Urban Alchemy responds to LA’s homeless crisis, uses community-led engagement

LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Los Angeles is seeking answers to the homeless crisis. One organization the city is working with, Urban Alchemy, was founded to provide career opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. Many team members spent time in prison and surviving that was possible, in part, because of an ability to deescalate a situation. That “super power” is needed to work the streets of LA says Kirkpatrick Tyler, the Chief of Government-Community Affairs for Urban Alchemy. “When you can hone in and craft those skills that come from people’s life experience into what can be used to work with our homeless sisters and brothers… we’ve seen that it really has an impact.”

Entry level positions for Urban Alchemy, like the Clean Teams, have become a familiar site in downtown Los Angeles, Venice and Hollywood. And they were also hired to help clear out Echo Park last summer. Organizers believe those successes are possible because many were once homeless themselves and use that experience to make connections. Alejandro Sanchez, who is on the clean team, explains their approach. “You don’t just pick stuff up and throw it away. We try to make sure we’re not getting into anybody’s personal space. At the end of the day everybody has to have respect you know? So we don’t want to pick up anything that’s theirs,” says Sanchez.

In November of last year, the city awarded Urban Alchemy $2.6 million to lead a pilot program called CIRCLE, “Crisis and Incident Response through Community-Led Engagement.” The CIRCLE dispatch center can respond to 911 calls to LAPD that aren’t criminal in nature. Most of the calls involve people experiencing homelessness, in some cases drug use. The idea is that while police are trained to respond to active threats, life has trained CIRCLE team members. “It’s impossible to serve people that you’re afraid of and we have connected with folks on our teams who aren’t afraid to be in what we would consider hairy areas or hairy situations… oftentimes because they came from those places,” says Tyler.

People like Ronda Briggs, who was once homeless, hope to provide non-emergency help, homeless outreach and referrals to supportive services. “I haven’t had a dissatisfied customer yet,” says Briggs.

Each response includes a licensed mental health worker. Each call handled by CIRCLE, a call LAPD doesn’t need to answer, freeing officers up for other calls. But it’s the connection team members hope will reduce the number of lives lost to the streets. “We have to have housing. We have to have wrap around services but we also have to have a compassionate informed connected engagement mechanism and I believe that the work of CIRCLE is a part of that mechanism,” Tyler explains.

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