Craig Greiwe / Rise Together

Craig Greiwe, a co-founder of the nonprofit Rise Together, speaks to promote the grassroots organization’s plan to build a better Los Angeles.

Craig Greiwe, the co-founder of the grassroots nonprofit Rise Together, spoke at a small promotional concert with WithOthers, a group focused on promoting social causes through entertainment events, in the Arts District on Sept. 30.

The event was meant to bring attention to Rise Together’s mission of ending homelessness. 

But ending homelessness through its “Functional Zero Homelessness Plan by 2024” is not the only concern the nonprofit seeks to address to its existing and potential members. 

Greiwe, commenting on the key takeaway for the night, said, “91% of Angelenos agree that homelessness, housing affordability and crime are top three priorities that everyday Angelenos need addressed.” 

The issue of seemingly perpetual homelessness remains on the minds of Angelenos, both housed and unhoused, and a solution that will ultimately end the crisis has yet to be initiated.

According to the Rise Together website, the first step in bettering Los Angeles is to address the issue that “the vast majority of Angelenos don’t believe that change is even possible” and that what’s missing is “real democracy,” which consists of an organized public body who engage in transparent discourse on facts and come to a collective solution. 

Rise Together’s founders consist of a group of friends around Los Angeles who were “incredibly frustrated with what they saw (in the city) and wanted to find a way to empower everyday Angelenos to bring real change,” Greiwe said. 

Addressing the most concerning problems in Los Angeles, homelessness remains the most urgent for Rise Together. “Everyone agrees that the homeless humanitarian crisis on our streets is the No. 1 thing affecting our city,” Greiwe said. 

“(Rise Together’s) roadmap to functional zero homelessness is a real solution. We keep talking about homelessness as a crisis, every mayoral candidate keeps declaring homelessness a crisis, but they have no plan. 

“For the last 10 years, we keep seeing the problem spiral out of control no matter how much money the city and its failing leadership have spent. The reality is that they are not following a plan; they are just putting a Band-Aid on the problem, and they’re not interested in solving it,” he said.

Rise Together’s proposal is, if presented objectively, quite fast in its goal. Its “functional zero homelessness” plan, which is a product of several months of research and talks with homeless individuals and the people who serve them, anticipates zero homelessness by 2024, if all goes according to plan. 

So, what does Rise Together plan on doing about the homelessness crisis?

Essentially, after a settlement is resolved between LA Alliance for Human Rights and the city of Los Angeles, which ensued on March 2020 and summarily claims that the city and county of LA have been negligent in their efforts to end the homelessness crisis, Rise Together hopes to “use Alliance settlement for  the mayor to declare a citywide crisis and state of emergency, with a joint court-appointed and city-endorsed homelessness czar empowered to cut through red tape, with hiring and firing authority,” according to Rise Together’s roadmap for functional zero homelessness. 

After leadership is established, Rise Together hopes to “Know the Problem” by accumulating data through a four-week program that will document all homeless individuals, their identity, their whereabouts and an evaluation that will classify their needs, ranging from “low risk” to “highest risk.”

From there, accountability and cooperation from nonprofit organizations and permanent supportive housing programs will be expected, and disincentives for homeless people to stay on the streets should go in to effect, meaning public spaces and behavioral aspects, such as drug use, will be regulated. 

Within an eight-week period, support through immediate housing and services will be provided to homeless Angelenos. Within the section it’s mentioned that 20,000 shelter-based beds in semi-private rooms should become available, along with “come-and-go privileges with conditional benefits,” among other points. 

Rise Together’s target consists of five points, two of them being “50% of the homeless housed in nine months, 90% in 18 months,” and a 50% reduction of city expenditures on homelessness “over three years, from $8.35 billion to $3.964 billion,” according to Rise Together’s roadmap document. 

About the dramatic decrease in cost projected by Rise Together, Greiwe said, “The reality is not how much money LA spends on homelessness, but how we spend it. What’s unique about our functional zero homelessness program is that we spend money in the most cost-effective way.

“For example, the city of LA has spent wild amounts of money on permanent supportive housing. What most people need is transitional supportive housing to get back on their feet and back to a normal life and get help with mental health and addiction. What we’re doing is shifting the focus to meet the problem where it is, to meet the challenges and the needs of the people where they are and not what we envision them to be.”

In a previous LA Downtown News article, “Echo Park Lake reopening proves to be bittersweet,” Leonard “Phoenix” Averhart, an unhoused resident who resided in Echo Park lake, was displaced due to a city sweep of the park in March and commented on his experience with city housing programs. Averhart reported that during his time with the Project Roomkey program, a federally funded program in California meant to help house homeless individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, he had “no rights” and “no privacy.”

In response to unhoused Angelenos being wary of city housing programs, and potentially the Rise Together “functioning zero homelessness” plan, Greiwe said that in the process of putting its plan together, Rise Together conducted interviews with unhoused individuals and people who work with them to inform their agenda. 

“We learned a lot in that process, like why unhoused people are ‘service resistant.’ It’s not that they’re ‘service resistant’; it’s that they don’t trust what is being offered to them by the city of LA,” Greiwe said. 

“No one in their right mind would trust the city at this point, or anyone trying to help them. The reality is that you have to build that trust over time by being the proof in the pudding. You’ve got to show people what you’re providing to them, like quality housing and services, and you have to build trust step by step.”

Greiwe said nonprofits that work with homeless Angelenos are critical for building trust and should be relied on as a part of the solution to end homelessness, instead of being “sidelined” by the city.

As a part of Rise Together’s “prime mission and focus,” according to its website, the coalition wants Angelenos to believe that Los Angeles can be better and change for better, because with numbers and votes, change is possible. 

“(Homeless) people aren’t resistant to services; they’re just hesitant to believe,” Greiwe said. “We all want to believe that a solution to homelessness is possible, including the unhoused. … Once you start showing up and delivering what you promise, building trust comes a lot faster than anticipated.”

Goals for Rise Together begin with continuing to grow its membership. According to Greiwe, Rise Together’s members are more than 40,000 and the coalition’s hopes are for 200,000 members by the year’s end. 

Greiwe, as well as Rise Together as a whole, hopes to build strength in numbers to vote in candidates, who will enact their solutions in the 2022 municipal elections expected to take place on November 2022. 

“The idea is that you build a coalition that represents Los Angeles, people from every part of the city. For the first time, we’re bringing those voices together,” Greiwe said.