A new housing model aims to put a permanent roof over a vulnerable population

The Star Apartments would not look out of place if they were nestled between Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Broad. Each of the 102 well designed modern units was built off site and shipped to Los Angeles for assembly. However, it’s not a hip building for young urban professionals. The apartments were built specifically for the homeless. It’s an experiment.

This is an example of permanent, supportive housing. Each resident is provided with access to a primary care physician, medication and mental health or addiction treatment as needed. County leaders and homeless advocates believe the permanent supportive housing model is the best way to get people off the streets and into homes for good.

Mosaics made by residents at the Star Apartments hang in one of the art rooms on the second floor of the building. (Photo: David Weinberg)

Voters in LA seem to agree. Passed by voters, Measures H and HHH will provide more than of $10 billion over the next 10 years. Much of that money will be spent building new housing specifically for the homeless.

The Star Apartments opened in 2013. Residents were chosen because they spent a lot of time in the ER and in hospitals, often using them as primary care.

The goal was to provide permanent supportive housing for the sickest people living on the streets in the belief that it would be cheaper to subsidize housing and health care for these people than what was being spent on their hospital visits.

Benches scattered throughout the building offer views of a rapidly changing downtown. (Photo: David Weinberg)

The Star Apartments are part of a larger program called Housing for Health. Since launching, it has housed 3,000 homeless people with a retention rate of 97 percent. “So it’s proven to be very successful,” said Skid Rown Housing Trust CEO Mike Alvidrez. “I think that that program has become the template for one of the major strategies under measure H.”

“You have to look at the positive,” said Richy Myers who worked in the Star Apartments when it opened. “We were able to bring these people in off the streets and give them their own home and they were able to pass with dignity and they weren’t just out on the sidewalk in a tent or in a hospital bed where they just felt like they were essentially rotting away in an institution.”

Skid Row Housing Trust CEO Mike Alvidrez is very excited about this pineapple growing in the rooftop garden of the Star Apartments. (Photo: David Weinberg)

One of the goals of the Housing for Health program said Skid Row Housing Trust CEO Mike Alvidrez, “was to get these folks into supportive housing in the belief that that would dramatically improve their health outcomes, which it has proven to be the case and also end their homelessness.”

Lupe Erickson was one of the original residents when the building first opened. She’s HIV positive and in the four years prior to living in the Star Apartments, she visited the ER 29 times. But today she’s in generally good health. But adjusting to apartment life after being homeless for seven years wasn’t easy. She had a lot of trouble sleeping. She said was used to being surrounded by people all the time, “and then when you get into an apartment you are all by yourself. But that’s not the way it stays.”

Slowly, she got to know her neighbors. Got used to the quiet and a soft bed. She still lives at the Star Apartments in a third floor, studio apartment with lots of potted plants outside her front door. She has a small bedroom with a window overlooking sixth street and despite the occasional noise from the street she loves it. “This is the way a person is supposed to live. It’s a tremendous blessing to live here.”

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