$1.1 million in funding for crime victim centers coming to Los Angeles

File: Democratic state Sen. Mark Leno.
File: Democratic state Sen. Mark Leno. The San Francisco Sentinel

The Victims Compensation Program (VCP) awarded two grants to groups in Los Angeles County Thursday to bring medical and mental health services to crime victims.

When someone's convicted of a crime in California, they're often sentenced to pay restitution on top of jail or prison time. That money generally goes to the VCP, which doles out payments to victims of crime. Last year, the VCP received 54,000 applications and paid out about $61 million in claims. 

But state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) says a lot of victims are missing out on services. Someone who's recently experienced severe trauma — for example, a wife who loses her husband to gun violence — might not be equipped to handle the system as it's set up, he says.

"The state expects her to be able to assess her and her children's mental, emotional and physical needs, identify the services she needs, have the money in her pocket to pay for it, collect her receipts and then submit them to the state for reimbursement," Leno said. For many,  "this does not happen."

A few years ago, the VCP started a collaboration with the San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California, San Francisco to deliver services in a new way: a trauma recovery center that houses a host of services and doesn't require much in the way of paperwork from its clients.

Leno says that center has been highly successful and has been looking for a way to expand the model for some time. This year, he sponsored legislation to fund more direct-services grants. 

On Thursday, the VCP voted to continue funding for the San Francisco center, as well as approve funding for two additional programs in South L.A. and Long Beach.

One such grant will go to an existing services agency. The other, a collaboration with California State University, Long Beach, will be part of St. Mary Medical Center/Dignity Health. 

The center will focus on "the poor, the uninsured, maybe some individuals affiliated with gangs," said Dr. Bita Ghafoori, who's organizing the project. "People who wouldn't ordinarily access these services."

That center is expected to open in April.

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