For the newly homeless, some help with the rent

Javier Jimenez, 45, got his family into a 2-bedroom apartment in Hyde Park with the help of rental assistance known as rapid re-housing.
Javier Jimenez, 45, got his family into a 2-bedroom apartment in Hyde Park with the help of rental assistance known as rapid re-housing.
Josie Huang/KPCC

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Javier Jimenez looked proudly around his living room in L.A.'s Hyde Park, a needed haven after a few very rocky months.

In the fall, the divorced hospital worker took in his three stepchildren, so they could escape an abusive living situation with his ex-wife. But there was nowhere to call home. One night they slept in his car. Other nights they couch-surfed.

"There were times when I was crying, going like, ‘God? Help me out here," Jimenez, 45, said.

Help came in the form of rental assistance. Through a homeless service provider, Jimenez got so-called "rapid re-housing," an increasingly popular tool to fight homelessness. The idea is to help people like him with the rent for a few months so they can avoid a long spell on the streets. It's viewed as so effective that local authorities are making rapid re-housing one of their first big investments in their quest to stamp out homelessness.

In Los Angeles, city officials allocated about $10 million dollars late last year for short-term rental assistance. And as part of a wide-ranging plan the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday to reduce homelessness, $26 million in new funds are going to rapid re-housing, in addition to $10 million officials set aside last year.

"These short-term rental subsidies are appropriate for people who are homeless but have a very good chance of getting to the point of paying for their own housing," said Phil Ansell, the county administrator who helped develop the board's homeless initiatives.

County officials say they want to help bolster cities' rapid re-housing funds. The money would be distributed to homeless service providers who then divvy it up among qualifying renters.

In Jimenez's case, he called 2-1-1 for help and got connected to St. Joseph Center in Venice. With funding from the county and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the agency has paid several months of rent for hundreds of families, said Va Lecia Adams Kellum, St. Joseph's executive director. 

Kellum said a life crisis like a divorce or job loss can take away a person's ability to pay for housing. It's critical, she said, to find homes for newly homeless people right away.

"If we can get them off the street quickly then there's a decreased chance that they end up staying on the street and becoming chronically homeless," Kellum said. She said longer exposure to the streets erodes people's health and mental well-being.

Jimenez kept the three kids — two girls, 17 and 15, and a boy, 10 — in school while they stayed at a motel in Santa Monica, paid for by St. Joseph. Then he found a two-bedroom for $1,300 a month in L.A.’s Hyde Park. The children sleep in the bedroom, while he takes the mattress in the living room.

"Got a door, roof," Jimenez said, with a smile. "It’s good."

He's gotten rental help for five months. If all goes according to plan, Jimenez will start paying the rent on his own next month.