The social services center that works to find homes for Skid Row’s unhoused individuals just found a home for itself.
For employees of The People Concern, one of LA County’s largest social service providers, the literal streets were the only location where they could offer their services to people living in the streets.
Now with the newly opened Mollie Lowery and Frank Rice (C3) Center in Skid Row, The People Concern can provide homeless individuals with access to food, bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities and mental health services, on top of the resources they will continue to provide in the streets.
“We consider it a real privilege to do this work alongside the people that we’re serving, and I hope that the new Mollie Lowery and Frank Rice Center will be able to expand access to care and services and ultimately to housing for people on the streets of Skid Row,” said John Maceri, CEO of The People Concern, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit.
Around 20% of their employees have lived the experience. They’ve recovered from situations of homelessness, domestic abuse, mental illness, substance addiction or a combination of those things, Maceri said.
The People Concern’s mission is to empower vulnerable individuals to rebuild their lives by providing “evidence-based” solutions to victims of homelessness and domestic violence.
The new facility allows employees to bring in the people they are working with off the streets where they can meet privately, something they haven’t been able to do before, Maceri said. The facility’s construction was funded and contracted through the Department of Health Services’ Housing for Health Division and The People Concern.
None of this comes without the barriers of COVID-19.
“During the pandemic, our ability to serve as many people at one time has to be spread over a longer distance of time,” Maceri said. “That’s been a little bit of a challenge.”
Employees’ schedules are staggered where fewer people are able to work together at any given time, he explained. With a big enough space, it has been easier to socially distance between staff and the clients they are serving, he said.
Group recreational activities have also been impacted by the coronavirus, hindering the facility from creating the lively, activated environment they imagine will soon become a reality.
“We hope that we will be able to have people together again and actually to be able to provide more services to more people,” he said.
Even without COVID-19, another challenge is the intensity of this kind of work, Maceri explained.
“Working on the streets, particularly in Skid Row, is really stressful,” he said. “These are staff (members) that are incredibly committed to the work and feel really passionate about serving these populations, but it’s challenging when you’re working on the street.”
The biggest misconception about Skid Row is that many people see it and think these individuals don’t want housing or help, he said. Each day The People Concern’s facility serves around 240 individuals in addition to the services rendered to people on the street. Nearly 2,000 others are in permanent supportive housing and 350 are in interim living situations. Over the course of a year, The People Concern helps 6,000 different people across the agencies, Maceri said.
Maceri’s mission started in the 1980s when he worked in a nonprofit AIDS service organization at the beginning of the epidemic, he said, expressing how that experience changed his life. From that point forward, he said he felt a calling to work with poor, disenfranchised people “who are on the margins of our society.”
Twelve years later he came to work for what was once the Ocean Park Community Center, which later merged with Lamp Community, another homeless and mental health-focused community organization. This merger created what is now The People Concern.
“In my 21 years here at the agency I’ve seen people at the lowest part of their life and I’ve seen them overcome tremendous trauma and many barriers in their lives,” he said, adding that it’s a great privilege to see people go on to be happy, healthy and self-sufficient.
The People Concern’s ultimate goal is for people to be housed with no risk of domestic violence, Maceri said, adding that the organization wants everyone to have access to resources that will help with substance addiction as well as chronic and mental health issues. The goal is for everyone on Skid Row to live stable, productive lives.
“That’s ultimately what we want, is for people to be their best selves."