Home For Good
Understanding the Landscape of Daytime Services for People Experiencing Homelessness in Los Angeles County
What We Want to Know
The study, undertaken between November 2022 and April 2023, reviewed Los Angeles County’s landscape of daytime services for people experiencing homelessness to inform UWGLA’s investment strategy in this sector. An important consideration for the investment strategy is to increase meaningful collaborations between nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, and public agencies. Therefore, we needed to know who is providing services? How are they currently funded and staffed? At what scale and physical capacity do they operate? What services are they providing? When and where?, Do providers document their activities, and if so, how?
What We Learned
Organizations providing day services vary dramatically by size, resources, service area, staff, and experience. Survey data suggest that a majority of organizations offer services using principles, such as trauma-informed care, behavior counseling, or harm reduction approaches. Of survey respondents representing faith-based organizations, said their services required no religious component or were offered as optional.
Across the board, organizations reported funding challenges. Insufficient funding was the most pressing issue (67%), followed by funding with too many restrictions (47%), high operating costs (47%), and short-term funding (39%).
As previously discussed in our Homeless Sector Workforce Analysis, workforce shortages, both paid and volunteer, are common complaints regardless of organization type. Over 50% of all survey respondents indicated professional staffing shortages as a key challenge.
Many organizations expressed the need to expand or enhance their physical infrastructure, from adding loading docks to receive produce to redesigning internal layouts to allow space for large support groups.
Service shortcomings were identified across all 8 SPAs. The gaps were more pronounced in terms of the frequency of availability over the weekly cycle, and the range of services available, than in specific locations. Across all 8 SPAs, there is a notable shortfall in service availability on weekends, which may be especially problematic for basic needs like getting something to eat, charging a phone, or accessing sanitary services.
Among service providers surveyed:
• 74% were interested in expanding the capacity of current services
• 61% wanted to improve the quality of their current services
• 50% wanted to expand the range of services they offer, most notably mental health services.
Gathering and Using Data
Ninety percent of surveyed organizations gather name or contact information and 80% collect demographic data. Across both surveys and interviews, data gathering and sharing were considered to be fragmented and inconsistent, making data sharing difficult. Faith and community-based organizations collect less data compared to nonprofits and public agencies, out of concern that data collection can impede client trust and lack of staff capacity.
Across the study, nearly all participants engaged in some form of collaboration, whether offering multiple services at one site or sharing services across multiple sites. Current collaborations are typically local, informal, and lack a centralized strategy or support system. Ninety percent of survey respondents made some form of referrals, and 82% received referrals. Collaboration can involve services that have significantly different delivery intervals, from essential daily needs, such as food and medical care, to weekly, monthly, or longer-term assistance, such as employment training.
The organizations surveyed serve a diverse clientele, in terms of race and ethnic groups, age, sexual orientation, health diagnoses, and military service status. Services are available in over 20 languages, with translation apps being frequently mentioned. The services clients reported using every day were food (100%), clean, dry clothing (90%), bathrooms and showers (62%), health care (57%), and phone charging (52%). They expressed both negative and positive experiences with all types of providers.
Across all types of service providers, clients experienced access difficulties, including overcrowded sites, traveling long distances to access services, and challenges being able to schedule services when each is at a separate site with differing and restricted times. Clients appreciated sites that were accessible nearby and open more regularly and consistently, with friendly, nonjudgemental, and professional staff and welcoming, calm atmospheres.
Based on the report’s recommendations, the suggested areas for action include broader strategies to achieve these long-term goals, as well as further research opportunities to improve strategic planning:
- Increase Availability of Drop-In Centers with Expanded Services and Physical Capacity: A strong and recurring theme among respondents was the value of drop-in centers offering respite from the streets and services in one place. Essentially, a one-stop shop for basic day-to-day needs, and to connect people to longer-term care, such as health, housing, social, and financial support.
- Invest in the People Doing the Work: People are the lifeblood of service provision, but the study showed that there are significant, and even increasing problems with recruiting and retaining paid and volunteer staff. The sector needs to make better and more rewarding use of individual skills and expertise.
- Build a Culture of Data: Data gathering and information sharing is perhaps one of the most challenging areas to deal with. Not only is there a range of legal and personal data security considerations, but this is an area of expertise that is likely more outside the day-to-day understanding of many organizations. To fully understand service provision capacity and utilization across LA, we need to build a culture that appreciates the benefits of data to ensure the appropriateness & continuity of data acquired along with robust security of personal details.
- Invest in Inter-organizational collaboration: With better inter-organizational collaboration comes a range of potential provider benefits, such as the avoidance of duplication in activities, more effective sharing of assets, and waste reduction, while potentially increasing capacity by re-deploying underutilized resources. LA must better capitalize on the collaborations that currently exist, to shape and expand synergistic collaborations to deliver better quality and coverage.
- Include Clients in Program and Policy Decisions: Ultimately, client experience, well-being, and outcomes are what this is all about. The motivation for all providers who participated was to help people with daily needs while identifying pathways out of desperate situations. To ensure services are meeting the needs of those directly impact by this crisis, organizations and systems need to involve clients in decision making.
- Through this research and sector engagement, we’ve seen the extraordinary amount of collaboration and support that Angelenos are providing for their unhoused neighbors across LA County. We’ve identified hundreds of nonprofit, faith-based, and community-based organizations, with both paid and volunteer staff, public and private funding, who are responding to our region’s unsheltered homelessness crisis with the urgency and compassion it requires and we will continue to support their work.
- We’ve heard from people experiencing unsheltered homelessness about what they need more and what makes them more or less likely to engage with providers and that should be priority.
- United Way is committed to continuing to support our unhoused neighbors, not only by creating more housing and places for them to stay at night but by increasing and improving the services they have access to during the day and places for them to exist with dignity and respect as they get connected to resources and move closer to the day where they are permanently housed.