Homeless Street Outreach Program
Justin Hess, ICMA-CM, City Manager
Like many cities in California, Burbank has experienced an increase in homelessness, exacerbated by the state’s housing crisis and economic downturn. From 2016 to 2020, the number of homeless in the city rose from 151 to 291. Over the past two years, Burbank’s city council has established housing and homelessness as top council priorities, enabling staff to create a collaborative and unique local approach to address the issue.
To help ease the crisis, Burbank developed a comprehensive Homeless Street Outreach Program that involves city staff, local nonprofits, Los Angeles County agencies, contracted services, the Burbank Police Department’s Mental Health Evaluation Team (MHET), and the city’s public information officer (PIO). This cooperative approach resulted in a robust outreach program that has been successful in proactively seeking out and assisting the most vulnerable individuals in the community. Burbank’s Homeless Street Outreach Program is funded by the city, local businesses, Los Angeles County agencies, and partner resources. A multi-departmental committee meets monthly to address issues related to homeless encampments, and staff from outward-facing departments routinely document and monitor resident complaints and interactions with homeless individuals.
Through its partnership with the Downtown Burbank Property Based Business Improvement District (PBID), the city expanded its street outreach using the services of StreetPlus, which deploys a team of trained professionals in the downtown, provides citywide social services outreach, and monitors the Downtown Burbank Metrolink station. StreetPlus has been instrumental in making referrals to community organizations and securing housing, clothing, medical assistance, and family reunifications, along with assisting individuals in obtaining critical identity documents. Family Promise of the Verdugos, a nonprofit, is another partner that works with homeless families, often single mothers with children who may be fleeing domestic abuse. The Burbank MHET, funded by the police department in conjunction with the county Department of Mental Health, proactively identifies and assists homeless individuals suffering mental illness.
Burbank’s Homeless Street Outreach Program has numerous success stories. It helped 110 individuals from April 2019 through July 2021 procure shelter, food, clothing, and medicine and reunite with family members. The MHET team, which provides crisis support, ongoing case management, and training for others working with the homeless, has made 131 contacts and follow-ups with homeless individuals in 2021. A total of 189 contacts were made in 2020 alone. MHET links the individual to vital mental health and housing resources. The city’s community partnership with Family Promise helped 387 families obtain shelter and housing in the last twelve months. Not a single family has relapsed into homelessness.
Coordination and effective communication are central to the program. From the internal tracking of encampments to the documentation of interactions and resources offered, constant communication and innovation from city staff and partners have been key to reducing Burbank’s homeless numbers. As homelessness is dynamic, the framework of the program allows the flexibility to adapt the tactics, tools, and approach as needed. For example, the city was scheduled to complete a storage facility and access center in August 2021 where homeless individuals can temporarily leave their belongings and talk to Salvation Army staff, allowing for direct access to services while they are there.
Concerning outreach and community awareness, the city’s PIO collaborated with the Community Development Department to provide awareness and share success stories using social media and created an informational video on the city’s response to homelessness (https://bit.ly/3rpMQic). Burbank’s Homeless Street Outreach Program alone will not resolve the ongoing, systemic issue of homelessness. However, as a significant part of the city’s overall Homelessness Plan, Burbank’s street outreach is making great strides in mitigating this pervasive challenge, one individual at a time.