As a technician in a Caltech biochemistry lab, Meg Barclay MPP ’04 enjoyed her job, but over time, she realized that her work outside the lab was more fulfilling. A longtime volunteer for neighborhood issues, Barclay switched gears, earning a master’s degree at the USC Price School of Public Policy. Her new career path included jobs in the office of the chief legislative analyst for the city of Los Angeles, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and L.A.’s Economic & Workforce Development Department.
Barclay is now Los Angeles’ first homeless coordinator within the office of the city administrative officer. She recently talked with writer Bekah Wright about new approaches to combat homelessness, and how Angelenos can help.
How does your role get to the root of homelessness?
Many departments across the city—from the LAPD to Sanitation to the Parks Department —play roles in implementing Los Angeles’ Comprehensive Homeless Strategy. As homeless coordinator, my job is to know how all these pieces are moving. I look for opportunities to connect the dots. Having a permanent position in charge of all the knowledge around this one issue is important in making sure we move forward.
Why is collaboration between the city and county of Los Angeles important?
Having the city and county working together on the issue in a coordinated way is a game changer. For example, cities across the county, especially the city of Los Angeles, feel the impact of homelessness acutely, but a lot of programs that can make lasting change, like federal funding for health and mental health services, are county prerogatives.
Is there an emerging demographic for homelessness?
We’re seeing more families with children, which is heartbreaking. More of the working poor are becoming homeless just because of housing cost. Housing is so expensive, and people’s housing situations are becoming more precarious because incomes aren’t rising along with rents.
What’s a common myth about homelessness in L.A.?
We’re not creating more of a problem by providing these services. People aren’t coming to L.A. to be homeless as opposed to somewhere else. The 2017 Los Angeles County homeless count, recently released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, found that almost 90 percent of people experiencing homelessness had lived here for more than a year before becoming homeless. The greatest proportion of persons experiencing homelessness has lived here for years. They’re people you went to school with or a former neighbor.
How can Angelenos help?
Lend positive voices and support for new housing projects and facilities in your community. When there are meetings about establishing these projects, it’s really helpful to have strong support.
Beyond that, gain some kind of personal experience so you can relay a perspective on homelessness. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority hosts a list of service providers and volunteer organizations online.