14
Fri, Jun

LAHSA and Accountability

POLITICS

iAUDIT - Two weeks ago Councilmember Traci Park introduced a motion to demand more transparency and accountability in LAHSA’s budget. She stated, "We deserve to know how LAHSA’s resources meant to address homelessness are allocated.  Having access to data and information helps us to make informed policy decisions on how to best allocate our own funds and resources. We need information that makes sense with how we spend money on the homelessness epidemic today–not a model used 20 years ago when the crisis was at a much different magnitude.”

A few weeks before Park filed her motion, Bob Blumenfield alluded to withholding the City’s payment to LAHSA in light of the most recent in a long line of revelations of missing or questionable  data, this time regarding the agency’s inability to count the number of people in Inside Safe shelters.

In addition to these latest faux pas, LAHSA has yet to release specific statistics from its 2023 PIT count, which was completed in January, more than seven months ago.  To that delay, add the 2022 PIT count, which was widely derided as wildly inaccurate by political leaders and survey professionals. What little information on the 2023 PIT count is available comes in the form of a 44-slide presentation on LAHSA’s website. If the presentation is a foretaste of the complete report on the survey results, it looks like it will challenge one’s ability to suspend belief. 

We already know County-wide homelessness increased by nine percent to more than 75,000 people between 2022 and 2023, (if the 2022 numbers can be believed).   Chronic homelessness increased by 18 percent and now totals 31,991 souls.  Unsheltered homelessness reached 73 percent of all homeless, or more than 55,000 people, a  number that would beggar the imagination if the evidence didn’t confront us on freeway underpasses and block-long tent encampments all over the City.

Against these devastating numbers, LAHSA claims it has increased shelter capacity by more than 10,000 beds since 2019. It says it has decreased the average time it takes to move adult homeless from the street to interim shelter by 45 percent, from 110 to 61 days.  It claims it increased interim housing placements 30 percent compared to last year. It says its housed more than 20,000 people in each of the past three years.

And yet, despite these “successes”, homelessness grew by more than 6,000 people.  Despite the supposed availability of more shelter beds, the actual number of people sheltered decreased by more than 200 while unsheltered homelessness increased by 6,607 people. In a very small footnote on the housing slide, LAHSA notes that an unknown number of those 20,000 “housed people” were multiple placements.  In an especially egregious manipulation of statistics to make failure look like success, the claim that interim housing placements increased by 30% fails to mention the actual increase was from 17 percent to 22 percent of at-risk youth, (22 is 30 percent higher than 17), and from 12 percent to 18 percent of adults contacted by outreach, ignoring the fact that more than 40 percent of the unhoused have never been contacted with any kind of housing offer, per RAND’s study in early 2023.

LAHSA’s manifold program failures were too obvious for it to ignore, so the presentation admits it needs a coordinated path forward and lays out a plan of “bold action” to assume a “leadership and coordinating role” to urgently respond to the crisis, including developing a multi-department response team to move people indoors more quickly. It also promises to set measurable system-wide goals available to the public.  The presentation adds a photo of Mayor Bass, the Board of Supervisors, LAHSA’s CEO, and other officials literally “locking arms” and smiling reassuringly for the camera.

If you’re hopeful LAHSA really means it this time, or that Traci Park’s motion means its time for LAHSA to be held accountable for its failures, consider this: in September 2020 the County Board of Supervisors approved a motion for LAHSA to improve its financial reporting and operations—and that motion was in response to audit findings from 2018. For at least five years, the County and the City, the two entities that created LAHSA, have been calling for more accountability and more transparency, to no avail. 

In 2019, when the PIT count revealed a 12 percent increase in homelessness from 2018, LAHSA promised it was ready to scale up its efforts with a huge infusion of Measure H money, “The $460 million Measure H budget for FY 2019-20 ($58M increase over FY 2018-19) will help scale up these efforts, and Governor Newsom’s May budget revision adds $650 million in one-time funding”. In 22020, homelessness jumped by nearly 13 percent from 2019--and the count was done before COVID hit.

In 2021, LAHSA spelled out plans to streamline its governance and improve its operational efficiency.  Its 2022 PIT count claimed homelessness increased by “only” 4.1 percent, but within a few months so many problems were discovered with the count’s methodology, the survey was virtually worthless.

In 2022, City Controller Ron Galperin called for major reforms after LAHSA employees were caught on camera dumping food meant for the homeless, saying "Major reform is necessary not just to deal with food but to deal with all of the failures that we've seen from LAHSA."

LAHSA has had 30 years and multiple chances to “assume a leadership and coordinating” role in L.A.’s homelessness crisis, and all it seems capable of doing is paying service providers millions in contracts, with little or no accountability.

In a tragic way, the numbers and LAHSA’s response remind me of the classic Peanuts cartoon where Lucy perennially convinces Charle Brown she’ll hold the football before he kicks it. She always yanks it away at the last second, and Charlie Brown ends up on his back once again. In this scenario, Lucy is LAHSA’s leadership and Charlie Brown is the City and County of Los Angeles, convinced that this time things really will improve.  LAHSA, in turn, is never held accountable for its own failures.

That’s what makes the photo of the City and County leaders all the more disturbing.  The Mayor of Los Angeles, The County Board of Supervisors, and the head of LAHSA smile benignly at the camera, knowing full well they are primarily responsible for massive and ongoing failures that leave more people on the street each year., six of whom die every night.  Perhaps that is why the biggest smile seems to belong to Va Lecia Adams Kellum, LAHSA’s CEO. Despite many attempts in the past, she has no reason to fear her agency will ever be truly held accountable for the money its wasted and the lives its left to the streets.

(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.)