HOMELESSNESS GOALS - A few weeks ago I wrote about the problems Mayor Bass’ Inside Safe program are having. People are being moved from one hotel to another while the program concentrates on building its way out of the crisis. Two recent and seemingly unrelated news items give a more detailed view of how Inside Safe is failing to meet its goals.
The first is an article from LAist on how Inside Safe managers have failed to provide promised transparency reports on the program’s status and expenditures. The latest report, filed more than a month late on April 21, shows the program has spent only about $114,000 of the $50 million budgeted for the program, although the CAO’s Office assured the Council much more would be committed by the end of June. The number of people sheltered or housed is equally nebulous, bouncing between 1,000 and 1,200, depending on the source. As the article points out, the lack of transparency and solid numbers makes it difficult to assess the program’s progress. Bear in mind, the service providers being paid by Inside Safe are the ones who are held to laughably low performance standards by LAHSA, as I reported earlier.
The second item is our new City Controller Kenneth Mejia’s appearance before the Council’s budget committee. Mejia is requesting an additional $500,000 on top of the $1.8 million the Mayor added to the office’s budget. Mejia blundered his way through the hearing, making it clear he has no experience running a professional office of any kind, no less the audit shop for the nation’s second-largest city. He made it equally clear his priorities are “monitoring” the police and advocating for Housing First policies. At one point, Rick Cole, the Deputy Controller, had to bail Mejia out of a word salad response as to why the Controller’s Office is advocating a specific policy on homelessness. The short story is that Mejia wants the extra money so he can fund his ideological crusade, instead of the real work an audit shop performs; no professional auditor would touch his agenda.
Government audit standards are very clear about an auditor’s proper role. A performance auditor's job isn't to define the mission or programs of an agency, its to assess how those programs are fulfilling the agency's mission. Its not up to Mejia or Ashley Bennet or anyone in the Controller’s Office to decide more people need permanent housing. Compare Mejia’s biased pro-housing first position to Ron Galperin's blistering assessment of the costs and delays of HHH-funded projects from early 2022.
And here is where the two stories are related; the Mayor’s homelessness program is falling behind its goals and hasn’t provided the promised reports; we don’t even know how many people have been housed. The Controller’s Office, which is supposed to provide independent oversight, has a leader who is more interested in pursuing his personal political ideology than in providing that oversight. His oft-stated support of Housing First, and his disdain for anything else, is well-documented, and will not provide the oversight required of his duties as Controller. This has left taxpayers with no real advocate in city leadership. Instead, we are being asked to a system that hasn’t produced any meaningful results after more than a decade, and billions of dollars, will suddenly become successful if we just pump in a few tens of millions dollars more.
(Tim Campbell is a resident of Westchester who spent a career in the public service and managed a municipal performance audit program. He focuses on outcomes instead of process.)