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Author: Lori McCoy

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Wealthy L.A. philanthropists loosen grip on donations, shifting money toward social justice

Fernando Torres got his first gang tattoo when he was 15, a rite of passage among some members of his family. “I thought it was an honor to die for your gang,” he says.

Acknowledging that he was quick to throw a punch, he says that he was soon expelled from high school. But two years later, Torres, then 17, was enrolled at FREE L.A. High, a charter school affiliated with decarceration activists at the Los Angeles-based Youth Justice Coalition.

It wasn’t a smooth transition. It took an arrest for carrying a loaded handgun and the threat of prison time, he says, before he finally started to listen to FREE L.A. teachers and staff — several of whom had been incarcerated — and extracted himself from gang life.

“They see themselves in us,” says Torres, who is now 22 and works in construction, “and want us to have a better outcome.”

For 20 years, young people like Torres have had their lives turned around by the Youth Justice Coalition — an organization that relies on support from California philanthropies. The key to that success has been no-strings-attached grants, says Emilio Zapién, the coalition’s director of communications.

How some foundations get philanthropic dollars inside L.A. County bureaucracy

“It has been a heavy lift,” Zapién says.

Over the last decade, more and more of L.A.’s institutional foundations have gotten behind that idea: trusting nonprofits with increasing amounts of money, with fewer restrictions. The trend accelerated during the pandemic.

The Youth Justice Coalition is one of dozens of community organizations to benefit from what the leaders of these foundations say is a collective effort to support those closest to the problems the foundations hope to solve.

According to the foundations involved in this effort, L.A. County nonprofits received at least $476.2 million in grants in 2021, compared with at least $282.1 million in 2017.

This more generous approach has allowed the Youth Justice Coalition to “strengthen” staff and support services at FREE L.A., where 66 students are now enrolled, Zapién says.

A man handing a woman a bag of groceries, one of dozens lined up below a colorful mural behind him in a parking lot
Louis Neal, a volunteer with the New World Academy Foundation, hands out groceries during a food giveaway at Chuco’s Justice Center, run by the Youth Justice Coalition in South Los Angeles.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The coalition reported $2.5 million in contributions for fiscal year 2021, up from $1.9 million a year earlier, and $1.2 million in fiscal year 2019. Contributions came from the Roy + Patricia Disney Family Foundation and Liberty Hill Foundation, among other organizations.

Zapién and other nonprofit activists are quick to say that local philanthropists need to give more with even fewer restrictions. But they agree that the era of L.A.’s leading philanthropists dictating what is best for all Angelenos is fading.

Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
California Endowment
James Irvine Foundation
Annenberg Foundation
Broad Foundation
California Wellness Foundation
Weingart Foundation
California Community Foundation
Ralph M. Parsons Foundation
United Way of Greater L.A. ($4.5 million)
Liberty Hill Foundation ($4.1 million)

The need to move money quickly to disadvantaged communities during the pandemic accelerated this movement, according to the nonprofit community groups, philanthropic foundations and government agencies interviewed for this story.

“Our landscape is ever-changing,” Zapién says. “Our funding has to be general operating support. Our funders have to trust us.”


For decades, Southern California’s wealthy business leaders burnished their reputations by creating charitable foundations, which built glitzy theaters, high-ceilinged concert halls, and museums showcasing their donors’ art collections. Local hospital wings and university buildings bear their names.

In 1937 James Irvine stashed a chunk of the wealth from his 110,000-acre real estate empire in the James Irvine Foundation. Hotelier Conrad N. Hilton launched his foundation in 1944. Insurance and banking mogul Howard F. Ahmanson and real estate tycoon Ben Weingart each created one in the 1950s. Engineering pioneer Ralph M. Parsons started his in 1961, and Walter H. Annenberg established his in 1989.

Those campaigns funding brick-and-mortar civic institutions still dominated local philanthropy in 1999 when Fred Ali, who had recently run Hollywood’s Covenant House, which serves homeless youth, was named president of the Weingart Foundation.

It was passionless, Ali says.

It’s easier for a leader of an endowed foundation with money in the bank to shift funding priorities if they have the support of their board of directors. With an “aging, all-white” board, Ali says, he started early in his tenure to replace retiring members with people aligned with his progressive vision.

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A man half-sitting, hands clasped and one foot on the floor, at the head of a large meeting table surrounded by empty chairs
Dr. Robert Ross said the California Endowment has moved from trying to “alleviate misery with charity” to funding community-led advocacy groups that are increasing access to healthcare and mental health services.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A year later, Robert Ross, a doctor trained in public health, arrived in L.A. as president and chief executive of the California Endowment, then a young multibillion-dollar statewide health foundation. During his first decade at the foundation, Ross says, he worked hard to “alleviate misery with charity.” One project he championed was the Children’s Health Initiative, a program delivering healthcare to a limited, underserved population.

Then he changed course.

“Poor Black and brown folks are at the short end of health disparities,” says Ross, “which tells you what we’re dealing with is structural. It’s systemic. It’s not bad luck.”

In 2010 he shifted millions of dollars from the health initiative and started funding advocacy efforts by several nonprofits that, by 2021, permanently expanded Medi-Cal eligibility to a broad underserved population across the state.

Where Ross had initially directed California Endowment funding to individual mental health programs within a cohort of local-level probation departments, he shifted those funds to community-led advocacy groups that secured public funding for similar mental health services.

The pivot started, Ross says, when he began to collaborate with Liberty Hill Foundation, which introduced him to community activists in L.A. who were working to empower poor people of color.

“People who are most impacted by problems know best how to fix them,” says Shane Goldsmith, president and CEO of Liberty Hill.

A woman seen from the waist up, looking into the camera and resting her left hand on a large white object in the foreground
“People who are most impacted by problems know best how to fix them,” says Shane Goldsmith, head of the Liberty Hill Foundation, which funded community groups in their decade-long battle to stop oil and gas drilling in L.A. County neighborhoods.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In 2013, Liberty Hill began funding STAND-L.A., a coalition of seven community groups — led by Communities for a Better Environment and Physicians for Social Responsibility — demanding an end to neighborhood oil and gas drilling. It took 10 years and $4.5 million in philanthropic funding, but in 2022, Goldsmith says, city and county governments agreed to ban new drilling and phase out the operation of existing wells across the county.

The community groups identified the wells, tracked the health effects and worked with regulators on the solutions, Goldsmith says. She calls these grassroots coalitions “our next generation of community leaders.”

When Antonia Hernández was named president and CEO of the California Community Foundation in 2004, it was a conservative “don’t rock the boat” organization, she says. And it was struggling to survive.

But she figured the organization wanted to become a more progressive funder; after all, they’d hired her — an activist attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund — to run the show.

A woman sitting at an angle, her hands on her lap, looking into the camera
“I wanted donors interested in serving the vulnerable, giving voice to the poor,” says Antonia Hernández, pictured in 1998. Under her leadership, the California Community Foundation changed from a struggling conservative philanthropy into a progressive powerhouse.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Hernández transformed the foundation into a progressive powerhouse by cultivating new donors among the wealthy social activists she’d met through the Mexican American fund. “I wanted donors interested in serving the vulnerable, giving voice to the poor,” she says.

In less than 20 years, the California Community Foundation went from $540 million to $2.3 billion in assets. It gives money directly to dozens of groups supporting marginalized communities, including the South Asian NetworkFilipino Migrant Center and African Communities Public Health Coalition. And through countywide collective philanthropic initiatives supporting education, Black empowerment and the arts, the foundation funds hundreds more groups.

Ali, Ross, Goldsmith, Hernández and Judy Belk, then president and CEO at the California Wellness Foundation, formed a new progressive core within L.A.’s philanthropic ecosystem. In 2014, Don Howard became president and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation and joined their ranks.

The Annenberg Foundation is well-known for the institutions that bear its name, and President and CEO Wallis Annenberg has supported progressive initiatives, particularly in food equity, and has expanded her giving to include efforts by these foundation leaders.

These philanthropists are following national trends. But observers say they stand out for having turned their organizations around quickly, thoroughly and collectively.

L.A.’s leading philanthropic foundations have “transformed” themselves, says Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. These formerly tradition-bound charitable institutions have become “national leaders in their commitment to equity and justice,” he says.

Institutional foundations in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area are far wealthier, according to Dorfman. They can, and do, dedicate more resources to fighting injustice. But L.A.’s leading foundations dedicate a greater share of their resources to that fight, he says, adding that “it has become a consistent theme in L.A., a steady beat,” in recent years.

Whether this transformation continues depends on the foundation boards — Ross, Belk and Hernández recently announced their retirements. The foundation boards are picking their successors.

Ali retired in 2021 and was succeeded as president and CEO by Miguel Santana, a longtime L.A. civic servant who continued Ali’s efforts to use all of the foundation’s assets, including its endowment, to redress the racist redlining practices that were once endemic within L.A.’s real estate industry.

“We think about all of our assets as vehicles to advance racial and social justice,” says Santana, who estimates Weingart is a third of the way toward moving its entire endowment into mission-aligned investments.

Weingart recently invested $5 million in Primestor, a Latino-owned real estate developer based in Culver City that invests in historically ignored communities of color; $5 million in the Female Founders Fund, which invests in women‘s entrepreneurial ventures; and $500,000 in iimpact capital, a Latina-owned real estate investment firm based in El Segundo that invests in affordable-housing developers owned by women.

To help guide this “truth and reconciliation” effort, Santana hired Edgar Villanueva, author of “Decolonizing Wealth,” an indictment of old-school American philanthropy. “Coming to terms with that history,” says Villanueva, “grieving that, apologizing for it,” sets the stage for “reparations to repair the harm caused by that history.”

Apparently this impressed the California Community Foundation’s board. In October, they poached Santana to replace Hernández.


Eli Broad, who died in 2021, was one of L.A.’s leading philanthropists for decades — a holdover from a generation of business leaders who believed they knew what was best for the city. In addition to building the Broad, a museum to house his art collection, he helped bring the Museum of Contemporary Art and Walt Disney Concert Hall into existence.

He was also a driving force in private efforts to enhance public education, leading a coalition of billionaires — Bill Gates, Reed Hastings and others — whose ultra-wealthy foundations pushed charter schools as a singular solution to bring about some much-needed changes to public schools in Los Angeles.

A woman standing in a white room, next to a large window with a city view of tall buildings below
Under President Gerun Riley, the Broad Foundation’s new approach focuses on out-of-school enrichment programs, support for science, technology, engineering and math education, and workforce training to “advance social and economic mobility for students from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities.”
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Broad’s “impatient” style foreclosed any easy avenues to collaboration with the community he believed he was serving, says Gerun Riley, president of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Parents and teachers loyal to their existing schools often felt voiceless and powerless in the ensuing political maelstrom.

At the start of Riley’s tenure as president, three years before Broad’s death, she urged him to change his approach. Her suggestion: Ask local families what they want from their public schools. Broad had never, nor would he ever, do such a thing, Riley says. So she did it for him.

“I set up a listening tour. I met with over 300 people, drove 600 miles,” she says. Parents expressed “frustration, exasperation.” They told her the battle over charter schools was “an ugly, unnecessary debate.” And they were clear about what they wanted for their children, she says: preparation for jobs in a technology-driven economy.

With Broad’s blessing, Riley says, the foundation is expanding beyond directly funding traditional K-12 education. It stopped using high school graduation rates as a measure of the success of its programs, she says.

The Broad Foundation’s new approach focuses on out-of-school enrichment programs, support for science, technology, engineering and math education, and workforce training to “advance social and economic mobility for students from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities,” Riley says.

She points to the foundation’s Expanded Learning Alliance, or ExpandLA, which aspires to bring public schools, after-school program providers and government and philanthropic funders together to create a countywide network of opportunities for students. The foundation established ExpandLA, still in its formative phase, as an independent nonprofit with an initial $5-million grant in 2020.

Separately, the Broad Foundation is supporting groups that provide services under the ExpandLA umbrella, including DIY Girls, a Latina-focused science, technology, engineering, art and math program in northeast San Fernando Valley ($584,650 over five years), and the Hidden Genius Project, an Inglewood-based computer science and entrepreneurship program for Black male high school students ($310,000 over five years).

Today, “L.A.’s core progressive foundations consider Broad in league with their efforts to strengthen community-based organizations,” says Christine Essel, president and CEO of Southern California Grantmakers, an association of philanthropists whose progressive leadership tripled membership during this transformative decade.

The Broad Foundation’s endowment is $1.8 billion — but, Riley says, it’s “not set up to exist in perpetuity.” The plan is to give it all away over the coming decades.

As it plans to clear out its coffers, it is worth noting that the Broad Foundation sets itself apart from L.A.’s core progressive foundations in one important way: It funds advocacy, but it does not fund activists, according to staff.

It’s a distinction some other L.A. philanthropists also make. Both activists and advocates seek to influence public policies. But Los Angeles foundations define advocacy as something that typically happens behind the scenes. Activists take it to the streets, foundations say, with overt political agendas.

(The $1.2-billion Ahmanson Foundation is one leading L.A.-centric foundation that does not participate in philanthropic efforts to influence public policy. President and CEO Bill Ahmanson has distanced his foundation from this progressive movement.)

Like Broad, the Hilton and Parsons foundations support advocacy to change public systems, but they do not fund activism.

L.A.’s newest philanthropic force — former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie — are also in this camp, according to Nina Revoyr, Ballmer Group’s L.A. executive director.

Steve Ballmer speaking into a microphone at a basketball game as a Clippers player and a crowd of fans look on.
Steve Ballmer, at a preseason Clippers game last year, and wife Connie have become a philanthropic force in Los Angeles.
(John Froschauer / Associated Press)

With a personal fortune that Forbes estimates is in excess of $100 billion, the Ballmers, who reside in the Seattle area, started their Los Angeles County philanthropic work in 2016, two years after buying the L.A. Clippers.

So far this year, Ballmer Group has committed $115 million to nonprofits in L.A. County, compared with $55 million in grants last year. Much of this year’s increase is associated with a $39.2-million commitment to early childhood education workforce support, including scholarships and training.

Among their many early childhood education grantees is Crystal Stairs, a nonprofit receiving $1.3 million over three years to provide child-care services, research and advocacy tailored to Black educators.

Ballmer recently announced a $24-million multiyear commitment to 170 Boys & Girls Club sites in Los Angeles County, an increase from their previous $2 million in multiyear grants to the clubs. South L.A.’s Brotherhood Crusade received a $2.3-million commitment.


A young man with a black bandanna on his head, seen from the shoulders up in front of a mural of several large portraits
The Youth Justice Coalition helped Fernando Torres get through high school and avoid prison. He now works in construction and is having his gang tattoos removed.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Before it was home to FREE L.A. High School, the Youth Justice Coalition’s 35,000 square-foot building on South Central Avenue was a juvenile court. The courtrooms now are classrooms and the dank holding cells are open to the community as places to pay respect to friends and family who have been or remain incarcerated.

Coalition staff worked with Torres’ court-appointed attorney to create a diversion program: If Torres could graduate from high school and complete 40 hours of community service, he would do no prison time.

In his spare time now he draws portraits, Torres says, flipping through phone photos of a dozen pencil and crayon drawings of young women of color. His gang tattoos are in the process of being removed.

“Seeing the cells motivates me,” Torres says. “I don’t want to be in a box. I want to be free.”

Among the Youth Justice Coalition’s supporters is the California Black Freedom Fund, a collective statewide philanthropic response to the 2020 police murder of George Floyd initiated by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The fund’s goal is to get $100 million in unrestricted funds into Black-led community groups.

The fund’s L.A.-focused contributors include the Irvine, Weingart, Annenberg, Liberty Hill and Hilton foundations, the California Community and California Wellness foundations and the California Endowment.

The Black Freedom Fund’s ambitious goal recently expanded, says Marc Philpart, its executive director. His backers are pushing the state to match their $100-million commitment and turn the fund into an endowed foundation that survives long into the future.

A man pictured from the waist up, standing, with Los Angeles City Hall and trees in the background
“We want to establish a long-term, sustained approach to racial equity, racial justice,” says Marc Philpart, executive director of the California Black Freedom Fund, which began as a statewide philanthropic response to the 2020 police murder of George Floyd.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“We want to establish a long-term, sustained approach to racial equity, racial justice,” says Philpart.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has agreed to an initial investment of $3.5 million, nudging the project forward, according to Philpart.

In addition to the Youth Justice Coalition, which has received $200,000, other nonprofit beneficiaries of the Black Freedom Fund include the Afrikan Black Coalition ($100,000), the Los Angeles Black Worker Center ($500,000) and the Los Angeles Community Action Network ($350,000).

Howard, of the Irvine Foundation, says California has a long history of erecting legal and structural barriers that block Black people and members of other marginalized groups from jobs, healthcare and housing, and each community faces different barriers.

“We need to understand how to dismantle those barriers,” he says. “If we’re going to transform society, everyone has to have a seat at the table.”

“There’s a sea shift in who has power in California,” says John Kim, president and CEO of Catalyst California, which advocates for racial justice and whose revenue has doubled in recent years. “Money is power, and the foundations are giving it directly to people of color.”

Community groups have used that power to make “real gains” in L.A. County and city budget allocations, Kim says.

But “after 170 years of exclusion and extraction, it’s just one decade of progress,” he adds. “L.A. has a long way to go.”

They lived in an East L.A. home almost 30 years. Now their landlords want to move in.

Days before Christmas, María Vela was saying goodbye to the narrow one-bedroom apartment in East L.A. that has been the backdrop of her family’s lives for the last 30 years.

Vela looked at her wedding photo hanging in their living room. The couple hosted their wedding reception out on the driveway, Vela said, gesturing outside. They raised four children in the duplex near the end of a cul-de-sac in their historically Latino neighborhood. Their kids enjoyed a quintessential East L.A. upbringing until one-by-one they left for college, except for Vela’s youngest girl, a high school junior.

Now the family is being evicted by Christmas so their landlords, who live next door, can move in.

Family evictions

Evictions are on the rise nationwide and in California. While most Los Angeles-area evictions happen because tenants struggle to pay rent, even tenants who manage to remain current with rent are at risk of eviction. These “just cause” or “no fault” evictions happen because landlords want to move into their tenants’ units, renovate a unit or leave the rental market.

No-fault evictions are contributing to the displacement of families from their longtime communities, along with other factors such as rising rents, too few affordable units, and expired tenant protections.

“Homeowner move-ins have been bringing about this exodus of Angelenos leaving their communities because they can no longer afford rent,” said Cinthia Gonzalez, an organizer at Eastside Leadership for Equitable and Accountable Development Strategies (LEADS). “It’s a heavy load.”

After state pandemic-era tenant protections expired, average monthly eviction filings surpassed pre-pandemic levels in a dozen of California’s most populous counties, according to court records obtained by CalMatters.

Counties that extended local eviction moratoria saw delayed, but still stark, eviction increases. That was the case for Los Angeles County, which saw a 17% increase in eviction filings the first eight months of 2023, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Even though there have been state and local efforts to strengthen protections against evictions for “just cause,” those protections didn’t help Vela’s family stay in their longtime home.

A man who identified himself as one of Vela’s landlords told CalMatters he didn’t want to comment on the matter.

Part of a community

Vela has lived in the same home since she immigrated to the U.S. in 1996.

She met her husband at a party while he was visiting Mexico. Within months they wed and went together to East L.A., where he was already living with his three brothers.

When the brothers came across the duplex unit in the early 1990s, it was dilapidated and littered with trash in a neighborhood with active gangs. The brothers asked the landlord if they could fix it up in exchange for being able to live there. The landlord agreed and charged them $300 monthly.

As the family grew, the home started to feel smaller.

Over the years various landlords neglected the property, Vela said. Walls are chipping, holes where mice have crept in are covered by unsecured wood, and mold grows in the bathroom.

But they were able to remain there long enough to give Vela’s children the stability and joyful upbringing they needed to succeed.

Carolina Correa, 23, graduated from Brown University and landed a job at an environmental justice nonprofit in San Francisco. Diana Correa, 26, graduated from UC Berkeley and is pursuing a master’s degree in history. Jesús Correa, 19, started at UC Merced in the fall.

The youngest, 16-year-old Fabiola Correa, wants to follow in her siblings’ footsteps and become valedictorian or salutatorian at Esteban Torres High School. She’s eyeing UC Berkeley too.

Carolina remembers whispering with her siblings as they lay on bunk beds or on the floor, to not wake her parents in the bedroom. They slept in the living room and another living space in the apartment and had little privacy, but it helped them stay close.

Their father taught them to ride bikes and he’d watch them ride in circles on the dead end street, Carolina said. He hosted carne asada barbecues with family. Block parties with live bands and traditional Mexican food and sweets brought neighbors together. 

“It was really nice to just have that literally right in front of my house, on my street, and to be a part of community in a way that is something so special to East L.A.,” Carolina said.

Displaced neighbors

Tina Rosales, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, likened the family’s displacement to other times in history when Latinos were moved from their neighborhoods, including the years before Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.

“This is heartbreaking, but it’s not new,” Rosales said. “It’s a trend. As we put more value on homes and people owning property, we tend to displace the communities that have been there forever.”

Rosales is among the attorneys who worked on a tenant protection law recently passed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to close loopholes to “just cause” eviction protections. The law requires owners who move out tenants and then move themselves or family members  in to reside there for at least a year. And it will require landlords to pay one month’s rent in relocation assistance.

Tenant advocates pushed for the law because they believe landlords were taking advantage of the rules. Landlords sometimes use owner move-ins as a pretense, Rosales said, when actually they want to put their units back on the market at a higher rent.

“It’s important to balance the interests and needs of both (landlords and tenants) while recognizing that housing is a basic need, and as a society we must prioritize keeping people housed,” said Sen. María Elena Durazo, the Los Angeles Democrat who authored the law. “Market housing is a business, and like in many areas of business, consumer protections are necessary in order to ensure that bad actors out to increase their own profits are not able to take advantage of or abuse the consumer.”

Los Angeles County and city have even stronger just cause protections, but local advocates say even those rules have weak spots.

For instance, in L.A. County landlords or their family members who move into tenants’ units have to live there for three years. If they don’t, the previous tenants have a right to move back in under their original lease terms and rent.

But the law seems to place the burden of keeping track of the landlords on tenants. Javier Beltran, deputy director of the Housing Rights Center in L.A., said he hasn’t heard of a case of a tenant successfully reclaiming their unit because of landlord violations.

“In reality once (tenants) move out, it’s hard to keep up with that particular tenant,” Beltran said. “They probably moved on to a different place, situated themselves and to a certain extent, moved on. It’s hard for them to come back.”

‘Terminated for no fault’

On a recent December morning, Vela sat at her kitchen table with her hands on her temples, a folder filled with papers spread in front of her.

“All of this is so frustrating,” she said with a sigh.

On the table was a scanned copy of the most recent $1,000 rent payment she sent, various phone numbers from housing leads scribbled on a notepad, and her official 60-day eviction notice issued October 23.

“You are hereby notified that effective sixty days from the date of service on you of this notice, the tenancy by which you hold possession of the premises is terminated for No Fault Just Cause…” the letter reads.

She spoke in a whisper and raised the volume of her television so her landlords couldn’t hear her talk about the eviction. They live next door and the walls are thin, she said.

Vela always knew eviction was a possibility. The duplex had been bought and sold multiple times in the last several decades, and each new owner had been willing to keep them as tenants, until now.

Eastside LEADS helped Vela delay her eviction by a year and a half after finding flaws in the landlords’ eviction process. For example, Gonzalez said, the landlords offered less than the required amount for relocation assistance.

But after the organization sent a letter to the landlords, they corrected their mistakes and agreed to pay the $12,688 in relocation assistance the county requires in this case.

Searching for housing

Vela has found searching for housing difficult. She and her husband aren’t fluent in English, they are undocumented and they’ve purchased most of their belongings in cash, which means they don’t have much credit history.

Also the going rents in that neighborhood are sometimes double what they’re paying now, which would be impossible for them to afford on her husband’s meatpacking salary, she said.

At one recent home viewing, Vela brought her daughter Fabiola to translate. The landlord interrogated Fabiola: Did the family have visitors often? Did they party? Were they loud?

Vela left feeling dejected and worried about Fabiola.

Carolina has been trying to help from the Bay Area, where she lives. After work or on her breaks, she finds housing leads and makes phone calls on behalf of her parents. She adds herself and her boyfriend as co-signers, hoping that’ll increase her parents’ chances.

“I’ve submitted applications for them to move into places and then burst into tears afterward,” Carolina said. “I want them to get into these places so bad, but because I’m not there I can’t facilitate further. I do what I can and so does my older sister, but it’s difficult.”

Diana, the oldest, feels guilty she hasn’t been able to help as much as she’d like.

“(I was) really angry with myself and with the timing,” Diana said, adding that if the landlords had waited five more years, she could finish her master’s program,  start working and pool her money with her siblings to buy their parents a house. “I was like, damn, I’m not ready.”

Recently she created a GoFundMe page hoping friends and community members will help defray the cost of storage units and moving trucks.

Harder to thrive

Vela said she is coming to grips with the fact that their only option may be to leave East L.A., and maybe Los Angeles altogether. With no immediate home to go to, Vela thought about moving in with her sister in San Bernardino County temporarily while her husband stays in his brother’s El Sereno apartment, closer to his work.

The lack of affordable housing for very poor residents is a major factor in the state’s rising homelessness problem.

Margot Kushel, director of UC San Francisco’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, said even if this family isn’t immediately homeless after vacating their home, they could be at risk for homelessness in the future.

Kushel’s research on homelessness in California revealed 49% of those without a home had been “non-leaseholders,” usually people staying with friends or family until it isn’t possible anymore. Those living arrangements often are precarious and lead families on a path toward homelessness, Kushel said.

She listed other challenges contributing to people’s vulnerability to homelessness: high deposit fees, moving costs, the impact of moving on peoples’ jobs and personal stability.

A recent law passed to limit what California landlords can charge for security deposits won’t be in effect until next summer,  too late for Vela.

Evictions and potential homelessness impact entire families, Kushel said, risking people’s ability to graduate from college or high school and to build wealth in the future.

“Housing is really at the root of thriving,” Kushel said.

Mixed emotions

The solution is to build more affordable housing far faster than Los Angeles is currently doing, said Stuart Gabriel, a real estate professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Most investment in housing creation is driven by profit and built by the private sector.

Not everyone purchases property to make a profit, he said. “It’s a very complicated and nuanced story and doesn’t lend itself to easy culprits and easy answers,” he said.

Vela’s family recognizes their landlords probably just want more space for their family. She said the landlords are two siblings who live with their elderly mother.

The family has conflicting feelings about the landlords and their family’s situation.

“It’s complicated for us because they do have a case and we don’t anymore,” Diana said. “I get it. You bought a house. But at the same time you knew we were here.”

Vela’s husband said he’s grateful for the time they were allowed to stay.

“It just so happened that someone bought the house and now we have to leave. But without resentment or anger,” Jesús Correa Cabrera said. “We’ll close the door behind us and say ‘thank you very much.’ And life goes on.”

Within days the family slowly disassembled their East L.A home, packing belongings they’ve accumulated over several decades into black trash bags and cardboard boxes.

Diana, Carolina and young Jesús’s high school class photos, Fabiola’s shelves of books, the quinceañera and wedding photographs, were all taken down.

As Christmas neared, they summoned a sense of hope for the future.

“I feel sad, kind of stressed for my family,” Fabiola said as she sorted a drawer of colored pencils and pens. “But at the same time I feel like we’re going to get out of this and maybe start a new time of our lives. A new beginning.”

The day before the family was preparing to move out, they heard they were approved for an apartment in El Monte, a one-bedroom  for $1,700 a month, plus utilities and rental insurance.

It’s far from their community, smaller, and too expensive for them to afford comfortably. But the family said they have no other choice.

California becomes first state to offer health insurance to all eligible undocumented adults But many remain uninsured because of a range of enrollment barriers

California became the first state to offer full health insurance to undocumented immigrants. (Getty Images)

By: Brenda Verano
Jan 8, 2024

On Monday, California became the first state in the nation to offer health insurance to all eligible undocumented immigrants. Beginning January 1, immigrants of all ages will be eligible for the state’s health insurance program for low-income people, known as Medi-Cal.

Throughout the years, Granados has developed a list of chronic and degenerative diseases.

Full-scope Medi-Cal will allow immigrants like Granados, living in the Golden State to seek free dental, vision (eye) care, specialist appointments, mental health care, substance use disorder services, prescription drugs and medical supplies, and in-home care if they meet all Medi-Cal eligibility rules, including income limits.

Immigrants ages 26-49 are the last group to join the ongoing Medi-Cal program expansion, which is part of the “Healthy California for All” initiative, which took effect in 2015. Nine years ago, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law making undocumented children (1-18 years old) eligible for state insurance.

What followed was the Young Adult Expansion, which was signed into law in 2019 and provided full-scope Medi-Cal to young adults 19 through 25. In 2023, the Older Adult Expansion, which provided full-scope Medi-Cal to adults 50 or older, was signed into law.

Adults can apply to Medi-Cal online, in person through Medi-Cal enrollment centers and thousands of certified enrollers and over the phone. For California immigrants to qualify for Medi-Cal, adults must submit proof of income that proves their household earns less than 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL), along with additional details like age, marital status, tax information and identification.

Granado’s first health issue began as a kid in Mexico when she was diagnosed with epilepsy, a neurological condition involving the brain that makes people more susceptible to having recurrent, unprovoked seizures. “We didn’t grow up with much, but my mom always cared for me, even when she didn’t know what exactly was wrong,” she said.

Granados grew up in a small town in Guanajuato, Mexico, where her parents and grandparents lived off the land as farmers. “My parents taught me to value everything—every meal, every day that we get to wake up and although my health has not been the best in the last few years, I remain grateful,” she said.

She immigrated to the United States in 1998 and shortly after she was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, a chronic (long-lasting) autoimmune disorder caused when the immune system attacks the glands, which causes the eyes, mouth, and other parts of the body to retain moisture. Granados said that for her, it causes her mouth to feel very dry, a symptom that has required her to visit the dentist more frequently than most people.

She began noticing the ways that not having insurance played a key role in the type of care she would receive. “When I first started going to the clinic because of my severe migraines, they would prescribe me Tylenol and other people would be offered medical tests and examinations to find the exact cause of the headaches,” Granados said.

But the chronic disease that first sent Granados to the hospital for days was fibromyalgia, a chronic (long-lasting) disorder that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body, as well as fatigue and trouble sleeping. “It’s the type of pain that you cannot control or get rid of; it’s very scary,” Granados said.

She was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia about 5 years ago when the pain was so severe that her husband decided to take her to the emergency room and ask for her to be admitted to the hospital, a decision that would leave them financially struggling. “The doctors explained that they did not know what caused it, but that it explained my heightened sensitivity to pain in my back. I could not walk,” she said. “ We spent all of our savings on being in the hospital and seeing a specialist. “

After years of experiencing severe symptoms of fibromyalgia, Granado’s feet and entire body are not as strong. She uses a cane to support herself; she cannot walk or stand for long periods or carry heavy equipment; and she gets very cold easily, all of which affect her daily life, her job and her ability to perform regular tasks.

For those like Granados who already have an active restricted or emergency Medi-Cal insurance plan, they will not need to submit their application or apply again. “Those people will be automatically switched over to full-scope coverage beginning January 1st, 2024,” Jose Torres Casillas, Policy and Legislative Advocate at Health Access California, said.

He said that Health Access California had been actively recommending community members and other community organizations to enroll qualified immigrants into emergency-scope Medi-Cal before the beginning of the year, so the transition would be seamless.

Medi-Cal will cover an additional 700,000 Californians

In the United States, one in five (20%) immigrant adults reported having problems when it came to paying for health care in the past year and (22%) said they skipped or postponed care in the past year because of their inability to pay, according to a  2023 survey by the LA Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

meical photo 4

Timeline of the Medi-Cal expansions that took effect throughout the year. Graph by Brenda Verano

Previously, many undocumented immigrants like Granados only qualified for restricted Medi-Cal, which allowed immigrants to receive emergency and pregnancy-related services as long as they met eligibility criteria like economic requirements and had proof of California residency in 2014.

Medi-Cal provides services to over 13 million Californians (or one in three who rely on the program for health coverage). Granados is excited to begin receiving full-scope comprehensive health insurance, which will help her see a doctor for her chronic pain regularly and can ultimately cover at-home assistance and care, all while not having to worry about the cost.

The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), which administers Medi-Cal, estimates that with this new expansion, an additional 700,000 Californians will now be enrolled, but Torres Casillas, said the number of new enrollees will most likely be a lot greater.

“When the 50-year adult expansion was approved, our original estimates were that about 250, 000 people were going to enroll. We’re now over 300,000 people over the age of 50 who have enrolled,“ he said. “We’re expecting a similar situation with that of the 26 to 49, where we are currently estimating 700,000 people will be eligible, but we’re expecting a lot more people to enroll.”

#Health4All campaign

Torres Casillas has become a policy expert at Health Access California, which serves as the co-chair, along with the California Immigrant Policy Center, of the #Health4All campaign, which has driven the efforts of all the Medi-Cal expansions throughout the years. The Health4All campaign began in 2013 when immigrant rights activists, healthcare advocates, and community members came together to call for expanding health care to all immigrants living in California.

“We’re ensuring that we, along with other organizations advocating for immigrants, are at the decision-making table to be able to speak on and address a lot of the issues that exist within the implementation of these Medi-Cal expansions,“ he said. “We want to make sure that the state is able to use a lot of the lessons learned from our prior expansions and apply those to the new expansions.”

The January 1 expansion will cost the California Health and Human Services Agency $835.6 million in funding between 2023 and 2024 and $2.6 billion annually, but Torres Casillas believes these costs are worth the well-being of immigrants. “We need to invest in our immigrant community’s well being, and this is a huge step for them to feel supported and part of our country’s health care system,” he said.

Existing flaws in Medi-Cal’s Application Process

However, according to David Kane, senior attorney at Westen Center for Law and Poverty, an organization that has worked closely with DHCS to ensure the implementation of the expansion, the Medi-Cal applications and the application process still have flaws.

“We convene meetings with partners, advocates, stakeholders and the Department of Healthcare Services to make sure that they are implementing this in a way that will meet the needs of the community,“ he said.

For Kane, aside from complaints of Medi-Cal applications that take long to process, adults not being able to reach the county by phone or not being able to get help in their language, one of the biggest flaws in the Medi-Cal application is the section that asks people for their social security number. Although skiing for an SSN is something that is a federal requirement, it is not something undocumented immigrants do not have.

“That’s something that should have been fixed a long time ago. We do not want people to feel discouraged when they see this in the application. We need to find a way to let people know they can still get full-scope care even if they don’t have a social security number,” Kane said.

Enrollment barriers

The KFF also found that among immigrants who are eligible for health coverage, many remain uninsured because of a range of enrollment barriers, including fear, confusion about eligibility policies, difficulty navigating the enrollment process, and language and literacy challenges.

For Maria Hernandez, 23, who has had Medi-Cal insurance for over 5 years and speaks fluent English, navigating Medi-Cal is still a challenge. She was born in Puebla, Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. when she was only six months old. “We never really got any assistance or help [from the government] before. My mom was scared of telling people she was an immigrant,” she said.

Hernandez got severely ill during the COVID-19 pandemic, and being able to go to the hospital or clinic to get the appropriate care made her appreciate having health insurance. “It has helped me a lot, just by the fact that I was able to be seen,” she said.

As a former personal translator for her mom, she realized the way language plays a part in health coverage. “I did not live too far from a hospital and being able to go without having to think of the cost or if [doctors] were going to speak English is something I did not have to worry about, but many did,” Hernandez said.

Andrew Kazakes, senior attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), has provided free, high-quality legal services to those seeking government benefits, including Medi-Cal.  “Part of our work at LAFLA is that we hold clinics set up in L.A. County hospitals, where social workers will refer patients to our clinic if they have any legal issues that might have prevented them from getting approved for the services they need, such as Medi-Cal.”

 Although federal funding restrictions limit the assistance LAFLA can provide to undocumented immigrants, with exceptions that depend on individual circumstances, the organization aims to assist uncovered Californians who are eligible for their services, and to provide high-quality referrals to those who they cannot serve directly.

During his time hosting legal aid clinics at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, located in Downey, he worked with many patients who were unfamiliar with the healthcare system of California and who wrestled with navigating Medi-Cal and the application process.

“There was definitely a high volume of undocumented folks who got referred our way. It’s really confusing for a lot of people to navigate these different administrative systems and it’s not their fault,” Kazakes said. “The system itself is really confusing. Doctors will struggle, social workers will struggle, and even attorneys will have to struggle to figure out, based on somebody’s status, what sort of assistance they can get.”

According to Kazakes, because a hospital does not turn away anyone who does not have health insurance or cannot pay, the patient would often obtain presumptive eligibility for Medi-Cal.

“If you have someone who’s showing up from a car crash, the hospital doesn’t want to pause care; therefore, the patient would get presumptive eligibility, but after the patient receives the care needed, like, for example, a surgery, they are left to transition off Medi-Cal unless they can establish their eligibility,” he said. “It creates this situation where people have already been through trauma, and now they’re put in this position of not knowing if the care is going to be there to help them with the aftermath of the accident and fully recover beyond the immediate emergency.”

Kane and Torres believe that the hardest part, other than implementing the Medical 26-49 Adult Expansion, will be modifying the Medi-Cal health system to make immigrants feel welcomed and seen. “It’s not as simple as saying: “OK, immigration status doesn’t matter anymore.” That’s what the law says. It’s super clear; it’s super simple, but the Department of Health Care Services has historically excluded this group of people. The State Department of Health Care Services needs to break down the systemic barriers that they have had in the design of their program,” Kane said.

Supporting New Medi-Cal Patients

Katie Rodriguez, vice president of Policy and Government Relations at the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (CAPH), said their members are excited to welcome new full-scope Medi-Cal patients and wants them to feel supported in the clinics and hospitals where they will be seeking care.

According to Rodriguez, 21 public hospitals and their clinics in the state, such as Los Angeles General Medical Center and  UCLA Medical Center, already see many of the patients that have recently become eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal. “The majority of our patient population at our public hospitals and healthcare systems are already Medi-Cal or Medicare patients or uninsured,“ she said. “We are very proud of this.”

Rodriguez said public hospitals and clinics do not turn anyone away because of a lack of insurance and are excited to continue to foster the patient-relationship practices that make new full-scope MediCal-eligible patients feel included and seen. “Public hospitals and their clinics regularly communicate with any new and existing patients. that come in and make sure that they’re aware of all coverage options, in case they’re eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal or other services as well,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said she is aware of how filling out new applications can be overwhelming and difficult for people who are doing this for the first time. One of the things that the public hospitals and their clinics have done to ease some of these nerves and assist new Medi-Cal patients is to have people solely designated to help fill out applications and determine eligibility. “Many of our hospitals and clinics have what we call enrollment counselors onsite that help individuals apply,” she said. “Most importantly, the enrollment counselors, tell them what Medi-Cal is, the documentation they need, and what the application looks like. Whenever possible, they go through it with them in the language they feel most comfortable with,” she said.

Public Charge

In August 2019, former president Donald Trump announced a public charge policy that, at that time, could result in the rejection of many immigrants applying for an immigrant visa (e.g. green card) if they had previously accessed or were deemed likely to rely on certain forms of public assistance, such as Medi-Cal. The unenrollment and decreased participation in government assistance programs contributed to more uninsured individuals and negatively affected the health and financial stability of families.

Even as the former public charge rule is no longer in effect and the government has stopped following the Trump-era rule on March 9, 2021, the narrative continues, and according to Torres Casillas, immigrants continue to be afraid of taking advantage of programs like Medi-Cal.

“That rule is no longer in effect, but we’re still dealing with the remnants in the sense that people may not know that it’s no longer in effect. And if that information spreads, then other people are confused and therefore hesitant to apply to Medi-Cal” he said.

Kane said that the Western Center for Law and Poverty and other immigrant rights advocates, including the Health4All Coalition, continue to push DHCS to educate people on the way public charge is not something they should worry about.

 “For some time, DHCS would not want to say anything about public charge because they said it was like giving immigration legal advice, but it’s not if you are just educating people,” Kane said. “We’ve been pushing DHCS to tell people very basic things about public charge, and we’ve made some great progress.”

Today, DHCS’s website contains basic information on public charge and assures people that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) do not consider health, food, and housing services as part of the public charge determination. “DHS strongly encourages these populations to access any and all services and benefits available to them without fear of a future negative impact,” states the DHCS website.

For Granados, a flawed Medi-Cal program is better than not having any insurance at all. “I’m still grateful and even if flawed, I’m excited to be able to have Medi-Cal,” she said.

Torres Casillas believes outreach, marketing and informing community members of their eligibility are the most crucial steps after January 1. “People may not know that they’re eligible; people may not know that coverage was expanded, and we all need to work hard to make sure the information gets to the right people,” he said.

Kane said it’s important to emphasize the journey that it took for all immigrants in California to be eligible for Medi-Cal. “We know that this is a community-led, community-driven effort. That’s the only reason we’re doing this because people stood up and advocated for their family members and themselves,” Kane said.

You can apply for Medi-Cal at any time of the year. To learn when you can apply, go to or call 1-800-300-1506 (TTY 1-888-889-4500).

‘Coolio-style hair’: LAPD union official’s column Sparks backlash and debate

By: LIBOR JANY, Staff Writer
Dec. 8, 2023

Hours into a standoff with a barricaded suspect in northeast Los Angeles earlier this year, a Black officer said he was cornered by a white lieutenant who berated him for sporting a beard that was longer than permitted by LAPD regulations.

“This department is accepting anything now,” the lieutenant said, according to a complaint filed in the case. The officer who reported the incident declined to comment and asked that his name be withheld, citing fear of retaliation within the department.

The officer explained in his complaint that he had been granted a medical exemption to grow facial hair, but the lieutenant’s rant continued until another supervisor stepped in. The officer said the April 23 episode was humiliating and left him feeling no longer “included or accepted in the LAPD.”

Shaving is painful, the officer said. He was diagnosed with pseudofolliculitis barbae, or PFB, a skin condition that disproportionately affects Black men, causing blemishes and acne-like bumps that can scar or bleed.

The incident touched a nerve among some Black officers on the force, who described their own brushes with racial discrimination because of beards or the way they styled their hair. Some of those concerns resurfaced last month after a high-ranking police union official wrote a column accusing the department of lowering its standards on beards and allowing officers to have “Coolio-style hair,” referring to the late rapper who sported trademark twists.

Jamie McBride, a board member of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, wrote that while making the rounds at police stations around the city during recent contract negotiations, he noticed numerous officers with beards or the “craziest hairstyles” that didn’t adhere to the department’s on-duty grooming standards.
One officer “looked like he was going to a Bob Marley concert,” with long braids “running down past his collar and then folded up, “McBride wrote.

The officer needed a “female hairband to keep his hair out of his face,” he wrote. McBride also noted the presence of a female captain whose hair sits “high on top of her head it looks more like a hat in search of a propeller,” in such a way that she couldn’t properly wear a department-issued hat.

The captain attends recruit graduation ceremonies and other department functions, McBride wrote, “so it is clear that Chief Moore and the entire command staff are well aware of this.”

“Wearing a beard while in uniform looks shoddy and unprofessional, and it is disrespectful of every LAPD officer who has and still does wear this uniform,” McBride wrote. He noted that some officers have medical or religious exemptions that allow beards, but said: “To be honest, I’m not buying it.”

“Sometimes when I shaved, the wool uniform would irritate my skin and cause ingrown hairs or a rash,” he wrote. “However, I would be too embarrassed to request a medical exemption because beards look like crap in uniform.”

McBride suggested that officers with beards may not be able to carry out certain tasks essential to the job, such as properly donning a gasmask. Those with sensitive skin, he wrote, should “perhaps buy a better razor.”
The piece was titled “Don’t Crown Me,” a reference to the CROWNAct, federal legislation proposed last year to outlaw racial discrimination based on hairstyle.

The House bill was modeled after California legislation enacted in2019 that made the state the first in the nation to prohibit the enforcement of grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color, particularly Black people. This included bans on hairstyles such as Afros, braids, twists, cornrows or dreadlocks — or locs for short.

McBride claimed some officers are abusing the policy, but department brass has been “too scared to do anything about it. “Just the typical selective enforcement, I suppose,” he wrote in the column, which appeared in the November issue of the union’s Thin Blue Line magazine.

In interviews with The Times, numerous Black officers said they felt targeted by what they saw as dog-whistle language in McBride’s column about “Coolio” hairstyles. Some said that while the LAPD has a policy against hair discrimination, they still felt the scorn of fellow officers through dirty looks and comments. A few were told their appearance would prevent them from being promoted.

Those with PFB talked of facing the dilemma of having to choose between their health and shaving their beards to appease colleagues and higher-ups in an organization where conformity is deemed a necessity.
Others questioned his choice of language but agreed with McBride’s argument for the importance of keeping up appearances. The officers only agreed to speak with The Times on the condition of anonymity, because they feared retaliation from the police union.

The Oscar Joel Bryant Assn., which represents the department’s Black officers, said the union leader’s words were divisive. “Fomenting divisiveness is easy; it is far harder to recognize the need for change and lead others in that direction,” the association’s president, Capt. Shannon Enox-White, said in the statement. “The Department continues to educate leadership at all levels on the law and how it impacts the communities we serve.”

Like other law enforcement agencies around the country, the LAPD has in recent years loosened its standards on cops’ hair, tattoos and other body art. In some ways, McBride’s commentary tapped into resentment inside the LAPD over what some see as the erosion of the professional, spit-and-polish image of the department dating back tothe days of Chief William J. Parker, who was a stickler for grooming.

Even as the department has become more diverse, the traditional look of a city cop — ironed LAPD blue uniforms, shined shoes and neat haircuts — has remained largely unchanged for decades. LAPD Chief Michel Moore said that while he only skimmed McBride’s column, it was clear from what he read that the union leader’s views were “out of step” with changing social norms.

“I would ask that Jamie reflect upon the evolution of our societal standards and that he evolve as well,” Moore said in an interview. He also pointed to what he saw as the hypocrisy of McBride talking about officers’ appearances, when the union leader proudly displays sleeve tattoos off duty and has been known to sport a goatee in the past.

“I find it interesting that he would throw rocks at others,” the chiefs aid, noting that since McBride doesn’t regularly wear a uniform or appear in court, he doesn’t have to adhere to the same standards as other officers. Moore said he also “supports his criticism when officers don’t follow our requirements.”
But, the chief added: “I think his criticisms go beyond that. I think his criticisms went to disagree with the CROWN Act provisions, and that is where I think he’s out of step.”

McBride told The Times that his column had everything to do with upholding a certain standard of appearance, not race. He said he had received nothing but positive feedback, including from “active command staff [who] said that they agree with me but they can’t say anything because of their position.” “This isn’t picking on any one group, white, Black and Latino officers with beards,” he said. “We’re LAPD: We’re supposed to look sharp, we’re supposed to look processional.”

Moore recently updated the department’s policy on tattoos. Officers must now cover up body ink on their arms, hands, legs, neck and behind their ears. Under an administrative order, dated Nov. 29, all facial tattoos are banned, with the exception of “permanent make-up” such as eyeliner, lipliner and eyebrows that are tattooed on someone’s face. Officers with larger tattoos on their arms are required to wear long-sleeved uniforms, except those in undercover assignments.

The department offers exemptions for officers with beards from certain faith groups, such as Sikhs, whose religion expects devout members to maintain unshorn hair and beards. In recent years, several legal challenges have arisen against grooming standards seen as arbitrary and discriminatory. Last December, a federal appeals court granted a preliminary injunction allowing two Sikh men to immediately begin basic training with the U.S. Marine Corps without shaving their beards. The men had argued the Marines ’grooming policy violated their right to freedom of religion.

A series of high-profile incidents in recent years have thrust the politics of hair into the national conversation about race. In Alabama, a Black woman was fired for not straightening her hair. Gabby Douglas, the first Black woman to win the Olympic all-around gymnastics title, faced criticism early in her career for not pulling her hair into a ponytail, and a young Black wrestler was asked to cut his Locs or face disqualification before a match.

While more organizations have loosened their grooming standards in recent years, many rules on workplace appearance are “based on a Eurocentric standard of beauty,” said Gail A. Dawson, a business professor at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Dawson said such policies are part of the dehumanizing legacy of chattel slavery, in which people with darker skin and kinkier hair were never allowed to work indoors.

Dawson, whose sister is a police officer in Philadelphia, acknowledged that some rules for law enforcement are based on safety; for instance, an officer’s overly long hair can turn into a liability during a struggle, she said. But other grooming standards are unrelated to job performance and place an especially unfair burden on Black women, in particular, who have to follow elaborate routines to tend to their curls, or turn to relaxers, weaves or wigs that are expensive and can damage their hair, she said.

Yoseph Dalia, a dermatology instructor at Harvard Medical School, said that despite the CROWN Act and other state laws, some of his patients of color tell him they feel stigmatized in their workplaces because of their hairstyle. Others report having their abilities being called into question. “What’s considered professional? Why is someone’s hairstyle considered professional or not professional and if we’re going to talk about acceptance of people?” said Dalia, who has written about PFB.

In law enforcement, police officers and recruits face pressure to alter their appearance, which is part of their identity, in order to fit in, he said. “So not only can they not get a gun, or keep a job or excel at, but they also have to deal with these kind of financial … to try to get in,” he said. “It’s kind of hypocritical to say and we love our law enforce mentor we love our military, but then also make it hard for them to serve.”

Tens of thousands still waiting as California COVID rent relief program runs low on cash

In March 2021, the Los Angeles film industry was just beginning to roar back to life after a prolonged COVID-induced slump, but Michael Addis, a freelance filmmaker, was still deep in the hole. For more than a year he’d been racking up IOUs to his landlord and the tab stood at $43,792.

So Addis turned to an emergency state program designed to help people like him pay down rental debt accumulated during the pandemic.

Later, in the summer of 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom himself had touted the program, Housing Is Key, as the largest of its kind in the nation. “We’re laser-focused on getting this assistance out the door as quickly as possible,” he said at the time.

Addis heard back 20 months after he applied.

On June 5, 2023 — his 61st birthday — he received an email, which he shared with CalMatters, notifying him that a payment had been approved in full.

But by then it was too late. Addis had already downsized, moving out of his apartment a few blocks from the Marina Del Rey harbor to a smaller spot in the San Fernando Valley. He had also borrowed money from members of his family to pay his old landlord back, hoping that he’d be able to write off the new debt with the relief funds from the state. But once the company that owns his apartment complex, Equity Residential, received a check from the state, they sent it back, citing program guidelines that deemed Addis no longer eligible for assistance.

“It’s just painful to think that the money that was allocated to solve my problem was sent back and I’m still in debt and now I have to downsize again,” he said, explaining that he’s about to move to Simi Valley, even further from his teenage son, who lives with Addis’ ex-wife. “I’m not in any way leaning on the state but I had a bad year — a bad couple years — and there was a program to help. And they helped me in the worst possible way.”

Addis’ long wait for California’s emergency rental relief program isn’t unusual. Though the application window closed in March 2022, more than 70,000 households still have applications pending on the eve of 2024.

California lawmakers created Housing Is Key with billions of dollars in federal relief money, initially guaranteeing everyone who applied in time and was approved would get paid. The ultimate goal of the program was to stem a flood of evictions, as state and local emergency eviction bans came to an end.

For many Californians, it’s been a vital lifeline. The program has sent more than $4.7 billion to nearly 370,000 lower-income households, according to data from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

But a sizable, unlucky minority of applicants — tenants and landlords alike — have had to wait…and wait and wait.

In the meantime, many have borrowed money from friends and relatives, pleaded and haggled with impatient creditors, missed monthly payments and turned to online support groups for tips on how to sidestep the program’s red tape.

Still others have been evicted, though the state doesn’t maintain records on how many.

Tenant rights advocates and anti-poverty groups accuse the state of perpetuating a cruel bait-and-switch on some of the state’s neediest. The state’s housing department blames some of those same advocates for the delay, pointing to a lawsuit that slowed down the application review process.

For those still waiting, the hold-up has taken on a new degree of urgency. Housing Is Key might soon be out of cash. Though California’s Housing and Community Development department, which oversees the program, recently “identified additional funding,” it’s unclear whether that will be enough to pay out every last valid claim.

How much is left?

The state’s housing department declined to estimate when the program will run out of money or how many people are likely to get help before that happens. That figure depends on two unknowns: How many of the as-yet unprocessed applications will ultimately be approved and, of those, how much rental debt each applicant is owed.

“Given this inherent uncertainty, we remain focused on assisting as many eligible households as possible with the funding we have available,” said Pablo Espinoza, the department’s deputy communications director.

But the available figures offer a few hints.

As of early November, there were at least 33,658 initial applications still pending, according to data published by the housing department. Another 39,401 applicants were initially denied, but awaiting an appeal review. That’s a total of 73,059 applications.

Though CalMatters reported in early October that the department projected the program would soon be out of money, program administrators were able to dig up some more. According to Espinoza, because the program is in its “final wind-down” phase, money initially set aside to pay administrative overhead or leftover from locally-run programs is now available to help renters. That’s left a new projected balance of roughly $171 million.

But that’s “not nearly enough,” said Anya Svanoe, a spokesperson for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, one of a handful of organizations that sued the department last year over its administration of the rent relief program. “Tens of thousands of people are at risk of being evicted or made homeless, not because they were ineligible, but because the state ran out of money.”

Svanoe points to the average pay out, published on the program’s online data dashboard: $12,018.

LA County Care Court aims to help those on streets with mental illness

Thursday, November 30, 2023

LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Los Angeles County has about 75,000 people living on the streets. Officials estimate about 10% suffer schizophrenia or other disorders.

“There are too many people with severe mental illness who are living on the streets,” LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn says. “We’ve all seen them and so far, we’ve been unable to reach them.”

Los Angeles County officials on Thursday announced a new program called Care Court to help people receive treatment and services.

“We are really committed to helping people get the support they need to improve their mental health and well-being. We are here to change the trajectory of people’s lives,” says Dr. Lisa Wong from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

With this program a family member or someone else can file a petition asking to determine if someone qualifies.

A judge can then order a care plan for the person.

Samantha Jessner, presiding judge for the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, says “This new tool provides an alternative to the way in which most individuals enter our county’s mental health system, which is usually through the criminal justice system.”

“Initially, LA County wasn’t going to have this program until next year. But we are ground zero for this problem. And so, we moved our start date up an entire year,” adds Hahn.

Not everyone likes this program. The Western Center on Law & Poverty sued to stop the Care law, saying it forces treatment on people.

In an article it claimed, “The law paves the way to eventually institutionalize people who are unhoused and have schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.”

Ricardo García, the Los Angeles County public defender says, “To those who are concerned that Care court will lead to forced treatments or detention, I want to emphasize participation in Care Court is absolutely voluntary.”

The program officially begins Friday and until then authorities say they’re not sure how many people would qualify for Care Court.

Black Midwifery in the US

Since the inception of the United States, midwifery has been the most customary practice for pregnancy care and childbirth. Today, the primary care for pregnant people in most developed European countries is facilitated by midwives. However, in the United States a divide began to take root in the 1800’s, when white male physicians began to explore childbirth with greater interest. Their approach was based on a patriarchal and colonial framework that was highly experimental and racist, often times using enslaved African to test explicit drug therapies, shock treatments, and surgeries without any anesthesia.

Prior to the creation of formalized medical education in obstetrics and gynecology, midwives were the sole experts in birth work and medicine relied heavily on Native American and African American knowledge of plants and indigenous healing modalities. For millennia, birth work was considered a female occupation or “woman’s work” (Hoch-Smith and Spring, 1978; Leavitt, 1983; Rooks, 1997; Donegan, 1978; Litoff, 1990). The midwifery model of education was a indigenous model of apprenticeship under more experienced midwives that were often grandmothers who also learned from their grandmothers. In the United States midwifery was largely practiced by enslaved Africans who were responsible for women’s healthcare of all enslaved women on the plantation as well as the white women who owned them. A large part of midwifery apprenticeship on the plantation included various forms of training such as herbalism, procedures for dealing with birth complications, perinatal care, and serving as traditional healing.

Once the field of medicine became “professionalized” and legitimized by the legal system with the invention of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1927, physicians sought to dominate the field of birth work as its primary practitioners. Their claim to jurisdiction spurred racist propaganda campaigns depicting Black midwives as caricatures falsely accusing midwives of being “incompetent”, “witches”, “unclean”, “savages”, and “untrustworthy”. These physicians also lured white women to trust them because they offered “innovative” pain relief options such as opioid tampons, and mercury. In addition to the propaganda, because pregnancy began to be viewed as a pathological condition beginning in the late 1800s and continuing into the 1900s, physicians claimed that only legally trained individuals could “treat” this “condition”. Such assertions/claims served as manipulative tools that “pushed the scales” in favor of physician-assisted births versus granny midwife assisted births.

The public perception of midwives began to shift as the midwives who had for centuries in the Americas served as the primary maternal and infant healthcare providers were essentially deemed illegitimate. These smear campaigns were supported by the white male physicians who were founders and members of State Boards of Health which controlled who was able to care for and treat women in childbirth. By the 1900s white male physicians attended approximately half of births, despite having little to no training in obstetrics.

In rural America, however, Black midwives continued to attend births especially for Black folks who lived in the segregated south and had no access to hospitals in their communities. In the Southern states, Black midwives, sometimes called “granny” midwives, attended up to 75% of births until the 1940’s.

Racist laws, educational restrictions, and campaigns against midwifery care led to the dismantling of the practice especially for Black women, for example:

  • The 1910 Flexner Report recommended hospital deliveries and the abolition of midwifery. The study has since been recognized for its racist, sexist, and classist approach to medical education.
  • “Twilight sleep” was introduced in 1914, an amnesiac given to women by white physicians preventing any memories of giving birth.
  • In 1915, Dr. Joseph DeLee – a prominent obstetrician – called pregnancy and childbirth “dangerous” and “evil.” Dr. DeLee promoted the use of forceps, sedatives, ether, and other interventions that needed hospital-level care. He argued that midwives were incompetent.
  • The Department of Indian Affairs passed legislation that moved births from the home to the hospital.
  • The Shepphard-Tower Infancy and Protection Act became a federal law in 1921. It encouraged states to develop their own maternal and child health legislation. Before these changes, lay midwives practiced mostly without restrictions. The new laws severely reduced their practice in many states. For example, Alabama began requiring all midwives to obtain a license, then later required nurse-midwives to practice only in hospitals. These changes prevented 150 “granny midwives” from practicing across the state practically overnight.
  • Public health nurse Mary Breckenridge founded Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in rural Kentucky in 1925 which led to the more formalized field of nurse-midwifery also developed at this time. Breckenridge’s racist rhetoric impacted Black midwives’ entry into the nurse midwifery route though Breckenridge has been for “creating a pathway for midwifery education and certification.”

The formalization of education and certification ultimately delegitimized apprentice-trained midwives in every community. Today, less than 5% of midwives in the United States are people of color. Disparities in maternal morbidity and mortality rates are striking; Black mothers are 2-3 times more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers. This impact reflects the powers and forces that disconnected midwives from their communities.

Black Midwives that Birthed Communities

Mary Coley was born in Baker County, Georgia. She began training as a midwife under the tutelage of Onnie Lee Logan. She became an advocate for the health of Georgia’s black population and was known for her willingness to work with women regardless of race in a time of segregation. It is estimated that she delivered over 3,000 babies in her career.

Ms. Arilla Smiley was trained by the local Health Department in Brunswick Georgia and apprenticed with her mother-in-law. She received her license to perform midwifery in 1963 and retired in 1987. During her career as a midwife, Ms. Smiley delivered over 1,000 babies in Mitchell County.

Maude Callen was a nurse-midwife in the South Carolina Low country for over 60 years. Her work was brought to national attention in W. Eugene Smith’s photo essay, “Nurse Midwife,” published in Life on December 3, 1951.

Margaret Charles Smith delivered more than 3,000 babies. In 1949, she became one of the first official midwives in Green County, Alabama, and she was still practicing in 1976 when the state passed a law outlawing traditional midwifery. In the 1990s, she cowrote a book about her career, Listen to Me Good: The Life Story of an Alabama Midwife, and in 2010 she was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

Abbott, Andrew. 1988 The System of Professions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Donnegan, Jane B. 1978 Women and Men Midwives: Medicine, Morality, and Misogyny in Early America. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Fraser, Gertrude Jacinta. 1998 African American Midwifery in the South: Dialogues of Birth, Race, and Memory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Hoch-Smith, Judith and Anita Spring. 1978 Women in Ritual and Symbolic Roles. New York: Plenum Press.
Leavitt, Judith Walzer. 1987 “The Growth of Medical Authority: Technology and Morals in Turn-of-the-Century Obstetrics.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1(3). September. 230-255.
Leavitt, Judith Walzer. 1983 “Science Enters the Birthing Room: Obstetrics in America Since the Eighteenth Century.” The Journal of American History. 70(2). 281-304.
Litoff, Judy Barrett. 1996 “Forgotten Women: American Midwives at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” Pp. 425-441 in Childbirth: Changing Ideas and Practices in Britain and America 1600 to the Present, edited by Phillip K. Wilson, Ann Dally, and Charles R. King. New York: Garland Publishing.
Pringle, Rosemary 1998 Sex and Medicine: Gender, Power, and Authority in the Medical Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Radcliffe, Walter. 1989 Milestones in Midwifery and the Secret Instrument: The Birth of the Midwifery Forceps. San Francisco: Norman Publishing.
Rooks, Judith Pence. 1985 Midwifery and Childbirth in America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Anaheim City Council opt to Impound Sidewalk Vendor Equipment the Day Before Valentine’s Day

Just before Valentine’s Day, I attended a City of Anaheim City Council meeting where the city voted to shower sidewalk vendors with heartbreak instead of appreciation and inclusivity.

The city council unanimously amended an existing sidewalk ordinance to include impounding of sidewalk vendor equipment and codifying non-vending zones.

The street vending issue has often pitted some brick-and-mortar business owners against vendors in Anaheim. Three or four business owners argued in support of these harsher measures for sidewalk vendors. They arrived that evening in full support of the proposed amendments to the sidewalk vendor ordinance. They operate along the busiest street corridor that leads to the biggest amusement parks and resorts in Anaheim.

It was a typical verbal back and forth, with vendors accused of unsightliness and even criminality, and vendors asserting that far from creating problems, they contribute to the city’s local economy.

I listened while a local hotel manager, blamed sidewalk vendors for deterring, “potential buyers from legitimate businesses, and.”  Another hotel manager argued that sidewalk vendors pose a threat to public safety. She cited a recent shooting directed at a street vendor. Yes! She blamed the victim for the violence brought on them stating, “they bring cash only business which makes them susceptible to more crime.” She continued to say that sidewalk vendors bring in an “unsavory crowd.”

When the item later came up, the city council asked for a staff report and the Deputy City manager noted that street vendors have not accessed Anaheim’s permit process. Since 2018 only about five flower vendors and no food vendors have obtained permits.

The report, however, left me wondering about the city’s approach to sidewalk vending. It seemed to focus on enforcement and stereotypes, while not addressing the glaring gaps in outreach and lack of intense educational efforts.

The evening’s absurdity peaked when the report cataloged taco stands as “large scale operations” as the most problematic vendors, even linking taqueros to human trafficking rings. Yet when asked by council members for confirmation of suspected trafficking, none was supplied by city staff.

There was a lot of bureaucratic conflation of types of vendors. Health and Safety buzzwords were dropped throughout the presentation. Yet, no distinction was made between merchandise vendors and food vendors. All vendors in no vending zones will face confiscation of property as an enforcement mechanism. They will have the ability to confiscate sidewalk vendor equipment without the presence of County of Orange Health Inspectors alongside them.

Their focus will remain on large scale sidewalk food vendors and event and resort area vendors. Anaheim code enforcement patrols 6 nights a week with two of those nights alongside County Health Inspectors.

These enforcement efforts have led to, “141 citations in 2022 to 423 citations in 2023; in addition, in partnership with Orange County Health Inspectors staff confiscated the food and/or equipment of 112 vendors in 2022 and 174 vendors in 2023,” according to the Deputy City Manager.

The overzealousness to enforce and confiscate property is worrisome, cities should place their efforts in educational and informational outreach. They should understand that as folks acclimate to County of Orange Health requirements, education serves as a better measure towards compliance.

How many sessions for sidewalk vendors were held by the city? The staff report gave no quantitative data of how much resources were put into informing sidewalk vendors. These are important questions to ask when looking at the dismal number of permits.

Are cities putting more effort into enforcement measures or bridging gaps to truly make these permits accessible to these sidewalk micro entrepreneurs?

Cities wouldn’t have to invest so intensely in enforcement if you invested in a more informative/educational approach.

Anaheim, impounding equipment will economically devastate vendors, it will not improve compliance. Cities should work with their local health department to collaboratively find ways to increase permit numbers through education and outreach.

Western Center Roundup – January 2024

Western Center’s Analysis of Gov. Newsom’s Budget Proposal

In response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2024-2025 budget proposal, Western Center issued an analysis on the impact his proposed funding priorities would have in several key areas of concern. These include: access to housing, health care, and public benefits for Californians. Note that this analysis is the first in a series of communications Western Center will distribute this session as we advocate for just budget priorities. Read the full analysis here.

WCLP Blog: Making Food Prescriptions a Reality in California

Western Center Outreach & Advocacy Associate Abe Zavala-Rodriguez recently wrote a blog post uplifting California’s innovative food prescription pilot programs. Food and nutrition supports have been proven to be successful at helping people to treat, manage, or even prevent chronic health conditions as seen in pilots and studies not only across California but also nationally. These programs are an especially critical tool towards achieving health equity goals since BIPOC communities are disproportionately impacted by health issues and poverty. Read the full blog post here.

Western Center’s Newest Team Members
Western Center continues to grow to meet the needs of Californians with low incomes. Please join us in welcoming our newest team members, Etecia Burrell, Senior Health Advocate; Rebecca Gonzales, Policy Advocate, and Danny Sternberg, Attorney. We are overjoyed to have them on the Western Center team!

Join our Team
As Western Center continues to position itself for greater reach and impact in 2024, we currently have two positions open: Policy Advocate – Housing; and Senior Communications Strategist.

Please share these opportunities widely with your networks!


Western Center Roundup – December 2023

Settlement Finalized in Katie A. v. LA County Mental Health Lawsuit
After more than 20 years of litigation, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, has given final approval to a settlement in the longstanding case Katie A. v. Los Angeles County. The Court’s action ends a federal class action lawsuit that, over time, led to significantly improved mental health services for children and young adults in foster care or who face imminent risk of placement in foster care.

Filed in 2002, the suit alleged the county and state agencies failed to provide legally mandated health care services to youth in its custody. The lack of mental health services harmed foster youth by increasing the likelihood they would be removed from their homes.  Removals compound trauma for foster youth, making the lack of appropriate care even harder for children already struggling with mental illness.

“In the beginning of this lawsuit, we saw many youth have multiple moves due to behaviors that weren’t being addressed with treatment, and they were losing important connections to family and community,” said Antionette Dozier, one of Western Center’s lead attorneys on the case.

Tis the Season to Donate (Unspoiled) Food
One in five Californians suffers from chronic hunger, but a growing food rescue effort is poised to shrink that number.

About two years ago, one of the most significant waste reduction mandates went into effect across the state. SB 1383 ambitiously seeks to reduce organic waste  by 75% by 2025.  This means that around 20 million tons of potential waste may soon be diverted from landfills to kitchen tables.

Throughout California, municipalities  are setting up  programs to  ensure that grocery stores, produce marts, corporate kitchens, schools,  and other commercial food generators  set protocols to inspect leftover food before it spoils and see that it reaches those who are hungry as fresh as possible. For years prior to SB 1383, many food generators resisted donating food. Now with legislation, a robust network of waste reduction programs and streamlined donation processes,  support is growing.

For example, Food Finders, which has a network of over 470 partners across five counties in Southern California, has been helping food generators comply with the mandate. In particular, they facilitate same-day, donor-to-recipient delivery of edible foods.