Before making his way around the streets of West Hollywood, Jake Weinraub fills his bag with bottles of water, granola bars, hygiene kits, pairs of socks, condoms and gift cards for Subway sandwiches.
“I try to carry as much as possible,” Weinraub says as he walks across West Hollywood Park looking for people experiencing homelessness who may be in need of the services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
It is Weinraub’s job to try and engage this population and encourage them into such things as primary care, STI testing and mental health services.
On this recent summer day, Weinraub has several encounters including one with a woman who is sitting with several bags of belongings inside a bus enclosure on Santa Monica Blvd. in front of Pavilions.
They had met before and she is all smiles as they chat about how she can get DMV services.
“I see myself as the referral person, the initial contact person,” Weinraub says after the encounter.
“There’s a trust that has taken months to build. I still haven’t gotten her in yet but we know each other - she knows what I’m doing and why I’m out and about. It’s about maintaining a presence long-term.”
He leaves a pair of socks next to a barefoot man sleeping in the doorway of an unoccupied bank building then chats up a woman on a park bench who asks about services “for a friend.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of people I talk to are using drugs or suffering from more significant mental health issues,” he says. “It’s really about these repeat encounters and building these relationships over time.”
Weinraub, in a low-key and empathetic manner, lets people know there are many ways the Center can help, including free or affordable medical care provided by staff who specialize in caring for LGBT people, including mental health counselors and social service caseworkers.
Many are encouraged to take advantage of the Center’s addiction recovery services, which include an evening outpatient program, a wide variety of 12-step group meetings, and crystal meth recovery programs and groups.
For those he encounters who are between the ages of 18-24, Weinraub shares information about the Center’s transitional housing, temporary housing and housing referrals.
Filling A Need
Weinraub is a mental health clinician who has been a part of the Center’s Mental Health Services team since last October.
The position was created in 2015 when then-West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath introduced an initiative to the City Council on mental health support for the homeless.
“It’s a tough position,” says David Giugni, manager of West Hollywood’s social services division. “We very much appreciate Jake and the Center and support him. It’s challenging.
“These services are really focusing on chronically homeless, mentally ill and/or substance using community members. It’s about building rapport and trust and over time. Having someone that you feel comfortable with to engage and ask for help. To get someone to address their mental health and/or substance abuse issues is very challenging. It’s up to the individual, no matter how much we may want to get that person into care.”
The position that began as a pilot program is now part of the permanent mental health services contract between the Center and West Hollywood.
On other days, Weinraub is in another area of the city near Santa Monica Blvd. and La Brea Avenue where he knows transgender women in need of services will likely be.
He looks to bring them into the medical clinic, mental health or detox – depending on what they need. Many are interested in the help he can provide when it comes to changing their name and gender on official IDs.
This particular work is done in collaboration with outreach workers from the Friends Community Center as well as Luna, Client Advocate for the Center’s Transgender Economic Empowerment Project.
After his Tuesday stroll around West Hollywood Park and the surrounding area, Weinraub and Youth Center staffer Eric Almond head to the city’s library where they spend two hours inside a second-floor conference room making themselves available for walk-ins.
“Is this the room for the LGBT community?” asks a woman who had seen a flier around town advertising the Tuesday morning office hours for all community members including non-LGBT.
The woman coming up and asking for help is more the exception than the rule.
“There’s so much stigma about receiving mental health care and what that means,” Weinraub says. “The feeling is if you are going through therapy, there must be something wrong with you and you can’t take care of yourself.”
After nearly 10 months on the job, Weinraub has learned to hope for the best but to keep his expectations in check.
“I have to be really, really patient and get my own hopes and ego out of it,” he says. “It really takes time.”