Mike Neely, founder of the Homeless Outreach Program (HOP), conceptualized an agency that would help individuals and families navigate the complexities of the social service system. As a homeless individual, sleeping on Skid Row, and a former veteran, he knew all too well the difficulties faced by this population. The concept, as simple as it sounds, was quite ground-breaking at the time, take formerly homeless persons, employ them to outreach and assist currently homeless persons navigate through the available services.
While still homeless, living in a cardboard box, Mr. Neely laid down the framework for the HOP. The entire evolution began with a “March to the Sea”, (more like a bus ride) to Santa Monica to raise the awareness of the conditions that faced the homeless population. The goal was to gain the attention of organized communities within Los Angeles County geared specifically toward the homeless population by shedding light on the public policy issues that were creating additional barriers for the homeless population. This led to organized sit-ins on the steps of Santa Barbara City Hall to protest the policing of the homeless within the city’s walls. His advocacy work laid the foundation for his larger purpose. Mr. Neely’s advocacy did not stop there he begin to attend regularly scheduled meetings and was actively involved in community organizations, his dedication did not go unnoticed and in 1987 he received a Block grant of $50,000 to begin pilot program designed to address the needs of the homeless population in Los Angeles.
Mike Neely’s initial thought was to launch a program that would house homeless individuals who would outreach to other homeless individuals during the day. This led to the creation of the Lemon House that was designated to be established in the Adams District; however this process was hindered by the communities’ dissatisfaction with having this population so close. In 1988, Homeless Outreach Program opened the doors of 853 East 6th Street to provide services to the community. HOP focused on three components that continue to govern our actions (1) engagement, (2) providing information and education and (3) learning how to connect with people by speaking their language.
As HOP staff began going out into the community and speaking with the homeless they began to realize that many subpopulations of homeless individuals also needed specialized assistance. These subpopulations included, but weren’t limited to those that had mental health issues, substance abusers and those recently released from prison. This realization birthed the Community Service Assessment Center designed to provide substance abuse assessments and referrals and the integration of mental health and reentry services. 1992 brought a need to centralize services and eliminate barriers and as a result came the development of the Homeless Outreach Program’s Integrated Care System (HOPICS), a one stop shop where individuals and families are provided with a menu of services or referrals for services. To date, HOPICS provides services to over 4,000 individuals and families within the areas of housing, behavioral health (mental health and substance abuse), and reentry. HOPICS has recently expanded its menu of services to include primary health with its partnership with Central City Community Health Center.
Although barriers existed and continued to exist with providing quality care to clients; the roots of HOPICS can be traced to a homeless individual who was able to use his experience to provide guidance to the most effective treatment practices for the homeless, substance abusing and mentally ill population. HOPICS continues to reduce the bureaucratic experiences of the community by advocating for more culturally competent and sensitivity services. We proudly stand as mentors to other Community Based and Faith Based Organization regarding services to this special population. With its long standing 28 year history in the community, HOPICS has been at the forefront of shaping the direction of services not only for the homeless but for low income families within South Los Angeles.