As the seats began to fill, voices bounced and echoed throughout the room. There was no event emcee. There was no introduction. Everyone who attended got down to business instantaneously. The topic of conversation: homelessness in Long Beach.
During a community event Dec. 4, Marcelle Epley, president and CEO of the nonprofit Long Beach Community Foundation (LBCF), stood by the door of the Petroleum Club’s dining hall and encouraged residents to find a seat at any of the multiple round-shaped tables located around the room.
Homelessness and housing are two social and economic issues that some at the second Around the Table: Activating the Community Around Homelessness event said were the biggest challenges citizens and municipalities face today.
Epley told the Signal Tribune during the event that last year’s Around the Table conversation was a huge success.
During September last year, the first rounds of Around the Table events hosted over 3,000 residents at areas scattered throughout the city, from police stations and restaurants to people’s homes and boats out on marinas.
The conversation then focused on what residents liked about Long Beach and what the City could do better. What LBCF discovered was that residents were mostly concerned with the city’s transient population.
“One of the most pressing issues that was raised, across the board, was homelessness and housing,” Epley said. “So much so, that the [LBCF] took it upon themselves to focus on homelessness and housing. That’s where we’ll put our major resources.”
This year, the LBCF decided to specifically host Around the Table events to educate and inform residents what they can do to help.
Epley said that nonprofit groups that specialize in homelessness concluded that there are three main ways residents can help:
- Donate money to the LBCF Homeless Fund in person or through AroundTheTableLB.com
- Volunteer with agencies that feed and shelter homeless individuals
- Donate items via LBCF’s Amazon Smile link or the Multi-Service Center for the Homeless in Long Beach
“Knowing that most people are on Amazon these days, we set up an Amazon Smile list where people can easily go online and purchase a pair of socks or toothbrushes,” Epley said. “And they go directly to the City’s Multi-Service Center where they will be distributed to people impacted by homelessness.”
During the event, nonprofit executives facilitated each table’s conversation. A list with talking points, including veterans, mental health and trauma, was provided to the groups, but attendees were encouraged to have their conversations flow in various directions.
At one table, residents spoke with Julie Lie, exeucitve director of the Urban Community LB nonprofit group. They talked about housing issues the homeless faced. A member seated at Lie’s table asked for incentives that would encourage landlords to accept renting to homeless. The concern is that they don’t have the resources to pay rent.
At a different roundtable, a group of men spoke with the Century Villages at Cabrillo nonprofit president Brian D’Andrea. They discussed trauma and its effect on homeless individuals. A resident seated at the table was concerned that the applications transients had to fill out in order to receive help from an agency could oftentimes be too confusing and scare them away.
D’Andrea shared the Villages at Cabrillo Social Impact Report that states income growth and housing stability are two main ways the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development measured a program’s success.
In the document, it states that $22 million were spent on local residential housing and services throughout Fiscal Year 2017.
The topic of counting the homeless population was discussed at a third table– facilitated with the help of Dixie Dohrmann, who represented the Christian Outreach in Action organization (COA).
The COA will participate in a homeless count in January next year, and Around the Table event attendees were invited to volunteer for the count.
While the Around the Table event was taking place at the Petroleum Club, 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price also motioned to bring an agenda item to the Long Beach City Council at its Dec. 4 meeting that requested an audit of Long Beach beds for homeless and services that provide rehab, medical detox and sobriety.
In addition, Price is requesting a feasibility report of the City establishing incentives for operators to establish new beds in Long Beach.
Price’s Chief of Staff Jack Cunningham wrote in a Nov. 30 press release that the councilmember is requesting the City to research exactly how many beds are in Long Beach, since addiction continues to be a major issue for those suffering from homelessness.
“It’s going to take members of the community– the business community– to rise up and find ways that they can help people who are impacted by homelessness,” Epley told the Signal Tribune during the event. “Additionally, the mayor’s task force has been working in the past year to come up with policies to make change that will make our situation better.”
The third iteration of the Around the Table event is slated to take place Dec. 9 at the Assistance League.
Epley said that shortly after the Dec. 9 event is conducted, the LBCF will be looking at the surveys residents filled out. The group plans to conduct a broad campaign to communicate how the public can help. The organization will also work with the City and the Health and Human Services Department during the campaign.
“One thing we’ve heard from the residents so far is that this event has helped them tremendously understand why people are homeless,” Epley said. “The most powerful resource in a community is its people. As we gather at [Around the Table events] this week, the power of community is taking place and will have a large impact on forming solutions to make the issue of homelessness better.”
For more information, residents can visit AroundtheTableLB.com.