Multi-Service Center at count

Volunteers jam the Multi-Service Center's main room before the last Point-In-Time homeless count.

When Long Beach opened its Multi-Service Center 20 years ago, it was touted as a national model for helping homeless people get off the streets.

Today, the center continues to lead the field of government provision of services, primarily by partnering with other government agencies and nonprofit service providers. That work will be celebrated today, Thursday, with a birthday party.

Part of the city's Health and Human Services Department, the Multi-Service Center (MSC) is the hub of what providers call "The Continuum of Care." The MSC doesn't provide services to the homeless directly — it's a home and base for agencies that do.

"The MSC has really served as a beacon to help people access services such as housing over the years," Shannon Parker, the city's Homeless Services officer, said. "It's really grown as policies have changed and grown, and has responded to the ebbs and flows of housing over the years."

The center at 1301 W. 12th St. houses offices and branches of nonprofits so they can offer help to homeless people onsite. For example, The Children's Clinic has a clinic there to provide basic health services along with the ability to refer people to facilities for more treatment.

"Partnerships are really critical here," Parker said. "We have expanded them over the years, including referrals… Goodwill has an office here with training to help people be work ready. We've even had job fairs here where employers come to us.

"There's a program called Help Me Help You that helps people fill out the forms to qualify for food stamps, SSI and more. It's an active Social Security advocacy for people to get what they need and deserve."

Parker said that because of the many different services to be found at the MSC, some people have misconceptions of what actually happens there. While the Health Department's homeless outreach program coordinates with the MSC, the city doesn't provide direct services there.

"We're not a shelter," Parker said. "We refer people to shelters. We're not a behavioral health urgent care, we're not a substance abuse center. What we can do is link people to the places that do offer those services."

Parker is quick to point out that the MSC personnel do deal directly with homeless people, providing case management, needs assessment and more. People are treated with dignity, she added.

"This field is dynamic, ever-changing," she said. "We take a client-centered approach, and work with people to reach what they see as success… Client privacy is paramount, and we try to be very inclusive and nonjudgmental."

The next big change in services likely will be the addition of a year-round emergency shelter in north Long Beach. Early plans have included offering services and/or referrals at that campus. there are no plans to move the MSC, though, Parker said.

The anniversary party begins at 2 p.m. on Thursday, at the MSC. People will be greeted by a drum line, and there will be tours of the center before speeches from Mayor Robert Garcia and others. And yes, there will be cake.

For more information about the Multi-Service Center and the rest of the city's homeless services, go to longbeach.gov/health and follow the links. 

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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