Paramount invests in community partnerships to reduce homelessness

Nov 9, 2022

For many cities and supporting organizations, connecting unhoused residents with shelter and services is like playing a basketball game without a coach: Skilled teams will struggle without an overarching strategy. Dozens of organizations can provide supportive services, but without a unified system of care, people can fall through the cracks.

Even the definition of homelessness can vary. Is someone homeless if they live in an overcrowded apartment? What if they sleep on a school bench once a week? Add a complex set of service requirements, multiple economic crises, and limited funding, and the deck is stacked against many cities.

For compact, urban communities like Paramount — which reduced the number of unsheltered individuals by 56% since 2019 — strategic investments in people and partnerships can produce meaningful results. The point-in-time count was conducted over two days by City Net — a supportive services provider that partners with local and state agencies — and included demographic interviews with people experiencing homelessness.

A communitywide and community-based approach

Like other successful cities, Paramount takes a multifaceted approach to homelessness. The first step is to identify who needs services. This can happen through the city’s case management workers, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, or community partners like Family Promise of the South Bay. Often, these partnerships can expose startling trends.

"When we connected with Family Promise of the South Bay a couple of years ago, we didn’t know what our families experiencing homelessness needed,” said Paramount Public Safety Manager Steve Coumparoules, who coordinates the city’s homeless response. “We knew there was a need, but we didn’t know what the extent was.”

In the program’s first year, March 2021 to June 2022, Family Promise assessed 44 Paramount families, provided services to 27, and permanently housed 10. Much of that work was the result of a partnership with the Paramount Unified School District. Although the school district provides some services, such as an emergency resource center, it also plays a key role in connecting families with supportive services.

“Steve has been amazing. Before I came into the role, it was pretty much 211 — your generic numbers that they could call,” said Julie White, the program coordinator for the school district’s foster youth and homeless educational services program. “It wasn’t as personable as this connection we have — the partnership is amazing.”

For individual adults, the closest, city-funded shelter is the Salvation Army Shelter in the nearby city of Bell. There, residents can receive three meals a day, case management, employment search assistance, and long-term housing navigation. The city funds 12 beds using American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

The Salvation Army Shelter’s proximity to Paramount has had a profound impact on the city’s unsheltered population. In 2021, the city connected 19 people with shelter. Thanks to the city’s new partnership with the Bell Shelter, which was formed in August 2022, the city provided 27 people with shelter in 2022. Homeless individuals are connected to services almost instantly, regardless of their ties to the community.

“By having these services in place, it allows us to service the needs of our homeless individuals so much quicker,” Coumparoules said. “When we’re able to offer a bed six miles away from us, they can keep their same doctor, their support system.”

Although the Bell shelter only serves single adults, it often indirectly serves families by directing women and children to appropriate, nearby shelters. Meanwhile, male guardians stay at the Salvation Army shelter until the family can reconnect. When the shelter originally opened 30 years ago, family homelessness was less common. As a result, the shelter does not offer the types of services and facilities suitable for families.

Regardless of where they stay, people with connections to the Paramount often return to the city to secure permanent housing. “Typically, they have some type of ties … whether it’s family; they went to school there; [or] they just know that neighborhood they feel comfortable in, that’s usually where they return,” said Rosa Chairez, the program manager for the Salvation Army Bell Shelter.

Another key program — especially for families experiencing homelessness — is the city’s motel voucher program. “A lot of times … when families hear the word shelter, they don’t want that for their children. Through this partnership with Paramount, we were able to put them in a hotel as a temporary shelter,” Family Promise Housing Program Manager Lina Takada said. “That way, they were safe ... they were able to get a little bit of rest and think of next steps.”

Outside-the-box strategies for job training  

The city provides a wide range of other supportive services through the Salvation Army Shelter. This includes transportation to shelters, the Department of Motor Vehicles for identification cards, or pharmacies for prospection medications; onsite medical treatment; and help with social services or mental health appointments. The city’s Safe Storage Program provides secure storage services where unhoused residents can keep their personal belongings for up to 90 days.

In recent years, the city has connected people to several innovative, skill-building programs. One Paramount resident gained valuable job experience at Wrigley Coffee in Long Beach. The social enterprise program allows people to gain valuable job experience before seeking full-time employment.

“We’re trying to think outside of the box,” Family Promise Executive Director Lori Eastman said. “I think all agencies are trying to think out of the box depending on their funding to serve this community to give them tools in their toolbox so that they can have that sustainable housing and be able to live independently.”

Paramount also works with the Southeast Los Angeles County Workforce Investment Board on a home-to-employment program, which temporarily houses people rent-free while they gain interview and job skills.

During the summer, the city partnered with Piece by Piece to create a mosaic at the city’s community center. The nonprofit provides people who have experienced homelessness or economic insecurity with job skills and supplemental income. City officials are exploring ways to bring the program to the city again.

ADUs drive housing growth

As in any community, homelessness is not a standalone issue. A lack of affordable housing has exacerbated the state’s homelessness crisis. Although cities do not build housing, they do zone and identify suitable sites for homes to encourage development.

Paramount has experienced an increase in housing, driven in part by a growing number of accessory dwelling units (ADU). For built-out cities like Paramount with few opportunities for new development, ADUs are a modest, cost-effective way to increase affordable housing.

The city is part of a four-city group — Garden Grove, Sante Fe Springs, and Beuna Park — that is creating an ADU resource website. Set to launch next year, the website will include a budget calculator, finance and loan information, and pre-approved plans that can help reduce costs. The website will also include a three-minute how-to video.

Paramount has also invested in making informal housing — such as modified garages — livable and passed a density bonus ordinance to encourage larger developments. Two site-specific plans include proven housing incentive strategies, such as mixed-use development, development incentive packages, mixed-used development, and modest height increases.

Like all cities, Paramount faces mounting challenges as more working close families suffer from the effects of global inflation and other economic crises. The school district has already identified dozens of new families experiencing homelessness and Family Promise has worked with 16 families since July 2022. However, the city is well-positioned to meet this growing need.

“Paramount has a legacy of directly addressing challenges,” Mayor Vilma Cuellar Stallings said. “We roll up our sleeves and get to work. We don’t wait for outside agencies to arrive, although when they do, we welcome their assistance. Our city council and staff are dedicated to working harder and ever more creatively to provide services in hopes of moving our homeless neighbors into permanent housing.”

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