Photos by Asia Morris.
The Multi-Service Center (MSC) Grand Re-Opening was a celebration that brought together local dignitaries, service providers, philanthropists and those who have dedicated copious amounts of time in an effort to serve our city's homeless population in the best, most caring, collaborative and efficient way possible. Before the re-opening speeches, proud attendees and supporters chatted excitedly about the redesigned space, mingling throughout the brand-new lobby.
A Port of Long beach-owned property, the MSC serves as the central hub for intake and assessment for the Long Beach Continuum of Care, a collaboration of service providers working together in an effort to end homelessness. The MSC averages 26,000 clients annually, making it a primary point of entry for homeless persons seeking assistance in the city.
Director of Health and Human Services Kelly Colopy opened the ceremony with her own observations, before introducing Supervisor Don Knabe, Mayor Robert Garcia, Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, Community Health Bureau Manager Susan Price, and Shannon Ruis, a former program participant.
“I’ve been talking to people and listening to people as they’ve walked through the door and the different words that come out are ‘warmth,’ ‘welcome,’ ‘respect,’ ‘bright,’ ‘open’ and 'transformation',” Colopy said. “As welcoming as we’ve been at the MSC, this is a whole new step up.”
Supervisor Knabe warmly reminisced during his speech, saying, “I think back, way back, to Bonnie Lowenthal’s early days when we put the first homeless shelter around the corner here and the MSC and everything that went with it. What a great day for everyone. The city of Long Beach walks the walk and talks the talk and does everything around it while many other communities are just talking about it."
Knabe continued, saying that "you can’t expect someone who is homeless or a veteran who is down and out who comes back, who doesn’t know where to go, to bring him into a room and say, by the way, you go two blocks over here, oh by the way you can catch the line 67, take it to Downtown Long Beach … you can’t do that. That’s not how you deal with that. The wrap-around commitment here is just absolutely amazing.”
Mayor Robert Garcia applauded the collaborative work of the MSC’s partners and the city’s community members for coming together. “It’s exciting because I think Long Beach is at a point where the community is on the same page and we all understand that this is really important,” he said. “If the whole city is going to succeed then the entire city has to succeed. I think that whether you live here in West Long Beach or whether you live in Naples or whether you live by the Virginia Country Club or whether you live in North Long Beach, that everyone in this city wants to help each other and their neighbors and this is really what it’s about.”
Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez voiced that it was when she visited the MSC for the first time that she was truly able to understand the impact homelessness can have on a single mother, a single father, a child or a veteran.
She said, “Learning how folks are living under bridges, how there’s children living in really dire, desperate situations, it’s really unfortunate. But the MSC is about building relationships, improving quality of life and establishing a balanced and healthy neighborhood for all and it’s so wonderful that it’s in my neighborhood here in the first district. It’s these collaborations that are at the heart of MSC stories and success. Relationship building is ultimately at the heart of linking people to care.”
Susan Price, Community Health Bureau Manager, was perhaps the most prolific and moved speaker of the ceremony. She thanked the community as well as called on the community to continue its valuable work to end homelessness in Long Beach. "Ultimately that’s what it’s going to take. It’s going to take all of us [to end homelessness]."
"The modernization project… there’s a lot of safety features, a lot of features here that were designed based on our experiences over the course of the past fifteen years and what we learned about the clients that we serve and how best to do it,” Price said.
She mentioned the number of interview rooms and the fact that they have windows was an added design element, that expanding the medical clinic and having it off the lobby was a decision made to better serve the needs of the chronically homeless who have mental, physical and other health issues.
She also voiced her pride in Long Beach’s major potential to end veteran homelessness in 2015, saying that “the city is well-positioned to do this because of our assets with the Villages at Cabrillo, our services from supervisor Knabe’s support for the Homeless Veterans Initiative, our mental health services with Mental Health America, our domestic violence services, our childcare services. We’re one of few continuums in the country that actually services and funds child care programs because we value and find that to be critical and important for our comprehensive service delivery system.”
An emotional Price continued to dote on the re-designed space, its staff and the clients whose lives are changed upon entering, taking her time to reiterate the importance of the MSC through slower, more tender enunciation.
“We designed this building with the intent of creating space, both for the people who work here and the people they serve... I’m representing an army of people that work here and I want to say that they’re a special class of people. They’re different. They’re quirky, I’m a little quirky, too. The people that work here give their all every day. They do whatever it takes. And they do a lot of things that most people wouldn't do. And I won't go into the details on that, but you know who you are. They leap over barriers to address some real complex needs in our community.”
The MSC facility houses staff from the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services and 11 other public and private partner organizations that work together to promote self-sufficiency and rebuild the lives of those experiencing homelessness.
“This building, in all these walls, there may be a lot of tears, but there’s also a tremendous amount of joy, and a tremendous amount of passion from the people that work here,” continued Price. “The people that we serve, they’re creative, they’re resilient, they’re resourceful, they’re not any different than the people that work here. They all have a common thread. The common thread is that we all have a story, we all have a story to tell, and we’re all one. And so I’ll say to you that this building and the modernization, it represents hope. The number one resource that we deliver every day is hope.”
From 2007 to 2013, the number of homeless or formerly homeless people off the street and in emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing has increased by 50 percent, from 1,679 to 2,508, according to the MSC. The MSC is recognized as a national model for a best practice approach for addressing homelessness.
Shannon Ruis, a veteran who served in the Navy, became a client of the MSC after his release from military service. He now calls Long Beach home. Ruis also spoke at the re-opening ceremony, explaining that without the help of his case manager, who took it upon herself to assist Ruis in making his dreams come true, he wouldn’t have been able to achieve his goals of stable housing and becoming economically self reliant. He works as a program assistant for the supportive services of veterans and their families at U.S. Vets, one of the MSC’s partner agencies.
The co-located agencies at the MSC include: Alliance for Housing and Healing; Catholic Charities of Los Angeles; County of Los Angeles Department of Public Social Services; Goodwill, Serving the People of Southern Los Angeles County; Help Me Help You; Interval House; Mental Health America of Los Angeles; PATH; The Children’s Clinic, Serving Children and Their Families; U.S. Veterans Initiative; and VA Long Beach Healthcare.