My name is Thomas Wong, and I work for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), a joint powers authority of the City and County of Los Angeles. LAHSA oversees federal, state and local funding for providers that look to serve youth, individuals and families experiencing homelessness in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care.
My job at LAHSA is as a Performance Management Analyst. I work closely with our contracted agencies to ensure that they are operating at their best, providing technical assistance, training, and guidance.
1. What is most challenging working in this field?
There are multiple facets when considering challenges in the homeless social service field. Each is quite nuanced. For instance, the challenges I faced as a “street” clinician are very different than the ones I face as an analyst. Thus, I won’t be able to answer comprehensively since it would take too long, but personally what I encounter on a daily basis now is a major issue of capacity building for agencies throughout the County. Measure H funding has provided a plethora of resources never seen by homeless social services.
$355 million a year is a lot of money to manage and the scrutiny it receives from local government is extensive. Agencies are literally building the plane, while flying it too. Many of the social service providers are receiving new monies that provide resources to create new and necessary programs, but have such a hard time staffing, training, understanding program regulations, and meeting performance targets.
My job is to work with all providers to ensure that they are performing optimally, because not only are tax payer dollars at stake here, but thousands of people experiencing homelessness count on it too. Not everyone is primed for this new era though. Agencies are used to doing things the old way, and so educating not only line staff to perform well, but also managers and executives is of prime importance. We need strong leadership that is willing to adapt to new methods of accountability, management, service provision, and training. The list can go on and on.
2. What can the average citizen do to help end homelessness?
Be educated! This is extremely important! LAHSA provides community informational events where our directors and staff, who conduct and write reports used by the media, are present and willing to answer your questions. Homelessness is so complicated, because it involves many societal aspects and systems.
I know that learning about homelessness can be daunting, so I would suggest people to start reading about the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles. Urbanize.LA is a great blog to stay up to date on that information. The reason I say first start there is because of the new faces of homelessness that are rising due to high housing prices. People are easily paying 60-80% of their incomes just to have a home.
Talk to your local nonprofits. I used to work for an agency called The People Concern who trains their volunteers on the issues of homelessness, and also in the appropriate way to interact with someone who might be experiencing homelessness. They then have different shelters, drop-in centers where volunteers can work along with actual staff. I would also suggest that typical donations of clothing, food, and hygiene items be sent to these nonprofits. I’ve led an outreach team and we would utilize donations every day to “break the ice” with people who normally wouldn’t want to interact or talk with anyone. These are precious resources to these outreach teams, and a tool to begin the relationship building process with people experiencing homelessness.
3. What is most exciting about how there is more focus on this social issue in LA?
People may not realize this, but Los Angeles is a major leader in the nation for homeless social services. Measure H is a miracle, and it has provided the groundwork for new and innovative strategies to combat homelessness. Yes, there are new issues that come along with the funding, but it is exciting every day to go to work. Things don’t just remain in the theoretical or conceptual, instead ideas are being piloted and funded. This is probably one of those rare times where you can say it is simply exciting just to be able to go to work.
4. How do you see your work as part of restoring God’s kingdom?
I think there are obvious biblical connections that could be made in helping to end homelessness, and it’s not to discount the “restorative” properties that this work entails, but for me restoring God’s kingdom through my work has been more like being a good example to my coworkers, caring for them, and trying to show Christ’s love. It is also about being diligent in my work – being the best that I can be to my coworkers and clients. There is so much room for innovation and development in what I do too, so I ask God for inspiration and for him to use me to incorporate his standards, his values, his gospel into this new foundation of homeless social services. Right now there is such a prioritization to house those experiencing homelessness, and of course that is extremely important and relevant to the issue, but the more I do this work, the more I realize how often the gospel is overlooked. That is what is most important at the end of the day, and I want to do whatever I can to obey God even if it means just to uplift a coworker who is feeling discouraged or having a good attitude when work gets tough.