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Giving in LA Giving in L.A. is a go-to source, an aggregator for strategies and points of view about trends and issues in giving, challenges for philanthropists and philanthropic organizations, tools and techniques for individuals or families, insights and opinions from experts, and more – all centered on Los Angeles County.

September 25, 2015 ~ 0 Comments

“How Low Can You Go?” – Tackling the Civic Participation Challenge in California


Photo credit: Anita Hart

By Efrain Escobedo

Over the past decade, California has been doing the Limbo when it comes to civic participation. With the exception of the presidential election of 2008, we have continued to see the voter participation bar get lower and lower. A comparison of midterm elections in 2002 and 2014 shows a decline of almost 9 percentage points in voter participation. During the same period, voter registration rates among eligible citizens also remained fairly stagnant.

These declines beg the question, how low can we go? How low can we afford to go before our democracy faces a real crisis? Fortunately, California’s leaders are waking up and realizing that declining participation is a threat to the vitality of our democracy. More importantly, Californians are realizing that the solutions needed are much deeper than convincing individual voters to cast a ballot in the upcoming election; solutions require a systemic change approach.

The California Community Foundation (CCF) recently partnered with the Public Policy Institute of California to convene state officials and civic leaders in Los Angeles to discuss challenges and solutions to increasing civic participation in the state. Discussions with panelists California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla revealed a number of solutions both in the works and coming in the near future for California and Los Angeles County. These solutions included:

  • Getting more civic leaders involved in spreading the word about the importance of engagement.
  • Rebuilding a robust civics education curriculum in schools and incorporating real-world projects and community service to bring it to life.
  • Driving home the idea that grassroots organizing and every day people can make a difference in their communities.
  • Changing voter registration from an opt-in to opt-out system in California.
  • Expanding in-person early voting and allowing voters to cast their ballot anywhere in the county at vote centers–not a specifically assigned polling place.

These solutions recognize that efforts to increase civic participation must take a systems change approach, from removing barriers in the election process to reinvesting in civic education in our schools. Other efforts around integrated voter engagement are seeking to connect community organizing, local advocacy and voter participation in an effort to create a continuum of participation that ultimately not only yields a victory on a specific issue for the community, but also strengthens our democracy by creating a deeper value and culture of civic participation.

After 100 years of helping to build a stronger Los Angeles, we at CCF have learned that whether we seek to increase access to education or economic mobility, improve health outcomes or foster vibrant cultural diversity through the arts, having a democracy that is inclusive, equitable and responsive to the needs of all people is essential to creating the change we need. It is also critical to ensuring that even the most vulnerable and underserved communities can have a voice.

Record-low voter participation should alarm all of us. The vote is the most direct form of power that we have in our democracy. The consequences of declining voter turnout are clear: lack of representation for the most vulnerable, policies that do not reflect the best interest of all our communities and elected officials with little accountability to the community. If we do not reverse this trend, harmful policies that infringe on the opportunities and rights of the most vulnerable, like young men of color, immigrants and LGBTQ communities, will intensify.

For many, the civic participation problem is simply a pathology of apathy—people don’t think civic participation matters. A recent poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times/USC Dornsife/CCF found that Californians see voting, contacting their elected officials, volunteering with civic organizations and attending community meetings as activities that benefit their communities. The resounding message is that everyone can play a role and has something valuable to contribute to creating a brighter future for our region. This tells us that Californians believe in civic participation! Our challenge, then, is how we help them engage and create a stronger culture of participation within all of our communities, particularly our most vulnerable and often most civically starved.

Watch the September 17 CCF-PPIC event.

Efrain Escobedo is Vice President of Civic Engagement & Public Policy at the California Community Foundation.

September 2, 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Permanent Supportive Housing Can Be the Ticket to Ending Homelessness

By Corrin Buchanan and Chris Hubbard

The number of individuals experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County jumped 12 percent in the last two years, and our neighbors become homeless for a variety of reasons every day. This makes clear the need for increased investment in the interventions proven to end homelessness. The issue isn’t one sector’s problem to solve. We need political will from our elected officials, strong collaboration between government agencies and community-based partners, leadership from the private sector and support from all Angelenos—because homelessness affects us all.

More than half of L.A.’s homeless individuals are dealing with mental illness, chronic medical problems or substance use; many struggle with more than one of these. To effectively help these individuals requires creating more permanent supportive housing: combining subsidized housing with an organized and coordinated set of on-site services including case management, health care and mental health care.

In addition to best serving the needs of the chronically homeless, permanent supportive housing leads to significant cost savings. The per-person costs of homeless individuals utilizing Los Angeles County services are 3.7 times higher than it would cost to provide that same individual with permanent supportive housing (see chart below).

Los Angeles is one of the most expensive housing markets in America, with a severe lack of affordable and permanent supportive housing. To address this need, public agencies are stepping up in new ways to help provide housing options for people experiencing homelessness. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) created the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool in January 2014 to secure permanent supportive housing for DHS patients who are homeless. The pool was launched through a cross-sector partnership, including a $14 million commitment from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and $4 million from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

By providing housing for frequent users of the health system, DHS has found it can reduce emergency room visits and inpatient admissions and can save an average of $32,000 per person housed each year. By the end of 2015, DHS will have housed 600 individuals. Using the local pool, as well as traditional federal housing resources, DHS aims to provide housing to 10,000 individuals over the next five years.

The nonprofit, government and private sectors all have roles to play in solving chronic homelessness in Los Angeles County. The United Way of Greater Los Angeles and Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce have teamed up with government and foundations on Home for Good, the campaign to end homelessness in Los Angeles County. Government departments are coordinating efforts city- and county-wide, local foundations are committing millions of dollars to the development of affordable and permanent supportive housing and nonprofits are coordinating efforts in their own regions to better address the needs of the individuals they serve. Although the work is far from over, these are important steps in transforming the lives of L.A. County’s most vulnerable residents.

Watch how nonprofit organization Skid Row Housing Trust provides services and permanent supportive housing to change lives:

Corrin Buchanan is program manager for Housing for Health at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

Chris Hubbard is program officer for Housing & Economic Opportunity at the California Community Foundation.

August 18, 2015 ~ 0 Comments

50 Years Later, the Embers of the Watts Riots Still Glow

Watts Towers: Photo Copyright Mark Nye - flic.kr/p/a4MUYV

Photo Copyright Mark Nye – flic.kr/p/a4MUYV

By LaWayne Williams

On August 11, 1965 in Watts, an ember erupted into flames. The routine traffic stop of 21 year old Marquette Frye sparked a series of events that would forever change Los Angeles. 34 people died during the Watts Riots and the community absorbed $40 million in damages. The ember sparked by Frye’s arrest was the result of deep-seated anger, spurred by the culmination of racism, residential segregation, poverty and police brutality.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts Riots, there is an eeriness in the striking similarity that the Watts riots have to contemporary uprisings across the country. Despite the separation of five decades and landmark federal legislation that sought to tear down the walls of racism and segregation, the optics and narratives look and sound the same. The conditions within many communities – joblessness, blight, high incarceration rates, inequitable wages –appear to be the same as well. All this leaves me desperately searching for a way to explain such events to my 11 year-old daughter and 7 year-old son.

She asked me “Why?” If I’m honest, I would admit that I have been at a loss for words over the past year. We’ve been bombarded with footage of police officers inflicting violence on unarmed men, women and children, oftentimes resulting in gun violence and death.

I remember how I felt as a child watching television during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. I turned to my grandmother and asked her “Why?” She simply shook her head and said “they are just fed up.” They felt they had little to lose.

News accounts and the public discourse described the events that unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting death of Michael Brown and even the murder of Eric Garner in Staten Island as isolated incidents. However, in interviews and conversations with people living in those communities, you will hear over and over again that people had gotten weary of strained relationships with law enforcement and conditions that seemed to persist. The frustration, distrust, disparagement and discrimination felt by communities across the country begs the question of how much have things changed since 1965.

Since 2014, I have been honored to help manage BLOOM, which seeks to create positive and productive futures for young Black men in South L.A. who have become enmeshed in the justice system. California Community Foundation’s BLOOM—(Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men) is one among several philanthropic initiatives aiming to building resilience and propel systems change within what is emerging as an era of scrutiny and reform within criminal justice and law enforcement. Still, education achievement gaps, economic inequities and inadequate access to healthcare continue to plague the most vulnerable communities across the country, continue to act as kindling. Almost all the uprisings we have seen over the course of the last 50 years trace back to a single incident, a spark that became a roaring inferno.

The complexities that lead to uprisings such as Watts, South Central L.A., Ferguson and Baltimore force us to consider the notion that inequity and depressed conditions in communities are functions of institutional prejudice rather than individual level involvement and effort.

As a country, we cannot continue to ignore the societal disparities that light these fires or be surprised when communities erupt. I hope that my children’s enduring question of “Why?” persists until we as a nation begin to understand the complexities underlying the Watts rebellion and the steps we must all take to put out the fires of generational poverty, unjust incarceration practices, non-compliant law enforcement and policies that reinforce a status quo.

LaWayne Williams is the program manager for the California Community Foundation’s BLOOM (Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men).