Written by Lucia La Rosa Ames, President and a founding Director of the board of MBSAFE
Whether visible or not, homelessness is part of every community in Los Angeles County and Manhattan Beach is no different.
When the number of homeless individuals in our Manhattan Beach town jumped from 4 to 44 in the 2018 annual Homeless Count, some of the MB residents decided to make a personal commitment to finding a solution. Homelessness is not just a political problem – it is a social problem that requires social engagement; it cannot be successfully addressed if we do not make it personal. Initially, the group of residents was organized as an association. In February 2019, we incorporated as “MBSAFE, Safe Alternatives For Everyone”. We chose this name because we believe the solutions to homelessness must indeed be safe for everyone: the homeless individuals, whose humanity is always worth respect, as well as the residents who are concerned for public safety, public health, and public enjoyment of public places. These two concerns are often pitted against each other. However, we do not believe in “either-or” choices: in this case, both concerns are valid, neither can trump the other, and are not in conflict if we act with real compassion and not just on emotions. A real compassionate response is not an emotional response, because compassion is not a feeling; it is an act of moral will –the will of what is good for the other, not what makes one feel better. And the good for people not having a home, is not being more comfortable living without one, but getting one and being empowered to keep it independently.
This approach is summarized in MBSAFE’s motto, "A Hand-up, not a Hand-out". A hand-up is help that empowers individuals to leave the streets, become independent, and thrive. The experience of other successful communities as well as our personal experience in the last two years is that this is successful if we have -
- relentless street engagement;
- rapid transitioning to housing through SHARE! housing; and
- wrap-around services.
Since 2019 MBSAFE has partnered with SHARE!, an organization providing affordable, shared housing in single-family houses and apartments all over Los Angeles County, including our Service Planning Area (SPA). In addition, we organized Homeless Connect, which is led by our Board Director Rita Crabtree-Kampe. Homeless Connect is a network of resident volunteers who engage in street outreach, or simply identify resident homeless people and refer them to MBSAFE, Harbor Interfaith, and the City Homeless Liaison, George Gabriel.
It takes from 50 to 100 independent contacts to establish trust and allow an individual to open up to services and housing. With only one Harbor Interfaith house navigator shared with Hermosa Beach, we could not have the kind of relentless outreach that is necessary to make a difference. This is why Homeless Connect is so pivotal to real change.
Once the person is ready for help, we do not rely on government agencies for funds and avoid lengthy approval processes, but instead, cooperate with Harbor Interfaith and SHARE! and finance immediately a rapid transition to house and services. As a private all-volunteer nonprofit, compared to any public agency we have the advantage of fast decision making, and an absence of overhead costs and bureaucratic hindrances. We can move quickly, and effectively.
Indeed, we successfully helped many people find housing. Each story is unique because each person became homeless for different reasons. I cannot list all the people we helped but can provide a few examples that can give insight into how we work. Many might remember a young couple who had been living by the Manhattan Beach Civic Center for over a year. What people might not know is that they were musicians. Not only are they now housed and live productive lives, but through outreach with previous clients, we bought them musical instruments, and reconnected them to their sense of self and personal dignity. In another example, a few months ago, a young woman from Sacramento, who had been on our streets for about a year, accepted supportive housing. The problem was, she needed somewhere to live while she waited for her housing to become available. MBSAFE not only funded her to stay in a motel for 10 days, but subsequently her rent for five months, as well as groceries, toiletries, clothes, and sundries. She still struggles with mental health issues and wrap-around services continue to be offered to her. In our last example, Rita met a 22-year-old man living on our streets who told her how he had been sent to Los Angeles on a one-way ticket from another state. MBSAFE helped him find housing, and once again, helped him stay at a motel while interviewing with potential landlords. Within four days, he was moved into his new home. MBSAFE also paid for four months’ rent until his social services came through. Additionally, MBSAFE funded groceries and sundries for his new home. Rita also helped him find a job in construction.
MBSAFE has also helped with family reunification. For example, a Virginia couple was living under a LA County lifeguard tower. MBSAFE facilitated a reconnection with the man’s mother, and they decided to return home to Virginia. MBSAFE paid for a stay in a motel, bus fare to Virginia, and supply food and clothes for the trip home.
In all these stories, living on the street was the problem. And the solution was simply connecting the individual to supportive housing and services. This is what a hand-up means.
Hand-outs – those being some money, or even clothes and food are not the solution and do not help. In fact, according to the Homeless Alliance, only about 20% of regional panhandlers are homeless people; the rest ask for cash only to support unhealthy behaviors, often alcoholism and other addictions. If the panhandler is unhoused, money alone does not address their problem. Case in point, recently a long-time disabled local homeless man who was often seen on Manhattan Beach Boulevard in a wheelchair finally accepted services and was taken to the hospital. There at intake, they found he had over $8,000 on his person. He probably did not even realize he had so much money, and surely all that money did not improve his quality of life. He did NOT need money. He needed services.
Similarly, a bottle of water and a sandwich given to a person without the intent of establishing a relationship of trust is a hand-out and does not help. It might make YOU feel better about yourself but does not change the predicament of a homeless person. However, the same sandwich and water given by a Harbor Interfaith house navigator or an MBSAFE outreach volunteer is a token on which they can build trust, establish a relationship, and eventually convince the individual to accept housing and services.
We cannot tell residents what to do, but we recommend that unless you are willing to share your time and establish a relationship with the individuals without a house, please do not just give them food, money, or other items, but direct them to services, connect them with a chance to leave the street, inform and support Harbor Interfaith and MBSAFE. Give your support to the groups that get people off the streets and into housing.
We have created a helpful resource card that summarizes what to do and whom to contact when one meets a person experiencing homelessness. The cards are small enough to fit in a wallet and are available at the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce and City Hall. If there is a situation of imminent danger or a crime is in the act of being committed, of course, anyone should always dial 911; if there is even just a doubt of potential medical or mental health distress, the best option is to call the police dispatch, which is in contact with paramedics and the mental evaluation specialist. It is not a crime to be homeless and you are not calling the police “on” a person experiencing homelessness. This is how you can help more effectively. In any other situations, we hope Manhattan Beach residents might call MBSAFE; our phone number is 310-426-8686.
MBSAFE is an all-volunteer organization. Our efforts are as strong as the community that supports us. We encourage all residents to participate in the periodic community forums we host. At each meeting, we answer questions, solicit ideas, provide progress updates, and convene experts to address the pressing issues related to homelessness. These meetings are discussion opportunities and the ideas debated might ultimately turn into concrete solutions. You can stay informed about our events by joining our Facebook page, visiting our website (www.mbsafe.org) and/or joining our mailing list by writing to email@example.com.
Anyone who wants to make a difference and has a heart for our mission can volunteer with us. It is enough to send an email to mbsafe@Outlook.com.
Finally, we always welcome private donations. Our goal for 2022 is to secure reserved beds in temporary housing facilities; continue to support social outreach and transition to supportive housing; increase the scope of our advocacy tackling the causes of homelessness, including mental health and addiction. We have no overhead expenses – 100% of your donation goes to providing support to those in need.
Donations are tax-exempt and can be sent to MBSAFE P.O. Box 2282 Manhattan Beach, CA 90267 or via Venmo at @mbsafe.
Together we can make a difference.
Written by Lucia La Rosa Ames, President and a founding Director of the board of MBS
Lucia hails from Naples, Italy, where she worked as an attorney. She worked in several local government law positions before being hired by the US Department of Defense to represent American interests in the Italian legal system and manage the SOFA agreement. Her performance earned her unique recognition with a medal to Meritorious Civilian Service Award from the US Navy. She married her husband Greg in 2002 and moved to the US to complete her Master of Laws at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass. Together they moved here to Los Angeles in 2004 where she became a US Citizen, passed the New York and California Bar exams and practiced securities and corporate law for Wedbush Securities Inc. Shortly after moving to Manhattan Beach, when her first son began enrollment at Pacific Elementary School, she retired from the law to dedicate her energies toward her family, the community, and personal causes.
In addition to her current service on MBSAFE, Lucia has served as a board member of the Pregnancy Help Center in Torrance; she has chaired the performing arts program on behalf of the Pacific Elementary School PTA; was on the City Homeless Task Force, which assisted in obtaining HHH funds; and volunteers her time at American Martyrs Church where she teaches Religious Education, leads bible studies, and provides her energy and support to Catholic social justice issues and liturgical activities.
Lucia is a loving wife, friend, neighbor, and mother of two boys, who both attended the MBUSD public school system. She is an outspoken advocate for the causes she holds dear.