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Sun, Apr

LAHSA’s Series of Unfortunate Events

LOS ANGELES

iAUDIT! - The past couple of weeks have not been kind to VaLecia Adams Kellum, LAHSA’s CEO.  First, the County Board of Supervisors ordered an audit of the authority’s use of a new software package to perform the 2024 PIT count  That audit was triggered by media stories about another botched count, in which volunteers were unable to upload their numbers to the tallying system. In addition, they were told to bypass several areas where homeless people typically seek shelter for the night, such as the large drainage outlets along the Los Angeles River and in state parks. Another story described how counters were told to avoid beaches and Will Rogers State Park because state employees would do the count—something that had never been done before and was in fact not done this year. In addition to the audit of the software system, the Board of Supervisors ordered a complete financial audit of the agency.  

In what is either a remarkable coincidence or a cynical attempt to make it appear she is taking bold action, Adams Kellum recently fired three executives, including the two who run LAHSA’s Finance and IT departments, the subject of the upcoming audits.  Based on my experience, this is typical self-preservation behavior.  A chief executive will toss senior managers overboard in an attempt to look like she’s taking action. Then she can tell the audit team she’s already making changes to improve operations. It makes for good press and avoids taking any responsibility for the organization’s failures. It also gives her an excuse to blame a change in leadership for delayed action. 

While the news that the County Board of Supervisors is finally taking action is welcome, we need to look behind the curtain.  One of the glaring issues is why the BOS bypassed LAHSA’s 10-member Commission and ordered its own audits. The Commission is LAHSA’s governing body and should have been proactively demanding accountability before the County demanded it for them. When one considers the Commission’s membership, one can understand why it has failed to hold LAHSA’s management accountable. Two of the members are County Supervisors, one is Mayor Bass, and one is a former Councilmember. The remaining members are community activists and housing advocates. Since Rev. Andy Bales left in December 2023, no members question the Housing First model.  In addition, there are no medical professionals experienced  in mental health or substance abuse on the Commission, despite the prevalence of untreated mental illness and substance abuse among the unhoused. The closest the Commission comes is a social medical researcher, who views medical issues through the lens of social needs. Except for Wendy Gruel, who was L.A.’s City Controller after her stint on the Council, no member is experienced in organizational analyses, management, or performance measurement. At least a third of the Commission’s members treat LAHSA as a political asset. To the others, being a member is another form of advocacy for their particular brand of activism. None have shown the slightest inclination or interest in LAHSA’s efficiency, accountability, or day-to-day management.  Under such lax oversight, it is little wonder LAHSA has morphed into a huge agency with no sense of direction.  LAHSA’s fiscal year 2016-17 budget was $132.1 million, and it had 200 employees.  The 2016 PIT count showed 46,874 homeless in L.A. County.  By fiscal year 2022-23, LAHSA’s budget ballooned to $845,367,020 and it had 800 employees. The 2023 PIT count showed more than 75,000 homeless in the County.  For a six-fold increase in budget, and a quadrupling of staff, the County saw a 48 percent increase in homelessness. And yet nobody on the Commission asked what we were getting for the money. 

As for the audits themselves, I’m assuming they will be conducted by the Office of the County Auditor/Controller.  The office appears to perform its audits in compliance with Government Accountability Office (GAO) standards. Among other things, GAO standards require managers to substantively respond to the audit’s findings.  The standards also prohibit interference from the County’s BOS or LAHSA’s Commission.  I anticipate the audits will take at least six months. In the meantime, we can hope the audits are the start of a new era of accountability and a demand for real change and actual results in homelessness programs. More to follow!

(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.)