According to the 2018 Snapshot of Homelessness in Los Angeles County report, the number of homeless people living in the county nearly doubled between 2010 and 2017, to 53,000 people. The need to properly assess and address the growing displacement of people in Los Angeles has created new initiatives in the city and the county.
CSUN alumna Christina Miller M.S. ’12 (Marriage and Family Therapy – School Counseling), L.A. deputy mayor of homelessness initiatives, spoke about those issues and the new initiatives to combat them, during a panel discussion April 19 at the University Student Union.
“The fact that homelessness has become normalized is not acceptable,” Miller said. “We need fearless leaders, we need people who are passionate and dedicated to this issue.”
Miller was joined by Molly Rysman, L.A. County housing and homelessness deputy, and emcee Wendy Greuel, executive-in-residence for CSUN’s David Nazarian College of Business and Economics, and former city controller and city council member for L.A.
Greuel posed questions to the panel about the homeless population, what is being done to combat displacement and the future of homelessness throughout the county. At the end of the discussion, the panelists answered questions from the audience.
The dramatic increase in the homeless population in recent years is linked to the cost of housing, Rysman said.
“What really changed is that rent had been escalating so fast in those years leading up to 2015 that so many people were being priced out of the market,” she said.
That factor persists. In fact, 70 percent of people who are homeless, self report the primary reason is due to economic drivers, according to Miller. Many people in the greater L.A. community also harbor misconceptions about what it means to be homeless.
“[Misconceptions] start to kind of slant our view on the people who are experiencing homelessness,” Miller said. “Who we are missing is the mom in the alley in her car with her two kids, working full time, trying to figure out where she’s going to park the next night.”
Miller works closely with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on the city’s response to homelessness. City programs such as Proposition HHH have united the county and city to address the issue. Proposition HHH was passed in 2016 by the city of Los Angeles.
“It’s different than it has been in the past,” Miller said, “Triple H is the $1.2 billion bond measure that aims to create 10,000 units of supportive housing over the next 10 years here in the city of Los Angeles.”
Proposition HHH is just one slice of the pie that Miller oversees as deputy mayor — a post to which she was appointed in Dec. 2018. Miller said she didn’t plan to go into city government, but knew she wanted to help people in some way.
Miller moved from Maryland to the San Fernando Valley when she was 18, to pursue a career as a therapist. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, Channel Islands and earned her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy with an emphasis in school counseling from CSUN in 2012. Miller noted a sense of belonging at CSUN, even when she was thousands of miles away from her hometown.
“There was no sense of ‘I don’t belong’ because CSUN is a place for everyone, and there are so many different generations, people of all different shapes and sizes,” Miller said.
When Miller graduated from CSUN, she already was working for L.A. Family Housing, a low-income housing developer and one of the leading service providers in the Valley. For eight years, she worked in the nonprofit sectors before landing a consulting project manager position for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) on homeless issues. It caught the eye of the mayor’s office, she said.
“I was wrapping up that [LAWA] contract, and then the mayor’s office called and said, ‘We’d like to bring you on board to oversee some of our street strategy work,’” Miller said.
She joined the mayor’s office as the senior project manager before being promoted to deputy mayor in 2018.
“Being a therapist — that’s micro-level assistance you’re providing to one person or a caseload of people, but what you can do from the halls of government maximizes your impact,” Miller said.
Mayor Garcetti, who has volunteered on L.A.’s Skid Row since he was 14, has made addressing homelessness a top priority for the city. Miller said his goals and passions aligned with hers, and that she feels immense pride in helping support his mission.
Prevention work is another critical intervention for the future of L.A., she said. Miller is working on A Bridge Home program, which looks to create more temporary places for people to live. Right now, there are about 23 projects under review across the city. With 10 people working specifically under the guidance of the mayor’s office to combat homelessness in the city, L.A. is taking the necessary steps in the right direction, Miller said.
“I never, in my wildest dreams, expected to have the honor and privilege to serve the city of Los Angeles in this way,” Miller said. “I was just a girl with some dreams to have a private practice maybe.”