"The program gave me a close-up view of political, business and social issues and trends, information that is invaluable to me as an entrepreneur and active participant in the success of our great state. The speakers were incredible� they inspired us and stretched our minds. The opportunity to connect with successful and dynamic California women leaders was a main highlight. Being part of Leadership California is like being part of a powerful sisterhood."

—Ursula C. Mentjes, M.S., ACC
President and Certified Business Coach
Potential Quest, Inc.
"I have enjoyed my involvement with Leadership California. Our trip to the state capitol was most enlightening. As a result I have gotten involved with the Los Angeles African American Women's Political Action Committee. Thank you, Leadership California, for sparking a genuine interest in the political process."

—Shawn Farrar
Director Corporate Diversity
Sempra Energy
"The CIT program brings together successful women from all over California, and gives them the opportunity to build a network with other successful women. It's a way to learn about the important issues in our state, and to get ready to take the next step in your professional life."

—Isela Vilchis Hoenigmann
"Leadership California has provided me a panoramic view of issues, challenges and opportunities for this lovely state that I live in. The program was my introduction to women of unbelievable talent, experience and passion who are set to make a difference. The feeling to want to be more, to accomplish more, is simply contagious. I hope to know these women for the rest of my life."

—Rosario Montes-Arena
Manager, IBM Software Executive Briefing Program
Silicon Valley & Worldwide Briefing Program
"As a young immigrant woman working in the nonprofit sector, it was inspiring to see women leaders in action, to be able to network with them, and talk about the issues that are relevant to our communities and our state. I feel honored and privileged for the opportunity to participate in such an awesome program that weaves women leaders from different sectors and geographies of California to engage in a conversation about the social, political, and economic fabric of California."

—Winnie Hui-Min Yu
Development Associate
Asian Law Caucus
San Francisco
"I've spent half of my work life in the corporate world, and the past ten years in the nonprofit world, but neither taught me how to be who I am at work�the whole pastiche of talent and spirit. I found role models who excited me, the true state of our state of California (which frustrated me), work partners continually learning like me, and friends."

—Peta G. Penson, Ed. D.
Oakland Unified School District
"Leadership California sessions feature influential speakers and lively discussion on timely issues shaping the economy and workforce. The session on work-life balance struck a chord with me, where key leaders advised us to map out a personal career plan. Networking with other women was invaluable. Leadership California is an engaging and downright fun experience."

—Roberta Tinajero-Frankel
Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Dept.
Healthy Eating, Active Living Project Manager
"Simply put, Leadership California is time well spent that will benefit me personally and professionally for years to come. I've not only kept in contact with my fellow classmates on a social level, but have had opportunities to work with some of them on business projects as our professional paths crossed. The sessions gave in-depth looks at the critical social issues that many Californians face, inspiring me to get more involved in my community�s outreach programs."

—Teena Massingill
Manager of Corporate Public Affairs
Safeway Inc.


HOMES FOR THE HOMELESS: Yvette Herrera tours the construction site where a permanent campus for LA Family Housing, a $51 million, 80,000 square foot homeless services facility in North Hollywood, is set to open in 2018. The facility will provide multiple services, including a medical clinic and 50 units of permanent supportive housing, as well as offices for 100 employees.


Yvette Herrera: LC Alumna a Heart-Led Leader
in Advocacy for the Homeless

VP of Development and Community Engagement, LA Family Housing

By Carol Caley
October 31, 2016


It’s a place where families can feel safe.


AS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COMMUNITIES ENGAGE IN SOMETIMES HEATED DISCUSSIONS about the homeless, their encampments, and the safety and quality of life in neighborhoods, rents continue to rise all over the Southland, making housing unaffordable for many, and leaving growing numbers of families and individuals only one small personal disaster away from living in the streets.

WHEN THAT DISASTER STRIKES—due to a job loss, medical emergency or unexpected expense—many people who lose their homes find their way to the doorstep of LA Family Housing, an organization serving more than 6,400 people annually through its street outreach, housing navigation and placement services, crisis housing and permanently affordable rental housing throughout Los Angeles.

Q: Yvette, tell us more about this “one-stop shop” for the homeless.

CURRENTLY, OUR LAFH staff members are situated in various locations in the San Fernando Valley. What we are calling “The Campus” will host all of our housing and supportive services under one roof, as well as 50 new units of permanent supportive housing. It will include a health clinic, temporary housing for 250 homeless individuals and families, onsite services provided through a coalition of service providers, and centralized space for staff and volunteers. All the resources people are likely to need will be readily available, customized to meet the varied needs of every person or family we serve.

WE INTAKE FAMILIES RIGHT HERE. When they show up at our doorstep, a case manager works with them to access services they need in house, so they don’t have to travel all over to get help. We have partner agencies co-located here—Veterans Administration, Department of Public Social Services, LAUSD—so services come to the homeless. We’re building a playground, so kids can have supervised play while their parents fill out paperwork to get help. It’s a place where families can feel safe.


The face of homelessness is really changing. I was sitting down with some of the veterans we serve. They are not who you think.


Q: We have about 91,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, a number representing crisis proportions. Why is the problem so big and growing so rapidly?

THE SOUTHLAND HAS THE LARGEST homeless population in the nation. There just are not enough places to live—not even for people who can afford it, let alone affordable housing. The rental vacancy rate in LA is 2.7%—the lowest rate of any major metropolitan area in the country. There are over 300,000 families in Los Angeles who pay 80% or more of their household income for housing. They are housing insecure, because even a small change in their financial situation can make them homeless.

THE LOS ANGELES HOMELESS SERVICES AUTHORITY does a homeless count every year. In our service planning area which covers the San Fernando Valley, 7,000 people are shown as homeless: 1,400 of them are sheltered, 5,600 are unsheltered—on the street, in their car, on someone’s living room sofa today, someone else’s tomorrow. We helped over 6,000 people last year.

Q: Those are big numbers.

IT'S NOT JUST NUMBERS. The face of homelessness is really changing. I was sitting down with some of the veterans we serve. They are not who you think. One man showed me pictures of his two daughters. One graduated from UCLA, one graduated from UC San Diego. I talked to another family, and the vet was a beautiful young woman, married, with two children, one of whom was autistic. She was just dealing with life, and found herself in this situation. She said, we just can’t find a place we can afford. And I said, I can understand that. This woman was so lovely, I felt like I could have run into her family at a party. You would never know they were homeless.




YOUNG VOLUNTEERS - Herrera and Ella Boyajian, LAFH’s director of community engagement, offer assistance as a volunteer group of schoolchildren makes sandwiches for LAFH residents.


Q: It seems that funding dollars for programs and housing will always be in short supply given the magnitude of the challenge. But cities and county governments are starting to set up taskforces and respond with more concern. Do you think that’s because homelessness has become more visible across the region? In your view, what would be the right responses for local and regional governments to step up to the challenge?

GOVERNMENTS ARE FINALLY STEPPING UP to provide both leadership and funding. The problem has become too big to ignore. Only about 10% of the homeless population in LA lives in the area of downtown known as Skid Row. That means 90% of the homeless are living alongside us in our local communities.

OUR HOMELESS BROTHERS AND SISTERS are living in their cars or makeshift dwellings. They sleep in public parks, church parking lots or on the streets. Everyone has a friend or coworker who knows someone in desperate need of affordable housing.


Someone might choose to live on the street because the alternative is, say, living in a shelter in a room with 10 people that you don’t know and don’t trust. That can be scarier than living on the street.


Q: What strategies are known to work best to get people back to better circumstances?

COMMUNITIES HAVE STARTED to embrace the concept of “housing first.” People originally were quite against it, but it’s now recognized as the model. It means a person doesn’t have to be “ready” for housing. They don’t have to be clean and sober. They might have mental health issues. What people need first is a place to live. And really, you can’t address your problems until you have a safe place to sleep tonight, right? You need a roof over your head. If you don’t have that, all your energy goes into securing yourself.

PEOPLE MIGHT SAY, the homeless don’t want to be housed, they want to live on the street. Well, that’s not really true. Someone might choose to live on the street because the alternative is, say, spending the night sharing a room with people that you don’t know and don’t trust. That can be scarier than living on the street.

THE CHRONICALLY HOMELESS often do better in permanent supportive housing. From the outside, it just looks like an apartment building. You can lease an apartment at a subsidized rate, 30% of whatever your income is. As long as you pay, you get to live there. But we know that you need help. So on site, we offer supportive services. There may be  a caseworker with an office right there by the lobby, or by the laundry room. The caseworkers know everyone’s status, and are there to offer, say, substance abuse counseling or medical referrals if you need it.

Q: Can you talk about your leadership role at LAFH? What strengths do you bring from your past experiences that will serve you well in your role here?

A LOT OF TIMES PEOPLE BECOME HOMELESS because of issues in their life. Something happens. I talked with a woman who was homeless for several years. She had been a single mother, supporting her son with her own business. Things were fine. Then her son died in an accident, she became depressed, spiraled down and couldn’t take care of herself. She lost her business and became homeless. There weren’t enough mental health services to help her. Imagine she had been your neighbor. Wouldn’t you want to help her?

 WE NEED “heart-led” leadership.

WE’VE DONE A LOT OF LEADING WITH OUR HEAD. I’m not saying that’s bad. But you also have to lead with your heart. I’ve heard tremendous stories of how much more people are able to accomplish, and how much more success people have had, leading with their heart.

I LIKE TO FASHION my leadership that way.


My job is to shift people’s attitudes from feeling powerless in the face of an overwhelming social problem to feeling powerful and capable of making a difference.


Q: You’re known for your creative fund development ideas. How do you inspire people to give?

I BELIEVE EVERYBODY WANTS TO GIVE, or has an inclination to, but doesn’t always know how. Or doesn’t believe they can make a difference. I try to understand what motivates a person, what they love, and find a way to connect what we do with what they love.

I HAD LUNCH RECENTLY with a woman who loves animals. She came up with an idea to help people and animals too. We regularly host Homeless Connect Days in community centers. Homeless people can drop in to get services they need, for example a flu shot. This woman is eager to expand the services for animals, so at the same event we might offer a range of animal care services too, such as dog vaccinations.

SO THIS WAS ONE WAY TO CONNECT to a potential supporter who has a real heart for animals but knows it’s imperative to help people too. We can broaden our base. I just try to listen to what people are already into, and find a way to connect it back. One potential supporter loves golf, so I’m asking if his company would consider becoming the presenting sponsor of our golf tournament next year.

MY ROLE AT LAFH is to figure out how to educate people and shift their attitudes. People can learn that it is more cost effective and more humane to provide housing to a homeless person than to allow them to continue living on the streets. My job is to shift people’s attitudes from feeling powerless in the face of an overwhelming social problem to feeling powerful and capable of making a difference.

Q: You have faith that the larger community will come through generously. You have pointed out that most of us here in the Southland live in comfort and relative abundance, and that this is a very creative community. How do these facts come together to promote your vision?

I BELIEVE THAT IN A CITY OF GREAT ABUNDANCE, generosity and creativity like ours, we can find a home for every child, individual and family.

OF COURSE EDUCATING PEOPLE and shifting attitudes isn’t easy. But it can be done. The example of smoking is a good one—we’ve made such a dramatic cultural shift since the 1960s, with cigarette smoking outlawed now in most public places across the country. I would love to draw upon the creative community to take the lead in designing and implementing marketing and education campaigns around homelessness that cause a similarly dramatic cultural shift. Yes, we need donations to fund the solutions. But first people have to believe that we can end homelessness. Then they can be called upon to fund the solutions.

Q: Do most potential donors see their circumstances as abundant, so much so that they can be supporters?

I BELIEVE THAT THERE IS PLENTY. It’s a matter of figuring out how to tap it and how to share it. At first it’s a lot easier for people to give of themselves, or of whatever their talent is, than to donate financially. It could be something their company produces—like mattresses. We just received a donation of 2,000 mattresses! Imagine the impact of that gift. Once a person sees their contribution at work they become connected to the cause, and generosity flows.

ANY GIFT CAN BE A GATEWAY to building a longer, larger relationship. So there’s always an area to explore.


People are moved by their heart.


Q: And our LA creatives, how do they fit in to the picture?

ONE OF THE WAYS I THINK THE CREATIVE COMMUNITY can be a part of what we do is to help people understand homelessness better. Like I said, homelessness is not what you think it is. People need to understand it, and understand the solutions too. They need to see that the problem can be solved by actions that are in their power to do.

THAT’S EDUCATION. That’s good communication. That has to be done in creative ways so people will pay attention, “break through the clutter” so to speak. That’s when you need creatives. People are moved by their emotions. So we need creative people to help tell the story in emotionally compelling ways.

Q: Any final thoughts?

NO MATTER WHAT, ALWAYS FOLLOW YOUR PASSION. I’ve changed jobs and careers many times because I’m following my passion, I’m following my interest. A couple of years ago, when I started volunteering for a nonprofit organization, I felt very moved by the issue of homelessness in my own community, and I knew there was a larger role I could play. As soon as I decided that’s what I wanted, this position opened up, and I was recruited for it.

I THINK BEING OPEN to following your passion is what makes you a success, as long as you measure your success by your own level of fulfillment.



YVETTE HERRERA is LA Family Housing’s Vice President of Development and Community Engagement. She is an alumna of the Issues & Trends program, Class of 1995, and served as Leadership California’s president of the board from 2014-2015.

Yvette brings over 30 years of professional and volunteer experience in non-profit administration and fundraising to her role at LA Family Housing. She believes that people genuinely care about one another and that most are willing to give of themselves if they are invited to do so.

Before joining LAFH, Herrera was director of philanthropy and community engagement at the Burbank Community YMCA. For nearly a decade, she was a partner at HT Group, a Los Angeles based marketing consulting firm that specialized in non-profit organizations. Her other prior experience includes serving as a marketing director for PricewaterhouseCoopers, a communications director of Internet company NetCount, and as a planning director for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. She holds a BA from Scripps College and earned a certificate from the UCLA Anderson School of Business, Price Entrepreneurial Center.


LA FAMILY HOUSING (LAFH) helps people transition out of homelessness and poverty by providing connections to housing enriched with supportive services. Since 1983, LAFH has become one of the largest comprehensive real estate developers and homeless service providers in Los Angeles and a regional leader providing solutions to end homelessness.





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