LOS ANGELES — Angelenos who dial 911 for situations involving the homeless may have their calls diverted to a new type of response system. Called CIRCLE, for Crisis and Incident Response through Community-Led Engagement, the program is designed to help law enforcement focus on crime suppression and prevention by diverting non-emergency calls related to homelessness.
“Sending somebody with a badge can sometimes be helpful, but it’s not the solution to homelessness,” LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday. “We are never going to arrest our way out of this crisis. What we really want are deep experts who can most quickly get people off the streets.”
Every year, the Los Angeles Police Department receives 140,000 calls related to homelessness — roughly one call every four minutes, he said. Instead, CIRCLE will send trained, unarmed individuals to “engage, assess, de-escalate and provide support for that individual,” said LA Deputy Mayor of City Homelessness Initiatives Che Ramirez.
There are currently two teams of three CIRCLE staff available around the clock to respond to 911 calls related to homelessness.
Among the types of 911 calls that will be diverted to CIRCLE are complaints about homeless individuals who may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or who are wandering the streets without clothes, causing noise or loitering. A pilot program, CIRCLE will operate through June 30, 2022.
CIRCLE has already been quietly operating in Hollywood and Venice since the summer, sending trained, unarmed individuals to work with unhoused Angelenos. Those teams have so far been focused on COVID response, but starting in December, they will begin de-escalating crises and referring homeless individuals to services for addiction or mental health counseling and housing.
Much of the work is conducted by an organization called Urban Alchemy, which hires people who have been unhoused to “use their lived experiences to engage with people who are living in the experience — to reach out, to be patient, to listen and to connect them with resources,” said Urban Alchemy Founder and Chief Executive Lena Miller.
“We elevate the experiences of people who have gone through a lot of trauma and come out the other end and marry it with the science of psychology and resilience,” Miller added.
According to the last homeless count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in 2020, more than 66,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the county; 41,000 of them lived in the city of Los Angeles.
“I just can not state enough how important this program is,” said LA City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, whose council district includes Hollywood.
“One thing I hear all the time is, ‘Can we create jobs for people experiencing homelessness?’ Opportunity is everything,” he said, adding that CIRCLE doesn’t only help the unhoused with services but is a jobs program for people experiencing homelessness.
“This is a big deal for LA,” said LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin, whose council district includes Venice, where CIRCLE has already been doing outreach for several weeks. “It’s going to be a lot of work to get this done right, but LA is on the forefront of doing things differently and doing it right because we have no choice but to address this crisis and do it differently and humanely.”
This week, the LA City Council will take up two motions related to homelessness. One will update the city’s relationship with the county as it relates to health services. The other seeks to restate the policy agenda for the 2022 state budget so LA can receive homelessness services funding commensurate with the need.