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Real problems, real solutions: sheltering the homeless

January 14, 2019

Categories: Blog

Published: January 14, 2019

In this running series, we examine how the concepts of community psychology can positively impact our world. We have identified a range of key issues that affect many of us and will analyze how communities around America have worked to address them.


Location: Los Angeles County


Timeline: 2015 – 2017


Affected Population: Unsheltered individuals residing in the 52 square miles of the city of Long Beach, CA.


Key Players: Los Angeles County; Long Beach City Council; Departments of Veterans Affairs, Public Works, Parks Recreation and Marine, Health and Human Services; Police Department Quality of Life Team; Fire Department HEART Team; Multiple NGOs; FUSE Corps


The Problem:

Los Angeles County is notorious for a high rate of homelessness among its population. In 2015, its homeless population comprised more than 40,000 individuals, the second highest in the U.S.—and was growing.

The city of Long Beach, which falls within Los Angeles County, identified specific factors as contributing to the city’s own struggles with this issue. In particular, these included:

  1. Rising housing prices
  2. Lack of new construction and housing availability
  3. Lack of veterans outreach and resources
  4. Mental illness
  5. Lack of resource funding for community programs


The Solution:

Collaboration and coordination were essential to addressing this issue, allowing the city to tackle the challenge from multiple fronts. Some of the key initiatives included:

  • The city of Long Beach took advantage of increased section 8 voucher availability through Los Angeles County and implemented a $6 million surge grant to assist in housing homeless veterans with families.
  • The Health and Human Services Department divided the city with the highest concentrations of homeless individuals into separate quadrants and devoted community liaisons to connect on a more personal level with the homeless population living there.
  • Long Beach used community volunteers to conduct its biennial homeless count. Volunteers were asked to attend nine orientation sessions to “provide technical data collection and engagement techniques during the survey process” to better equip them to report accurate results.
  • A number of programs were introduced to increase housing for homeless residents and veterans.
  • The Long Beach Police Department created a Quality of Life Team and the Long Beach Fire Department created the HEART Team in an effort to provide better emergency services to the homeless population.
  • The city partnered with FUSE Corps. to help consult on strategies and innovative techniques to address the issue of homelessness.


The Role of Community Psychology:

In order to effectively address a problem, it is important to understand the variety of factors that are contributing to it. You must analyze before you act.

Often, when the issue of homelessness arises the solution may appear simple: more housing. However, community psychology would advocate for taking the time to examine other factors at play so you can develop a more comprehensive solution.

For example, while the city of Long Beach did increase the number of permanent housing resources, it also addressed this community problem at an individual level. In addition to the new housing, it implemented a program to better train the volunteers who would be gathering the data about the homeless population. The city also trained specialized teams to interact with individuals on the ground who may be dealing with mental illness or were incapable of accessing the resources available to them for a variety of reasons.

Overall, Long Beach’s decline in its homeless population from 2015 – 2017 provides a good example of how the basic concepts of community psychology can be applied in the real world—from government agencies to NGOs, to volunteers on the street.


The Results:

While the overall homeless population in Los Angeles County continued to rise from 2015 to 2017, the homeless population in the city of Long Beach became an outlier.

The biennial homeless count conducted in 2017 found that the city’s homeless population had fallen by more than 21 percent (from 2,345 to 1,843) from the count in 2015. Additionally, in that two-year timespan, permanent housing resources in the city were increased by more than 180 percent (from 1,354 total units to 2,144 units).


If you are interested in learning more about community psychology, read our informational guide to community psychology. Pacific Oaks also offers community psychology degree programs for those seeking an even greater understanding of the field and how it can apply to a career. Fill out the form below to request more information or visit our community psychology program page.


Categories: Blog

For questions or comments on our news stories or releases, or if you are a reporter who would like to speak with an expert in education, human development, or marriage and family therapy, please contact Johanna Atienza at [email protected] or 626.529.8092.