habits,” Mo’s desire became twofold: to honor her grandmother while giving her community other eating options. The answer? Simple as pie. The birth of her own business—Mo Flava, Less Salt—provides a healthier spin on meals that are known for high fats, salts and carbs by maintaining the rich flavor but reducing the salt.

But Mo isn’t the type to put all her eggs in one basket. Adding to her impressive resume, she was recently hired as Housing Works’ Enrichment Services Coordinator at their newest development, 88th and Vermont. Her job includes arranging outside events, setting up support groups, and making people feel comfortable in their homes. She points out, with abundant humility, that she was in the “same position” of vulnerability when she was first introduced to the services of Housing Works.

“[Housing Works] helped me feel like me,” she says, with a smile that spells comfort. In the culture that is Housing Works, Covid-19 has made people “feel even closer,” she insists, even though there’s a hint of weariness in her voice.

Then that smile. “Let’s have fun,” she says.
Above: Mo and her wife, Ancha, at an Empowerment Works visit to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2017.
Housing & Art:
Housing Works strengthens its artistic prowess with two prestigious grants awarded by the City

HOUSING WORKS APPLIES AN ARTISTIC APPROACH
TO NEIGHBORS FORMERLY INCARCERATED 

By Michael Kearns

Above: The 2019 CAC Reentry Through the Arts participants appearing at Skylight Theatre.
The California Arts Council recently awarded Housing Works a Reentry Through the Arts program grant for the second time, proving lightening does strike twice.

In 2019, I collaborated with several agencies who were dealing with the recently incarcerated, a wide range of diverse individuals experiencing various obstacles upon their release including homelessness, joblessness, substance abuse, familial turmoil and individual challenges. In weekly creative writing sessions, the participants express their feelings and create a script that speaks to the overall challenge of reentry with no assistance or support.

There will be a heightened sensitivity in this year’s presentation, considering what’s happening on the street and around the world: the heightened awareness of systemic racism. I’m looking forward to working with BIPOC individuals to shed a light on their experiences, how they are reentering and how they likely face distinct roadblocks. We are always expanding the canvas, stretching the page.
Above: Andy Ledesma contemplates in his studio, 2018.

Artventures: Housing Works’ Participant Wins
Artist-In-Resident Grant 

by Erica Arthur


All artist Andy Ledesma truly owns is his passion to give back. As the recipient of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department’s Artist-In-Residence grant, he can do just that.
 

In the 1980’s, Andy was a renegade artist from Los Angeles, trailblazing the city’s Chicano art movement. He collaborated with colleagues in East L.A. to produce the comix zine ‘Welcome to LA LA Land’ and was the catalyst behind the historical Quetzalcoatl mural project in Highland Park. During this time, Andy admits he was high on two things: drugs and ambition. “The only thing I cared about was making a name for myself.” When it came to his craft, he was consumed by the drive to produce more at a faster pace. Manifesting the mores that defined the consumerism era of the 80s, he too had to be bigger, brighter, better.  
 

Andy’s values transitioned when his mother became ill. In the early 2000's, he made the move to Texas to be her sole caretaker; it was during this time that he had a paradigm shift in thinking, taking up the cause of the good of the whole instead of the self-first visage.  
 

In that small Texan city where twenty percent of the population was white, Andy was hired as the first Latino director of the local art museum. He established an after-school art program for under-served kids which continues to this day, and he spent his time advocating on behalf of women and people of color to the all-white Museum Board. He also established a studio which focused on paper mache production and instillation, sharing his creations with the community at town events like Mardi Gras all the while encouraging the locals to create.


When his mother passed, Andy became sick himself and made the decision to move back to L.A. to be near remaining family and friends. But his return wasn’t what he had envisioned. Spending his time rotating between couches of friends, beds of shelters and, at one point, a cot in a rec center’s storage closet, his hope and creative spark dimmed, and that made space for shame about his situation and more illness. “I began to isolate from family and the people I knew, not wanting to admit to people my circumstances. That I couldn’t even afford to go out for a night. In my previous life, the night itself could end up costing $200. These days, that would be my income for the month.”  

 

After many weeks of surviving day to day, his illness worsened, and Andy became hospitalized. He contracted a bacterial infection that required partial amputation of his foot, “I was in a recovery center for nine months after that, with no hope that when I left, I would have a place to go to of my own. I thought I would be back on the streets in my condition. But that’s when Housing Works came along.” After being introduced to Housing Works through a partnership with the recovery house, Andy says, he learned the hardest lesson of all, how to be a self-advocate. “I would call up every once in a while and just check in and ask what my status was. I saw others in my facility who gave up, but I learned that reaching out and not giving up were the most important things. Eventually, I got housed.” 
 

After he was housed, Andy was encouraged by the sense of community Housing Works created and the relationships he had formed. He was invited to become involved in Empowerment Works, a program at Housing Works that helps participants realize the dreams lost during their period of being house-less by connecting them with educational, volunteer or job opportunities. With stable housing and community support, Andy’s creative spark was ignited once again. He worked with case managers who encouraged him to create art and helped him sell his creations on Art Walk nights in Pasadena and Los Angeles.  
 

When Andy expressed a desire to live his passion of giving backteaching art to underserved populations— Housing Works was behind him all the way. In 2019, Andy worked with a grant writer to create a proposal for LA’s Department of Cultural Affairs’ Artist-In-Residence grant.  
 

Andy proposed to work weekly with the residents at 88th & Vermont, the newly built supportive housing community, the first of its kind to be funded by HHH dollars. He created a curriculum that not only involved the residents of the complex but dove deep into the inevitable relationship with the surrounding community. His aim? To build ties, heal trauma and revitalize the neighborhood within the context of artistic expression and a shared creative experience.

The curriculum he proposes will teach paper mache, self-portraiture, and a printed zine, culminating in a community party and art show. Andy names the project Artventures because, “The process may  become roving art 'adventures' from one supportive housing site to another."

Andy sees value in the metaphorical take on the backgrounds of the residents and the work he’ll be accomplishing with them: “Reflecting the life experiences of the residents, much of the art will be intentionally composed of found objects—things that have been thrown away and seen as having no value but that still have the capacity to be useful, beautiful and powerful.”  

 

Above: Andy Ledesma sells his paper mache sculptures at Art Walk in Pasadena.
Remembering Madeleine
Madeleine Dawn-Warner, a longtime Housing Works participant and staple in the Writing Works group, passed away on July 16, 2020.  
A Note from Michael Kearns,
Writing Works Instructor: 

I met Madeleine nearly thirty years ago for the first time and saw her for the last time a couple of weeks before she died, To be honest, not much had changed. Thankfully. She remained wildly impulsive, hard-to-follow, quick to laugh, quicker to cry, explosively angry, a tease, a flirt, manipulative, smart as hell, funny as hell, compassionate as hell, loving, shut down, too open for her own good, damaged, evolving, healing, in a state of repair, resigned, charismatic, a star, a lover of all creatures, and sublimely unique.  Perhaps, most of all, her self.  
 
"AMERICA"     
by Madeleine Dawn-Warner     
                                

Looking out the window of our writing room at Housing Works, at the corner of Fountain and Wilcox–  it’s perfectly comfortable within the house, sitting in this chair at this table. The cars stream by, the signal lights change.    
Kitty on my shoulder is purring as I continue to write about nothing.  

This is America. We are here, here in America, and something’s happening. 
While we know that something is happening in America, it’s difficult to create a laundry list of the wrongs and forget the rights; the rights of Americans that we must fight to preserve. We write on a range of subjects, always on a quest to go deeper into our personal histories while finding a context that is bigger than ourselves. 

There’s much that is right about this country, too.
Writing Works' comrades Brenda Mattox, Madeleine Dawn-Warner, Gordon Brown.
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Housing Works · 1277 Wilcox Ave · Los Angeles, Ca 90038 · USA

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