Following the Los Angeles City Council’s review Friday of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s governing structure, two Los Angeles City Councilmen introduced a motion to have the city prepare to potentially withdraw from the agency.
“The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome … in the case of LAHSA, if the information, resources and services the organization provides are going to continue to fall short of what we need to get Angelenos housed and back on their feet, then every option for reform — including severing those ties — should be on the table,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, who introduced the motion with Councilman and mayoral candidate Joe Buscaino.
The councilmen cited LAHSA’s annual budget of nearly $1 billion, which is provided by the city, county, state and federal governments to ensure LAHSA performs street outreach and matches unhoused Angelenos with shelter and permanent housing.
LAHSA Executive Director Heidi Marson responded to the motion in a statement to City News Service that read:
“Over the last three years, LAHSA and its partners have permanently housed more than 66,000 people experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is complex, and the solution has to cut through jurisdictional layers. That’s why we need to work together with the city and county, as well as with our state and federal partners, to take bold action that cuts through red tape and builds a fast path to permanent housing for all of our unhoused neighbors.”
“The motion will be referred to the committee of homelessness and poverty for additional discussion. The status quo is unacceptable and we look forward to addressing the proactive changes that have been made and the recommendations on the way forward,” Marston added.
The motion, if passed by City Council, would instruct the City Administrative Office and the Chief Legislative Analyst, with assistance from the City Attorney, to report on actions necessary for the city to withdraw from LAHSA. The CAO and CLA would also be directed to report on the fiscal, operational and service-delivery impacts of withdrawing and directly contracting with homeless service providers. Finally, it would instruct the CAO and CLA, with assistance from the Housing and Community Investment Department, to report to City Council with an outline and recommendations on incorporating outreach, housing and all other homelessness services delivery programs within a city department or new agency, and what budgetary steps would need to be taken to quickly accomplish it.
John Wickham of the Chief Legislative Analyst’s office presented council members on Friday with a review of LAHSA’s structure and a comparison to other agencies.
Wickham told council members that key problems within LAHSA include:
— elected officials are not integrated into the center of the system;
— the system is complex, which is partly necessary due to the complexity of the county, its political systems and its population;
— parts of the system have authority with no accountability; and
— parts of the system are held accountable but have no authority.
“In restructuring the system, whichever path it goes down, these are some of the things that need to be addressed,” Wickham said.
LAHSA’s public-private partnership includes the city, county, state and federal governments on the public side and more than 300 service providers working under contracts on the private side. The private service providers include nonprofits, faith-based organizations, for-profit companies, education systems and health care providers, Wickham said.
Buscaino expressed frustration during the meeting with LAHSA’s lack of transparency with the city, citing the idea that the agency does not provide data on unhoused residents who do not accept services and housing.
“Without knowing critical information about who has been offered shelter, and who has turned it down, the city cannot enforce our anti-camping laws, and differentiate between those that want help, and those that do not,” Buscaino said. “This results in the unmitigated proliferation of dangerous, inhumane encampments, subjecting innocent people experiencing homelessness to criminals that prey on them. This is not compassionate — it’s reckless.”
One of the problems within the system is the “weak links,” according to Wickham. He compared the system to a soccer team, where one weak link can bring down the entire team.
“There are so many parties in the system at various levels of government that are all essential to the system. They need to be more effective and more efficient. We need to be working to identify them,” Wickham said.
“When we look around our city, I don’t have to tell you this, it is clear that what we’re doing is simply not working, and we have to ask ourselves if we’re truly committed to solving this crisis with the utmost urgency,” Council President Nury Martinez said.
“For several months now, members, we’ve had conversations on housing, on outreach, on street engagement and in each of these conversations we’ve had, you’ve brought up concerns about the role and effectiveness of LAHSA. So now we need to undertake a comprehensive review on the current system to understand the gaps that exist and what needs to change in order to better serve all of our communities, as well as the unhoused population,” she said.
Buscaino noted that City Controller Ron Galperin reported LAHSA is falling short of the city’s goals, and in the 2018-19 fiscal year, the agency did not meet five of the city’s outreach targets.
Council members asked Wickham how much of the ineffectiveness of LAHSA is caused by a lack of housing supply, and Wickham stated that the problem is caused by both supply and operations.
Marston said, “There’s no question that supply impacts the ability of the system to be effective because there’s nowhere for people to go.”
She said L.A. County is 500,000 affordable housing units short of meeting the demand and before the COVID-19 pandemic, was about 30,000 permanent supportive housing units short of meeting demand.
She added that LAHSA’s system of moving someone from homelessness into a permanent solution has become “very complicated, which is why we’re doing this work on governance and the LAHSA strategic plan.”
Councilman Kevin de León asked Wickham if the city could create its own continuum of care, instead of depending on LAHSA. A continuum of care is a regional planning body that coordinates housing and homeless services funding for families and individuals in need. LAHSA is the lead agency for the Los Angeles Continuum of Care, which includes all cities in L.A. County with the exception of Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena. Those three cities have their own continuums of care.
Wickham said that it would need to undergo a substantial review process from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to receive federal funding. He added that the city of Atlanta used to be part of a regional organization and decided to create its own. The process took about three years.
De León asked for Wickham’s opinion about what the city should do: reform LAHSA or create a Los Angeles city continuum of care. Wickham declined to answer but said that the Chief Legislative Analyst has reviewed the city’s options and will present on them at a later City Council meeting.
Wickham’s presentation Friday included three chapters of a six-chapter evaluation of LAHSA. Next week, the City Council will hear a review of the three remaining chapters.
“Members, this discussion is not for the sake of listening to ourselves speak. I do expect recommendations from several of you and I hope that they can go back to our Homelessness and Poverty Committee and come forward with additional recommendations for this body to take action,” Martinez said.
The councilmen introduced the motion following Wickham’s presentation. It will next go to the city’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee for review.