A homeless man sits on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard in Venice Thursday afternoon. St. Joseph Center on Thursday unveiled a new project aimed at securing housing and supportive services for 40 of the most vulnerable homeless people. (photo by Brandon Wise)

VENICE — Somewhere on the streets lives a 59-year-old man who once served his country in the armed forces, today fighting a different kind of enemy — cancer, hepatitis C and kidney and liver diseases.

Out of all the homeless individuals living in Venice, he’s considered to be the most at risk of dying.

He is just one of 98 chronically homeless men and women recently identified by St. Joseph Center and New York-based Common Ground as being the most medically vulnerable, needing both shelter and social services to have a chance at surviving.

St. Joseph Center on Thursday unveiled a new project aimed at securing housing and supportive services for 40 of the individuals over the next two years, using approximately $724,000 in funds from L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s office, The Venice Chronic Homeless Intervention Project follows in the footsteps of the supervisor’s Project 50, aimed at finding housing for the most vulnerable in Skid Row, and a similar initiative in Santa Monica to take the top 10 most at-risk homeless individuals off the streets.

The county’s project has been replicated in more than a dozen cities across the county.

Volunteers went out in the early morning hours and interviewed 222 homeless people over three consecutive days in May, taking their pictures and noting their general demographics, employment history, institutional abuse and health risk factors. Those who completed the interview were given a coupon to McDonald’s.

“Once you’re out there and you see the people and look in their face, you just can’t turn around,” Va Lecia Adams, the executive director of St. Joseph Center, said.

The surveyed homeless were evaluated on a vulnerability index consisting of several indicators, looking at whether they are over the age of 60, have HIV/AIDS, suffer from cirrhosis, and end stage renal disease. The index also takes into account the number of visits they have made to the emergency room and whether they are tri-morbid, meaning they have a mental illness, a history of substance abuse and other medical problems.

Respondents on average said they have been homeless for about 5.8 years, while the most vulnerable have been without shelter for 8.8 years. The longest reported length of homelessness was 36 years.

About 87 percent of respondents reported being a victim of a violent attack since becoming homeless.

The goal for the project is to house 25 of the most vulnerable in the next year, placing another 15 by the end of year two, tapping into Section 8 vouchers and reaching out to landlords on the Westside. A team consisting of a licensed therapist, mental health case manager, and social worker will go out and work with these individuals, Adams said. The team is in the process of identifying the 40 who will receive housing first.

Several of the surveyed have been housed, including a youth who received services at St. Joseph Center and has safely returned home to his family in Michigan. Another longer-term chronically homeless individual was placed in a facility in Los Angeles.

The program has been successful in other cities, including in Santa Monica where about 37 of the most vulnerable have been housed. About 56 people on Skid Row and 457 in Washington D.C. have also received housing and supportive services.

Julie Rusk, the human services manager for City Hall, said that the Venice survey provides an extra set of data for Santa Monica city officials to use. She added that contrary to a common perception, there is very little overlap between the homeless population in Venice and Santa Monica.

Yaroslavsky said that while the project isn’t inexpensive, it’s much cheaper for taxpayers than the alternative.

“Jail and emergency rooms cost a lot more than an apartment,” he said.

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