Homeless Relief Agency Stressed

Sunset Boulevard is about as well known for the glitz and glamor of the Strip as it is for the homeless population that wanders stretches of the boulevard through Hollywood and East Hollywood.

Homeless service agencies abound to help down-and-out men and women get back to the basics of housing, education and work. But that mission is proving hard for one agency with a name that implores clients to defy the odds during this difficult time in American history.

Hope Again, unlike many organizations, is not in financial ruins. It is a faith-based agency, funded mainly by churches and their members. Plus, Hope Again's budget is shoestring to begin with, so there isn't much to trim. As a result, it hasn't endured the brutal cuts that many government-funded agencies have. But Hope Again relies on some of those government-funded agencies to do the work it does, and that is making it harder for the agency to achieve its mission: to provide a hand up over a handout.

"A lot of the government assistance that was available to get [clients] into apartments has just dried up," said Ross Lokken, Hope Again's executive director.

Helping clients transition into housing is one of the primary services Hope Again offers. "We see people who want to get housing...They're ready for it. They have proven they can even afford some level of it. And there's nothing out there. That's where we see our people getting stuck, and that's a biggie," Lokken said.

Section 8 housing, a federally funded program to help low-income families afford private rentals, has suspended the issuance of new rental vouchers. "Our wait list is currently closed, with about 10,000 individuals on that list," Annie Kim, with the Los Angeles Housing Authority's media relations, wrote in an email. "At this point, HUD is not issuing any new vouchers for this particular program. Therefore, vouchers become available through turnover, which does not happen often."

Lokken said the inability to get Hope Again's clients onto the Section 8 waiting list undermines his agency's mission. "It is very difficult to give clients hope when we don't even know how long that list may go on, or how long it may be before we can even give them any assurance that there's anything out there," he said.

Hope Again has also found it more difficult lately to satisfy another of its basic services, getting clients back to school. Community colleges and adult schools around Los Angeles have been shrinking and closing their doors more often. "That has an impact," Lokken said. "It impacts the length of time [clients] need to stay here. Because they need to ride that out till the next session opens."

Patrick Levis, a case manager with Hope Again, said he faces "red lights" in the area of private assistance, too. He said LensCrafters used to offer free eye exams for those in need. "The waiting list literally went from 3 months, out to 7 months, to completely shutting down appointment taking."

The agency's biggest challenge is battling the addictive personalities of many of its clients. And the delays in getting people back into homes and school make for too much idle time. "If Hope Again's clients have too much of that time and aren't busy doing something," Lokken said, "they're more inclined to get back into their old habits. It becomes a downward spiral."

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