Can LA's Approach to Homelessness Become a National Model? Hilton Hopes So

With two recent grants to Pathways to Housing and LA Family Housing, the Hilton Foundation is continuing its efforts to end homelessness in Los Angeles. Those efforts go back over 20 years, and the foundation has funded a range of approaches to this problem over time. Hilton hasn't just been a funder in this space. It's been a convener of different stakeholders. Currently, the foundation is well into a five-year Chronic Homelessness Strategic Initiative.

While some of the new money is set aside for vouchers to pay for housing for the homeless themselves, much of this cash will fund “coordinated entry”—a one-stop-shopping way to evaluate homeless people and connect them with the right programs to address their situations. The Hilton Foundation is high on this idea, along with a lot of other national and local players in homelessness policy.

In LA County, a range of organizations have embraced this approach lately, and Hilton money is helping bring such efforts to scale. The latest money going to LA Family Housing, for example, is supporting implementation of a coordinated entry system in the San Fernando Valley. 

This new process seeks to ensure that those most vulnerable—those with medical or mental health conditions—get a fair shake when it comes to applying for the new housing options. It also aims to ensure that health issues are tracked for status changes when needed, and that residents are linked with physical, mental, and substance abuse health services.

Housing is often the key to keeping homeless people from chewing up emergency room visits and hospital stays. A recent study of hospital use in Los Angeles County by homeless patients found a 85 percent reduction in inpatient days for those who were housed.  

This kind of money saving is one of the reasons the Hilton Foundation is investing big in addressing homelessness in LA: Reduce this problem, and resources will be freed up for other needs. Homelessness is not always seen as a strategic leverage point for philanthropic dollars. Hilton believes it is. 

Hilton also sees possibilities here well beyond Los Angeles, hoping that the county's approach can be a blueprint for others across the country. And while the jury is still out, those involved in this work are closely assessing the data and measuring the cost savings to public systems like hospitals and emergency rooms. They hope the findings from this work will provide valuable lessons to similar public-private partnerships aimed at ending homelessness across the country.

In fact, Hilton's keen interest in learning lessons from its recent work explains another grant it recently made—for $700,000 to Abt Associates, to evaluate the foundation's homelessness initiative over the next two years.