End LAHSA's Partnerships with LAPD and LA County Sheriffs Today

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Kristy Lovich
Kristy Lovich signed this petition

Before you continue reading, please know that this letter was written by Kristy Lovich, from inside the agency, with guidance and endorsement from: 

Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles Chapter

Rev. Edward L. Anderson M.A., M.Div, Senior Pastor, McCarty Memorial Christian Church, Committee Member on the Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness, Co-Chair, California Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

Dignity & Power Now, A Los Angeles based grassroots organization founded in 2012 that fights for the dignity and power of all incarcerated people, their families, and communities. Our mission is to build a Black and Brown led abolitionist movement rooted in community power towards the goal of achieving transformative justice and healing justice for all incarcerated people, their families, and communities.

Meztli Projects, An Indigenous based arts & culture collaborative centering Indigeneity into the creative practice of Los Angeles by using arts-based strategies to support, advocate for, and organize to highlight Native/Indigenous Artists and systems-impacted youth. 

Dearest LAHSA Community, Colleagues, Members of the Executive Leadership Team:

I write this letter to you from my home that sits atop unceded land of which the Tongva people are the original stewards. In my work as a homeless service provider with membership of many communities within what is now known as Los Angeles, it is with deep gratitude that I am committed to uplifting the name of this land — Yaangna— and the community members from this Nation who work and live alongside us. I am framing this communication with you with an acknowledgement of this and recognition that the displacement of Indigenous people from this land is in fact the first instance of “homelessness” in Los Angeles.

I am a supervisor in the Access & Engagement Department with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. I am responsible for leading teams in Service Planning Area 4, serving people experiencing homelessness in Hollywood, Midtown, Silverlake, Echo Park, Westlake, and Northeast LA. This work sits within my own practice as an anti-racist white person responsible for confronting and dismantling the legacies of white supremacy in this country and beyond. This is my heart’s greatest labor and most sacred commitment.

I offer the forthcoming words like opening a door, an invitation. Thank you for reading.   

I would like to share about a conversation I had very recently with a client whom I will refer to as “Harriet” to protect her privacy. Harriet is a Black woman that has been surviving homelessness for the last several years in Hollywood, Downtown LA, and Skid Row. I received an email about Harriet from the Unified Homelessness Response Center requesting that I reach out to her after she had spent months attempting to access services by calling and emailing her Council District representatives. Harriet lives with several serious illnesses that put her at great risk generally and certainly at a time in which our unhoused neighbors are highly vulnerable to Covid-19. She felt desperate to get indoors so that she could manage her health and avoid contracting this virus. I spent about an hour speaking with Harriet to get to know her, her story, to understand what her goals are, and what she needed. We had a wonderful conversation! Harriet’s fierce intellect and humor, her way with words was immediately apparent. She shared very candidly about her experiences being harassed and abused by police, having to move regularly to avoid citations or going back to jail. She offered her knowledge as to why homelessness happens and expressed a profound commitment to participating in action to end homelessness as soon as she is permanently housed. Becoming emotional, she questioned why the police and housed people hate her. And in a solemn moment she asked, “I am still a viable person, right?” Her question silenced me until I realized that she was not asking this rhetorically but that she sincerely wanted me to answer this question. “Yes. We need you, friend. We need you Harriet.” I replied and thanked her for sharing such a vulnerable moment with me, a stranger. This exchange of vulnerability provided a space for us to become connected.

I am accountable to Harriet now.

I offer this story about Harriet to illuminate a few things. One, that Harriet’s fear and anxiety about law enforcement, about being criminalized for being without a place to live is real, the danger she experiences is real, and that this sentiment is shared by the unsheltered friends and family that me and my teams work with every day. Harriet understood the treatment she received from police as a message to her that her life is not viable.

Read that again: Harriet understood the treatment she received from police as a message to her that her life is not viable.

Second, that moments of authentic non-violent outreach guided by trauma informed principles are opportunities to build lasting connections that serve as immovable foundations for folks to recover from the trauma of homelessness. These moments are lifesaving – and not just for the clients we serve but for us, those that conduct outreach. Each connection brings us more deeply into being alive, to living a life in community.

It is not lost on me and should not be lost on you that it is critical that we pay attention to the fact that Harriet is a Black woman. Hers is just one story among Black people that make up 40% of Los Angeles’ entire community of residents experiencing homelessness – while Black people make up just 9% of the total population. These figures come directly from LAHSA’s own Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count conducted in 2017 and this stunning disparity led to the formation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness which issued a report in 2018 calling for “the elimination of racial disparities and systemic racism affecting Black people—individuals and families—experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County.”

Also in 2018, LAHSA participated in the Inaugural Community Forum on Native American Homelessness with partner agency, the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission. A progress report coming out of this forum states that there is “an indelible connection between settler colonialism, subsequent policies of removal, termination, assimilation, relocation, and modern Indigenous homelessness.” Colleen Echohawk, Executive Director of the Chief Seattle Club goes on to say that, “While the dominant narrative focuses on individual deficits as reasons for homelessness (e.g. alcoholism, mental illness, ‘a cultural preference’ for being homeless), we challenge these notions by outlining the ways in which modern Indigenous homelessness is a direct extension of colonialism and structural racism.”

As Black and Indigenous leaders have vocalized a kinship between each of these communities’ suffering under white supremacy, I pull these two efforts taken on by LAHSA together to say that I see that this agency is making connections between structural racism and homelessness and to underscore boldly that the mortal entanglement of white supremacy and racism will continue to cause death if these racist structures— the very architecture of our systems and communities— do not fundamentally change.

Your stated commitment tells me that you too know this to be true. However, to activate that truth, to make good on a commitment to equity, to make good on an affirmation of a commitment to racial justice this agency must make difficult decisions about how its work is carried out and with whom. And these decisions must center the desires and needs of those most harmed by white supremacy.

LAHSA has taken enormous steps toward addressing the ways that structural racism causes and perpetuates homelessness and I applaud these efforts. The agency has hired a Director of Equity to spearhead its efforts to tackle structural racism within our organization and our Continuum of Care and includes equity as a core part of its mission. As the world has been swept into a swell of grief about the Black lives taken by police and ongoing racialized trauma, I have heard loving and powerful statements from LAHSA’s leadership honoring and affirming the reality of these losses. Just this past Wednesday LAHSA published a touching declaration affirming the agency’s commitment to racial justice. [see attached document] Within this document the agency invokes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” and proceeds to state that “LAHSA will not be silent. It is these types of social injustices that lead to the perpetuation of homelessness, and this is the reason our role in LA county to advance racial equity is so crucial. Racism is real. Hate is real. Fear is real.  Our LAHSA values of accountability, collaboration, compassion, equity, and integrity will guide us on our path to ensure racial equity is at the forefront of housing opportunities across Los Angeles.” And on social media I have seen LAHSA participate in solidarity actions by adopting a black screen as a profile image to hold virtual space for this tragic loss of life.

All of these gestures are beautiful, and I believe they are sincere.

They land squarely in hearts of your staff and the communities we serve.

They answer a call.

But they are not enough.

Right now, Black people are demanding a divestment from policing and an investment in supportive services, education, housing and decarceration. Black Lives Matter, leaders in this Movement for Black Lives is demanding a divestment from policing and incarceration as a means to address homelessness not only among Black people but among ALL people – highlighting the urgent imperative to defend Black lives. Right. Now.  

This agency must listen to this demand.

A defense of Black life is a guarantee of homes and safety.

A defense of Black life is a connection to services free from the harm of law enforcement.

Partnering with law enforcement contradicts our core values.

Partnering with law enforcement goes against evidence based best practices for working with people experiencing homelessness.

According to widely accepted guidance, creating community based, trauma informed outreach programs aligns with our values and proves to be most effective: “Developing positive partnerships, not punitive ones, will be essential in ending homelessness; the entire community working together is a key ingredient to success. Criminalization, however, creates more conflict between local officials, the police, and homeless people. At worst, criminalization gives local politicians a way to try to dodge responsibility for homelessness by turning it over to the police. The police, who don’t have tools to solve the problem, often end up shuffling homeless people from place to place: at great expense to local taxpayers, while causing even more trauma to people experiencing homelessness. Criminalization is not a homelessness strategy; it is a consequence of not having a strategy. It is a last-resort effort when local governments don’t know what else to do when it comes to homelessness response.” [National Alliance to End Homelessness]

We can do better.

LAHSA must immediately dissolve its partnerships with all law enforcement agencies and redirect the funding and personnel within programs that include police officers like the HOPE, Care, and Care+ programs toward expanded outreach services operating without law enforcement partners— as a principled demonstration of its commitment to racial justice. If this organization continues to operate “business as usual” regarding embedding law enforcement officers within outreach programming it has failed to embody and activate the commitments it has just 72 hours ago declared and it undermines the brilliant and necessary work it has undertaken to address structural racism over these last few years.

This week our friend Harriet has been on my mind and in my heart. Thankfully, she recently moved into interim housing and will continue to work with my team until she obtains permanent housing. I feel so grateful and relieved about her and other Black clients of mine— grateful and relieved that I received her call, their calls and a chance to offer care in time to avoid further harm. In another version of her story and the stories of many other Black clients I work with, had police been called instead of outreach, had an outreach team accompanied by police met her first it is not only possible but highly likely that she would have ended up further traumatized, ensnared in the grasp of incarceration or worse, shared a fate with Mr. George Floyd, may he rest in power.

Instead of creating these horrifying outcomes we were able to connect and mutually affirm that her life is indeed viable, that her life absolutely matters.

I absolutely would not have been able to make this kind of connection with police officers at my side.

I have faith that Harriet would endorse this letter.

This moment is an invitation to all of us to end the brutality against and murder of Black people and all Indigenous People and People of Color at the hands of law enforcement. We are explicitly being asked to use any and every position we occupy to lift-up this call to action and move it forward toward justice through our platforms, agency, privilege, and power. Today I use the spaces I occupy as a white person with a small bit of institutional power and access to amplify this call and I ask you and this agency to join me today in ending LAHSA’s partnerships with the LAPD and LA County Sheriffs.

In writing this letter I have consulted with the individuals and organizations listed below to whom I am accountable in this work and humbly requested their co-signature on this initiative to end LAHSA’s partnerships with law enforcement agencies, end LAHSA’s compliance with the historic and ongoing violence from law enforcement onto our clients [see attached image], end this agency’s participation in racialized violence onto Black people that is inevitable if outreach with law enforcement continues. I am in awe of their work and pray that the labor I take on will do it justice – and I hope yours does too.

With love and solidarity,

in defense of Black life,

in the promise of Black futures,

Anne Braden

Supervisor, Spa 4, Access & Engagement

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority

With guidance and endorsement from the following signatories:

Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles Chapter

Rev. Edward L. Anderson M.A., M.Div, Senior Pastor, McCarty Memorial Christian Church, Committee Member on the Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness, Co-Chair, California Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

Dignity & Power Now, A Los Angeles based grassroots organization founded in 2012 that fights for the dignity and power of all incarcerated people, their families, and communities. Our mission is to build a Black and Brown led abolitionist movement rooted in community power towards the goal of achieving transformative justice and healing justice for all incarcerated people, their families, and communities.

Meztli Projects, An Indigenous based arts & culture collaborative centering Indigeneity into the creative practice of Los Angeles by using arts-based strategies to support, advocate for, and organize to highlight Native/Indigenous Artists and systems-impacted youth.