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HPRI Symposium: Substance Use Disorder & Homelessness

Tue, February 22 @ 9:00 am - 11:00 am

Substance Use Disorders are prevalent among 52% of adults experiencing chronic homelessness in Los Angeles County.¹ In the broader media, we rarely hear the clear evidence about how homelessness and substance use disorders intersect. Lack of affordable housing and substance use are named as separate “causes” for increased encampments of people experiencing homelessness, without capturing a more nuanced understanding of how the two issues may mutually reinforce each other. This symposium will illuminate research, lived experiences, service provision and policy practice perspectives to grow our collective understanding for how to inform equitable and culturally responsive approaches to homelessness.

¹LAHSA 2020 Homeless Count

Presenters and Panelists:

Howard Padwa, Principal Investigator, Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, UCLA
Howard Padwa is a health services and qualitative researcher at UCLA’s Integrated Substance Abuse Programs (UCLA-ISAP). He has led qualitative data collection and analyses for mixed-methods studies of mental health system transformation, behavioral health service integration, evidence-based practice implementation, and the creation of a full continuum of care for substance use disorder treatment under California’s Drug Medi-Cal Organized Delivery System (DMC-ODS) Medicaid 1115 Waiver. In addition, he has conducted historical research on drug policy in the United States and overseas, served as project director for an initiative to integrate adolescent substance use prevention and early intervention services into healthcare and school settings nationwide, and facilitated stakeholder engagement for several projects. Currently, Dr. Padwa is leading several evaluations of initiatives to provide integrated services for homeless and other populations in Los Angeles, and he is co-investigator on a PCORI-funded study examining substance use disorder treatment assessment and decision-making.

Ricky Bluthenthal, Professor of Preventative Medicine, Associate Dean for Social Justice, Institute for Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, USC
Ricky N. Bluthenthal, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean for Social Justice and Vice Chair for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and a Professor in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences and the Institute for Prevention Research in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. He received a BA in History and Sociology from the University of California Santa Cruz and a MA and PhD in sociology from the University of California Berkeley. His research has established the effectiveness of syringe exchange programs, tested novel interventions and strategies to reduce HIV risk and improve HIV testing among injection drug users and men who have sex with men, documented how community conditions contribute to health disparities, and examined health policy implementation. His current studies include an observational cohort study of how cannabis legalization impacts use patterns and health outcomes of cannabis and opioids among people who inject drugs and a randomized controlled trial to test the efficacy of a single session intervention to reduce injection initiation risk behaviors among established people who inject drugs. Dr. Bluthenthal has authored or co-authored over 170 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals such as the American Journal of Public Health, Social Science and Medicine, The Lancet, Addiction, and Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research among others.

Reba Stevens, Community Leader
Reba Stevens is dedicated to using her lived experience as a homeless individual for 21 years to advocate for lasting solutions to homelessness and represent the voice of lived expertise in many forums. Her relentless focus on the magnitude of mental health and substance abuse amongst people experiencing homelessness is founded in her own experience. A diagnosis of her mental health condition was the lynchpin to her successful road to recovery and journey out of homelessness. As a result, she possesses a unique understanding of the mental health, criminal justice, and substance abuse treatment systems in Los Angeles County. Her goal is to ensure that mental health and substance abuse screenings and treatment are funded, accessible and embedded in all the facets of service delivery for people experiencing homelessness as well as those who are now housed after being homeless.Reba’s activism and profound knowledge is demonstrated in numerous cross-departmental appointments to strategic and major bodies that drive policy and practice in homelessness, mental health, criminal justice, and substance abuse areas. She currently sits on the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Homeless Advisory Board, the Los Angeles Regional Homeless Advisory Council, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, Service Area, 6 Advisory Committee, the Los Angeles City & County Office of Diversion and Reentry Prop 47 Steering Committee, the LAHSA Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness, the Los Angeles County, Department of Mental Health Commission, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Continuum of Care Board, the LGBT South Community Advisory Board and the SPA 6 Homeless Coalition. Reba was one of 50 members on the Measure H roundtable.

Her unabashed voice for equality and humility in serving our homeless and formerly homeless neighbors is largely documented in print and broadcast media such as the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, NBC Universal, Free Your Mind Projects Radio Show, KABC-AM (AM790), Hope on The Horizon MHSOAC News Publication, Making Sense of Measure H: Dr. Mitch Katz and Reba Stevens with Pat Prescott (94.7 The Wave), Unsheltered… New Possibilities TEDx Crenshaw (Ted Talk), and Strategic Concepts in Organizing & Policy Education (SCOPE).

Reba is a mother of 4, the owner of two lovely Boston Terriers Sage & Star, and a Los Angeles native.

Melisa Chavez, LCSW, Director of Client Services, Community Health Project LA
Melisa Chavez is the Director of Client Services for Los Angeles Community Health Project, where she focuses on the health and safety of marginalized communities. At LACHP, Melisa has been successful in integrating and developing low barrier programs that have increased access to services to our most vulnerable and criminalized populations in Los Angeles.

Melisa has spent her entire career serving at risk youth and adults struggling with substance use, mental illness, and homelessness. She began her experience providing direct services through several of LA County’s agencies, including DPSS, DCFS and DMH. Melisa has a deep understanding of the County’s intricate processes and the existing barriers preventing access to services for our disadvantaged populations. Prior to LACHP, Melisa was the program director for the only Adult Day Health Care center serving PEH in the San Fernando Valley. Melisa developed and molded the health center with the resources and creative hands-on approach to services that she felt were essential in the process of supporting and advocating for our underserved populations. She implemented harm reduction modalities, and specialized case management services that emphasized low threshold access to services, as well as, provided innovative therapeutic interventions to address the harm and trauma associated with underprivileged populations.

Melisa is a graduate from CSU Northridge, where she received her BS in Psychology and earned a Master’s degree in Social Work. Her ongoing desire to search for methods to help infiltrate and deconstruct the systems that exploit, punish, and dehumanize underserved and marginalized individuals and communities, is driven by her lived experiences as a Latina woman growing up in low-income communities of Los Angeles.

Amanda Cowan, Outreach Director, Clare Matrix
Amanda studied in the UK, obtaining her undergraduate degree in sociology and social work. While working for the National Health Service on alcohol liaison and harm reduction pilot programs she went back for her Masters in addiction and mental health, focusing her dissertation on the link between opioid use disorder and ability to accurately assess emotional states.Amanda has worked in a multitude of substance use settings; from community based mutual aid programs to jails, hospitals and outpatient treatment to helping implement syringe exchanges. Amanda’s specialty is harm reduction, where she provides technical assistance and capacity building to agencies.
Amanda’s current role is at Clare Matrix as director for outreach on one of the California state response to opioids & stimulants grants- the hub and spoke project – focusing on removing barriers to those accessing treatment for opioid use disorder and/or stimulant use disorder, decreasing stigma, working on state policy and ensuring equity in treatment. Amanda is chair for the Integrated Health committee at Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership, working on health equity for those impacted by mass incarceration as well as commissioner for Supervisor Sheila Kuehl on LA County’s Alcohol and other drugs commission.

Gary Tsai, Director, Substance Abuse Prevention and Control, County of Los Angeles, Department of Public Health
Gary Tsai, M.D. is the Director of the Substance Abuse Prevention and Control, a division of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. In this role, he is responsible for leading over 400 staff with a budget of approximately $400M, overseeing a full spectrum of substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery support services for the 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Dr. Tsai is board certified in both general adult psychiatry and addiction medicine, and completed his medical training at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine.Having experienced the stigma and criminalization that often accompanies serious mental illness as the son of a mother with schizophrenia, Dr. Tsai is a passionate advocate for improving our behavioral health systems. In his pursuit of meaningful change, he founded Forgotten Films, a film production company focusing on social issue projects, specializing in behavioral health. Its first film, Voices (www.VoicesDocumentary.com), premiered on public television in May 2015 for Mental Health Awareness Month and was awarded a 2016 SAMHSA Voice Award, Honorable Mention.


Dr. Gary Painter, Director, USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, Homelessness Policy Research Institute
Gary Painter is a Professor in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. He also serves as the Director of the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation and the Homelessness Policy Research Institute. He recently published a co-authored book entitled, “Payment by Results and Social Impact Bonds: Outcome-based Payment Systems in the UK and US.” He has published numerous articles in top journals such as the Review of Economics and Statistics, Journal of Urban Economics, Urban Studies, Journal of Human Resources, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Real Estate Economics, Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, and Regional Science and Urban Economics.

Professor Painter is a leading figure in the field of social innovation. In addition to his recent book, he works extensively with a variety of social innovation organizations and collective impact networks to address some of the grand challenges that society faces. His current research focuses on how to activate the social innovation process. Professor Painter also has extensive expertise in housing, urban economics, and education policy, which shapes his research on how the social innovation process can identify new models of social change within these complex policy areas.

He has served as a consultant for the National Association of Realtors, Pacific Economics Group, Andrew Davidson Co., Fannie Mae, Grant Thornton LLP, Burr Consulting, and the Research Institute for Housing America.

Saba Mwine, Managing Director, Homelessness Policy Research Institute
Saba Mwine (She/Her/Hers) is the managing director of the Homelessness Policy Research Institute, a collaborative of over seventy researchers and policymakers that accelerate equitable and culturally informed solutions to homelessness in Los Angeles County by advancing knowledge and fostering transformational partnerships between research, policy, and practice. She has over 16 years of experience spearheading projects throughout the nation that measure, investigate and enforce equal access to housing based on multiple protected classes. Saba played numerous roles, from project designer and civil rights investigator to management consultant and educator. In her more recent tenure at the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), she established CSH’s first racial equity initiatives via fundraising, designing grant programming, developing and delivering transformative learnings, and guiding community initiatives. Saba is a classically trained actor and holds a master’s of fine arts in theatre; she is committed to the performing arts as a tool for healing racial trauma and shaping community spaces. In California and nationally, Saba is a prominent voice in the movement to establish racism and white supremacy culture as the most major and least examined cause and perpetuator of homelessness.

As managing director of the Homeless Policy Research Institute, Saba is responsible for advancing the Institute’s strategic vision to accelerate equitable and culturally informed solutions to homelessness and serves as the lead staff person for all HPRI activities, including conducting and supervising rapid response research, RFP services, and research translation. Additionally, Saba supports the implementation of HPRI’s research agenda and works in close leadership with HPRI’s Race Equity Committee and other stakeholders to establish equity frameworks for key areas of the HPRI’s work. She is also responsible for planning and producing HPRI research symposia and other events and helps conduct policy outreach at the local, state, and national levels.



Tue, February 22
9:00 am - 11:00 am