The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a motion by Board Chair Janice Hahn and Supervisor Hilda Solis to assess and address the specific needs of American Indian and Alaska Native individuals experiencing homelessness in the county.
“A dark history of racism, genocide, and systemic discrimination make American Indians more likely to experience poverty and homelessness,” Hahn said. “We need a better understanding of how many members of these communities are experiencing homelessness and we need to put in place culturally-inclusive services to help lift them off the streets and into homes.”
LA County is home to the largest population of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States. A history of systemic racism and genocide means that this population endures disproportionate symptoms of intergenerational trauma (e.g. mental health, chronic disease, substance use, and economic disparities).
While these disparities put AIAN communities at greater risk for homelessness, tracking the specific statistics associated with these disparities represents a great challenge.
“Homelessness among American Indians and Alaska Natives in LA County has its roots in centuries of discrimination. Today, LA County will initiate systemic changes to right this wrong,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who co-authored this motion.
“In order to accomplish this, we must recognize Native Americans and Alaska Natives often do not trust government agencies due to years of marginalization and mistreatment,” Solis said. “LA County will adopt culturally inclusive best practices that will more effectively support American Indians and Alaska Natives who are experiencing homelessness. We will embrace culturally competent procedures that respect and honor the rich history of our American Indian and Alaska Native communities.”
The motion passed Tuesday instructs the Director of the Homeless Initiative, the Chief Executive Office, to collaborate with other county groups – including the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority and the Directors of Mental Health, Health Services, Public Social Services and Children and Family Services — to formally assess the needs of homeless AIAN individuals.
The subsequent report will include a baseline count of homeless individuals with demographic statistics, recommendations on how to better capture AIAN homelessness data moving forward, and strategies for improving the availability of AIAN culturally-inclusive services that properly address existing gaps in resources for AIAN individuals.
The report will also include an assessment of the available property that can be used for permanent supportive housing that is culturally inclusive of AIAN individuals.
“As Supervisor Hahn’s Native American Indian Commission appointee, I want to thank her for taking the lead on our motion regarding Native American homelessness,” said Pat Lopez. “This population experienced a 68% increase in homelessness last year. As the economy has improved in general, it has not translated to Indian country. It is still in dire economic straits. There are no I industries in our Native communities. Therefore natives come to the urban setting seeking economic opportunities and services. They also seek a native community to interact with, share ceremonies and prayer circles. They become homeless in the process, being far from home.”
“For too long our American Indian and Alaska Native community has been invisible in the eyes of the systems meant to serve our most under-resourced communities, particularly those experiencing homelessness,” said Andrea Garcia, member of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission.
“This motion is a great first step in addressing basic data needs, culturally supportive services, and an assessment of land that may be used for supportive housing. Importantly, our community member voices have been centered in this effort,” Garcia said. “We are thrilled that Supervisors Hahn and Solis have chosen to support this, and we look forward to improving health outcomes and housing status of our LA Native community.”
The motion aims to better enable the County to meet the needs of homeless AIAN individuals overall.
The county has already used this model of reporting effectively. In April 2018, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) launched the Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness. The Committee’s final report—coupled with new data tools from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Alliance to End Homelessness—provides a strong roadmap for communities interested in addressing racial disparities.
Read the full motion here.