LOS ANGELES - Specialized homeless strike teams are hitting the streets and will soon be expanding across Los Angeles County, reaching out to homeless people who refuse to enter a shelter at night.
Their targets include people such as Annette Mathis, who sleeps on the sidewalks of the Fashion District, fighting off the rats with a small dog for protection.
Mathis has depended on services available on Skid Row, including her mental health medications. But she left in fear of the violence.
"In Skid Row I seen a lot of things. Rapes, people getting hurt, beat, their money taken away," Mathis said.
Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar announced Friday that with the help of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a total of 38 outreach teams will be scouring neighborhoods throughout the county before the end of the year.
The program is funded by the county with Measure H money approved by voters.
The nonprofit group The People Concern provides specialists in medical care, mental health and housing. They have helped more than 1,300 people since January 2016 and have placed 128 people in housing.
"They provide followup, so they go back if someone is not ready at the moment. A 'no' today doesn't mean 'no' forever," said the group's John Maceri.
Huizar said the county will receive $300 million annually from Measure H, and more funds must be allocated specifically for mental health.
Too often L.A. police officers arrest people who are in need of care.
"Don't call LAPD," Huizar said. "If we create new infrastructure with mental health experts that can come out and give them the help they need, it's going to go a long way."
Until then, Mathis said she will remain on the streets with her dog, facing down the rats.