Homeless tents
MyNewsLA photo by Clancy O'Dessky

Before the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority increased its base pay from $33,119 to $50,000 a year in 2021, some of its staff were experiencing homelessness while working for the agency tasked with responding to the region’s homelessness crisis, LAHSA’s chief programs officer told a City Council committee Wednesday.

“What we learned was that we had some staff who were homeless themselves, and the last thing we want as an employer is to be contributing to our crisis that’s out there on the sidewalk,” LAHSA’s Molly Rysman told the Budget and Finance Committee as part of the 2022-23 budgeting process.

LAHSA’s Executive Director Heidi Marston announced her resignation on Monday, citing disagreements over compensation for staff. Marston said she raised the salary for the 196 lowest-paid employees to $50,000 a year in March 2021.

“The employees of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority should not make so little that they qualify for homeless services themselves,” she wrote in a letter to the commission that oversees LAHSA.

Along with increasing the compensation floor for LAHSA’s employees, Marston also stopped increasing the pay of the 10 highest-paid employees, according to the letter.

Following her decision, she said she was accused of “undermining management’s position” in labor negotiations. She added that service providers believed she was trying to “poach” LAHSA’s staff.

“My journey in this role has revealed that when decisions are made that further drive the disparities and inequities we see in this work, the greatest manifestation of which is the homelessness crisis, being silent is no different than being complicit,” Marston said.

Marston’s letter said her resignation would be effective May 27.

LAHSA Commission Vice Chair Wendy Greuel said in a statement after Marston’s letter:

“We value the men and women at LAHSA who are working every day to end homelessness in the city and county of Los Angeles. Our LASHA staff are at the heart of what we do and who we serve. We will continue to focus on the most important issues which is ending homelessness and making sure people transition from shelters to permanent housing.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that the commission raised concerns about the decision in January after issues arose in negotiations with the employees’ union, SEIU, which led to employees getting a pay raise on top of the $50,000 base salary.

Attorneys with the City Attorney’s Office found that the raises constituted a union contract revision that should have been approved by the commission first, according to The Times.

Sources told The Times the commission didn’t have issues with employees receiving more pay, but had issues with how it was implemented.

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