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Project 50 Backers Present First Year Results, Target Expansion

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, February 05, 2009, at 11:45AM
Former King's Market Space Eric Richardson [Flickr]

The April conversion of this former market space at 5th and Main into a Project 50 medical facility was an unpopular move with neighboring stakeholders.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky assembled representatives from two dozen organizations yesterday to celebrate the first year of Project 50, a County-led effort to connect the county's fifty most vulnerable homeless individuals with housing and services. Among the program's successes? It may just pay for itself.

The status report was good enough for Yaroslavsky to say that it's time for expansion. "I want to make a commitment now to take this to 500," he told the crowd.

The program was launched in October of 2007, and placed its first resident in housing just over a year ago. It just placed its 50th individual in housing this week. Run by New York-based non-profit Common Ground, one of Project 50's most impressive achievements was that of bringing together two dozen agencies and service providers to expedite housing and services.

Yesterday's presentation made the case that the program operated at little to no cost for the county. Becky Kanis of Common Ground presented data showing that cost of jail and hospital visits for the fifty had totaled $756,000 in the year before they were housed. That accounted for 754 jail nights, 205 days of inpatient hospitalization and 133 emergency room visits. All of those numbers are down drastically since the participants were housed and given access to convenient medical care and counseling. Organizers believe that the reduced cost for hospital and jail visits is equivalent to the amount spent to run the program.

While applauding the program's successes, concerns linger over Project 50's interactions with Downtown. The location of a project medical center in corner retail space at 5th and Main struck a sour cord with nearby stakeholders.

In a letter delivered to Yaroslavsky yesterday, developer Tom Gilmore reminded the project of its promises to improve the look of the office, saying that it "continues to be an eyesore after an entire year of community meetings and subsequent promises of mitigation." He urged the project to ensure that any expansion locates services and housing throughout the county in order to keep from perpetuating skid row concentration.

Kanis also asked for more housing options, saying that several of the program participants had asked for housing outside of skid row. Currently all housing for the project is provided by Skid Row Housing Trust.

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