Following the initial groundbreaking earlier this year, the new Civic Center will take on additional construction sections come October, when a fence will arise across the boundary of Lincoln Park. The importance of addressing the population that calls Lincoln Park home becomes paramount, which is precisely why the City of Long Beach has asked the Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA) and partners Mental Health America of Los Angeles and Urban Community Outreach (UCO) to take the lead to offer outreach efforts at the park to work directly with its denizens.

Since March, the collective has been hosting outreach meetings at Lincoln Park in order to connect those experiencing homelessness and/or mental health issues with resources—and given the sensitivity of the subject, the need for partnership and collaboration become essential. Thus far, four separate 2-hour outreach sessions in Lincoln Park have proved fruitful: 65 contacts have been made by this Civic Center Committee’s collaborative partners. During these contacts, those approached are provided all the information they need in order to connect with services, including travel if need be.

This is in addition to the weekly outreach efforts that have been occurring in the park, where an average of 25 contacts are made.

Even more, our homeless population holds many who don’t even call Long Beach home. These folks are simply trying to get home or find a connection—and in the case of the efforts of UCO, 12 people have been given complimentary travel in order to reconnect with lost family and, just as importantly, get a roof over their head.

“Homelessness isn’t always a permanent state for those experiencing it,” said Arlene Mercer, Executive Director of UCO. “In these cases, the people we were dealing with were passing through and actually trying to get to places beyond here…We assisted not just with travel but with reuniting them with their family. Sometimes, we take for granted our connection to our family…For some, it’s been lost and they need a helping hand to figure out how best to reconnect with their family and friend support system again.”

UCO’s Ariene Mercer [left] with the DLBA’s Homeless Outreach Specialist Antoinette Hamilton [right] at last month’s outreach event at Lincoln Park. Photo by Steve Be Cotte.

UCO’s efforts don’t stop there. This past weekend, four families were given motel vouchers while other families that needed assistance with a utility deposit, food and gas funds were assisted.

“We even had a man who has just had a hip replacement get brought into a motel too because his apartment has 31 steps and no elevator,” Mercer said. “Memorial Hospital is helping by sending out their nurses and physical therapists and my chef is bring him food every day. This is the perfect example of great community effort.”

The DLBA’s long-held advocacy at the local and state level for better living, especially for those experiencing homelessness, has resulted in a the organization becoming a go-to leader, particularly following the DLBA’s investment in a Homeless Outreach Specialist. It marked a particular turning point for how it addresses this issue: putting a day-to-day person dealing with those experiencing homelessness face-to-face.

This not only results in better relationships with those who call Lincoln Park their home but in better relationships with other organizations. The efforts in reconnecting these individuals has led to the Long Beach Police Department having the ability to clean up a few places that have ultimately become downtrodden campsites. While these spaces act as temporary shelter, they can also be unsanitary and unhealthy for its inhabitants on top of being a nuisance for neighbors.

“Someone might say, ‘You’re tearing down a home,’ when, in fact, the main goal is to get them into an actual home,” said Teresa Chandler, Homeless Services Officer for the Long Beach Department of Health & Human Services. “When officers approach the camps, they are always accompanied with social service workers that ask the people living in these spaces if they are willing to accept assistance. The dangers imposed on an already vulnerable population when they begin camping in places that aren’t properly equipped are dire. The first and foremost part of our mission is to connect them with services; it’s about being proactive and responsive.”

Proactive and responsive are also the ideals Mayor Robert Garcia is espousing following the announcement that he and the City Council will be hosting a Special Study Session on homelessness, to be held on October 4 in the council chambers at City Hall beginning at 5PM.

In addition the DLBA’s continued efforts at communicating news and updates about the matter as a whole, these outreach efforts will continue up to and past the time fences surround Lincoln Park in the coming weeks due to the development of the new Civic Center.