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Wed, Jun

Unraveling the Knot: Discrepancies in LA's Safe Parking and Homelessness Program Metrics and Billing

LOS ANGELES

iAUDIT! - The City continues to add data to its new homelessness program website; one of the latest additions are reports and billings for the Safe Parking Program.  Currently, there are three areas where you can find information on Safe Parking: LAHSA’s scope of required services, a program report for March 2024, and two invoices for services.  These documents center on a parking lot on La Cienega near LAX, managed by a nonprofit called Safe Parking L. A, (SPLA).  They form an excellent example of just how tangled and potentially misleading the City’s homelessness program numbers are. 

Even for an experienced auditor, the metrics report and invoices from Safe Parking L.A. are extremely confusing and difficult to reconcile.  To understand the narrative, you need to understand the relationship between the following documents: 

I noted the following inconsistencies and irregularities: 

  • The metrics report is for June 1, 2023, through March 18, 2024. It shows the following accomplishments:

• Total enrollments (includes initial and subsequent enrollments by clients): 74

• Total unique clients (includes primary and passenger clients): 70

• Total unique households/vehicles: 59

• Total clients exited (includes all exits – to housing, other programs, without services, and self-resolved): 51

• Total placements into permanent and transitional housing: 21

 

  • The invoice dates do not match the metrics report. The invoice is for October through December 2023. There is no way to tell if the clients served in the metrics report were served during or before the billing period. 
  • The contract (C-145058) amount listed on the invoice matches the contract amount of $676,028, but note the contract is not for a full year; it is for the eight months between October 1, 2023, and May 31, 2024. Projecting $676,028 over 12 months would make the contract total $1,014,050. The contract does not specify a site, but the contract amount matches the contract amount stated on the La Cienega invoice.  
  • There is no contract specifically for the LA Cienega site for June through September 2023. The general contract (C-143196) for $309,385 was dated from the date of execution (possibly March 31, 2023) through June 30, 2023. It was amended, effective April 28, 2023, through May 31, 2024 (about 13 months) for $585,600, or 1.89 times the original amount, for a total of $894,985.  This contract does not specify a site or sites, so it may or may not have included the La Cienega site. 

Because the service statistics in the metrics report go back to June 1, 2023, we do not know how many, (if any) clients were served before the current contract took effect in October 2023. 

In both contracts, the reporting requirements are in Section 4:


Section 4.0 Reporting Requirements:

Each month, the Contractor will provide the following data to the City within 21 days of the close of the previous month:
1. Number of Participants served within the previous month, including the total head
of households, accompanying minor and adult passengers
2. Number of individuals that have transitioned into stable housing, specifying
Permanent versus Interim Housing.
3. Referrals made, specifying type.
4. Tracking of timelines from intake completion to linkages to services and/or
housing.
5. Number of Financial Assistance Disbursements and categories.
6. Participant success story when available.

The Contractor will provide continued confirmation that information is populated timely into the Homeless Management Information System (“HMIS”) and will use the California Interagency Council of Homelessness’s HMIS funding codes.

At such times in any form as the City may require from the Contractor or Subcontractor, there shall be furnished to the City such statements, records, reports, data and information as the City may request pertaining to matters covered by this Agreement.

For any exceptions to the provisions of Section 4, Reporting Requirements, Contractor shall have obtained written approval from the City.

If Contractor’s or Subcontractor’s reports or other documentation are not submitted as required, the City reserves the right to withhold payments to Contractor or to impose other sanctions, at the City’s sole discretion. These remedies are in addition to any rights granted to City herein.

None of the numbers in the metrics report on the City’s website are broken down by month.  All of the placement data is cumulative from the start of the program in June 2023. SPLA doesn't report housing referral by type as required.  Further, obtaining an exception to the reporting requirements needs City approval in writing. Any change to the performance requirements of a contract requires a change order. I didn't see one in the contract file online, nor any other document releasing SPLA from its duty to report monthly service statistics. SPLA is not meeting its contractual reporting requirement and it appears the City is not enforcing the requirement. 

I could not find any mention of how many spaces are in the lot.  The only reason I can think of for excluding a number is if they want to keep a certain distance between vehicles, so the total number would depend on how big each vehicle is. It’s interesting that SPLA's narrative on the City's performance website mentions the lots are generally underutilized and there's plenty of room to open car doors at night for air. If they don't report the number of spaces versus usage, there is no way to tell if the lot is being used to maximum benefit. 

You can infer the lot's use by its size and usage reported by SPLA.  LAWA says the site is 2.79 acres, or a little more than 121,000 square feet. Deducting 20% for support facilities (bathrooms, laundry, office, etc.) nets 97,225 square feet. SPLA's performance report says there were 59 unique vehicles parked in the lot throughout the service period. If we generously assume all 59 were there on the same night, that's 1,647 square feet per vehicle, about the size of a single-story three bedroom house. 

There are no metrics for cost per vehicle or per person referred. Although not true outcome measures, these metrics could be helpful as simple cost/benefit indicators. Without precise cost and service numbers, it would be difficult to calculate a cost per client, but if we project current costs for a year at $1,014,050 and use the 10 months of June through March in the metrics report to project the 21 clients housed, we get 24 clients per year. Dividing $1,014,050 by 24 clients comes to $42,250 per client. Using the same projection for the 59 reported vehicles, comes out to 71 vehicles per year. At $1,104,050, that would be $14,280 per vehicle—but remember that’s not an annual cost because vehicles can only stay in three-night intervals, and there is no data on how many days each of those 59 vehicles were allowed to stay. 

Based on the available information, at a minimum, I would make the following recommendations to the City’s program managers: 

  1. The City should enforce the contractual requirements for monthly data submission
  2. Billings should be tied only to the services rendered within the billing period.
  3. The number of days unique vehicles use the lot would be a helpful indicator of utilization.
  4. Program updates should match the billing period.
  5. Contracts should be for regular 12-month periods to make cost calculations easier.
  6. For people transferred to housing, the client’s name and housing facility should be named so the City can track individual progress through the system.
  7. It is very difficult to find all the related contracts in the City’s contract database because Safe Parking LA is also known as Community Partners. Further, there is no consistent data entry format, so the contracts can be under several different variations, such as Safe Parking LA, Safe Parking Los Angeles, Community Partners/Safe Parking, etc. The City should enforce consistent data entry rules to make finding all contracts easier.  

None of these recommendations would be especially difficult to implement. Indeed, some should already be in force per the City’s own contract documents.  As they exist now, the documents tell us (and the City) nothing about SPLA’s performance nor the effectiveness of the safe parking program.  

And therein lies a much bigger problem for the City and County. Its is altogether possible for SPLA to be doing a great job managing the Safe Parking program. The agency may be moving far more people into shelter and housing than others. But the City can’t prove it’s a successful program because the numbers are unreliable and unrelated to the billings.  Poor performance measurement cuts both ways; it masks poor outcomes, but it also makes it impossible to claim success. Public agencies should publish financial and performance data to help people understand how programs work, not confuse them with a blizzard of documents that tell us nothing. 

(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.)

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