The State of the Homeless in LA County and LAHSA

THE EASTSIDER - This time we’re going to take a look at LAHSA (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority), a joint City/County entity seeking to go beyond LA City’s interest in getting the homeless off the streets, and purporting to transition them into recentering society.

The Provider System

The latest overview of how the Provider system works is a September 2000 document with the title of “REQUEST FOR STATEMENT OF QUALIFICATIONS FOR CERTIFICATION AS A QUALIFIED BIDDER FOR LAHSA FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES”

You can find it here, and it includes links to all of the other documents that a NGO needs to get contracts with LAHSA, be it running a Tiny Home project in Northeast LA to Project Roomkey and all of the other projects administered by LAHSA.  

Here’s the list of required documents to accompany the filing: 

- Request for Statement of  Qualifications for Certification

- List of Certified Agencies & Funding Sources

- City of Los Angeles Homeless Strategies

- County of Los Angeles Homeless Strategies

- HUD Certification

- ADA/ADAA Certification

- County Lobbyist Code Certification

- Grievance Policy Certification

- Data Encryption Policy Certification

- Suspension and Debarment Form

- Fact sheet

- RFSO Core Documents Checklist (For Guidance Purposes)

- RFSO Application 

That’s a lot of documents. Looking at the 9 page List of Certified Agencies, there appears to be well over 100 certified Agencies and Funding Sources in the list. For the brave, you can find all of these documents in sub links to the one I’ve provided. 

From what I have seen of LAHSA Providers, I’m not so sure that all of these certifications are followed.  For example, in some of the Tiny Villages I’ve reported on, terminated staff have no awareness that there’s a grievance policy that should be followed. As to lobbying ....? 

The June Board Meeting

If you want to read or listen to a flood of bureaucratic BS, you can find the Minutes of the June  LAHSA Board meeting here

There is no mention that I could find about a teeny weeny problem that the LAHSA Board has had since April 25th, however.  That’s the date that the Executive Director of LAHSA, Heidi Marston, resigned her position as head of the Agency. 

As the LA Times described the event: 

“Monday, citing friction with the organization’s board over her unilateral decision to raise the salaries of its lowest-paid staffers. Heidi Marston, LAHSA’s executive director, leaves at a pivotal moment as elections in the city and county — along with the resolution of a years-long legal fight over homelessness in Los Angeles — could alter the strategy for how the region helps its homeless population.

Several members of LAHSA’s governing commission said they were perplexed and disappointed by Marston’s sudden decision. Others said they were disheartened.

“As a friend, I asked her to remain,” said the Rev. Andy Bales, president and chief executive of the Union Rescue Mission, who was appointed to the commission in November. “She clearly had made up her mind.”

In a letter to the board, Marston said her resignation would take effect May 27, and in a statement, LAHSA Commission Chair Jacqueline Waggoner said “interim leadership will be appointed in short order.” 

You should note, I think, that as of the June 2022 Board meeting, her name is still listed in the Org Chart as head of the Agency. And all this  was after almost a year’s internal battle over Marston’s raising the minimum wage for staff. 

Also worth reading is Marston’s Letter of Resignation itself, which you can find here. 

“Since joining LAHSA as the Chief Program Officer in February 2019, through my tenure as Executive Director (ED), I have maintained two fundamental truths: 1) we will never solve the homelessness crisis without affordable, accessible, and sustainable housing, and 2) the racism and economic inequality inherent in our systems have created, and continue to
perpetuate, widespread housing insecurity and homelessness. In Los Angeles (LA), these inequities are particularly pronounced; the Cost of Living in LA is 41.1% higher than the national average and the average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment is 73.9% higher than the national average.

Prior to increasing LAHSA’s minimum salary, LAHSA was paying wages as low as $33,119 a year or about $2,760 per month before taxes, benefits, retirement, childcare, utilities, food, student loans, etc. Affording a one-bedroom apartment at this compensation-level in LA is virtually impossible. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) established that an individual in LA County making $60,000 annually is considered “Low-Income '' and those who make $41,400 or less are deemed “Very Low Income”. LAHSA was paying its own employees less than what was deemed necessary to live by federal standards, a devastating reality and shortfall that was not only inequitable, but seriously misaligned with LAHSA’s core values. By allowing the continuation of this inequity, LAHSA’s ED and each Commissioner charged with LAHSA’s care would fail to uphold the very values that define LAHSA’s purpose: Accountability, Collaboration, Compassion, Equity, and Integrity” 

It is a five page letter, and well worth the read, especially references to and a quote from a 2021 National Innovation Service (NIS) Report, which includes a damning call out of the Board’s inability to deal with reality.  Check it out. 

The Board of Supervisors Actions

Clearly LAHSA needs some adult supervision, although we have to remember that their Board is appointed basically by LA City and LA County. What I find hard to take, is that the LA County Board of Supervisors chose to bury their heads in the sand and create yet another committee to study the problem. 

As I wrote in CityWatch on the eve of that decision: 

“Well, on Tuesday May 3rd, the Board of Supervisors guaranteed failure, with yet another massive undertaking buried in a revision to the May 3 Agenda: 

“Implement the Recommendations of the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Homelessness

Revised recommendation as submitted by Supervisors Barger and Solis: Adopt the seven Blue-Ribbon Commission on Homelessness (BRCH) recommendations; direct the Chief Executive Officer to maximize continuity of analysis and implementation of BRCH recommendations by working in consultation with the Executive Director of the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Homelessness and staff, as well as any subject matter experts, as necessary, until such time that the County has established the new County entity and appointed a leader of such entity or as otherwise determined by the Board; and report back to the Board quarterly, with written status reports on the implementation of the following actions:

Instruct the Chief Executive Officer and BRCH staff to take the following actions and report back to the Board in writing quarterly on the status:” 

The Takeaway

With over half a billion dollars/yr in funding, it seems pretty clear that the taxpayers, as well as the homeless, are not getting much of a bang for the buck. Both LA City and the County are not making significant progress in shrinking the ranks of the homeless, much less actually transitioning them to being able to re-enter society with permanent lodging. 

LA City has defaulted to a system where each of the 15 Councilmembers decide in their fiefdoms where to go in in and remove encampments. As we know in Northeast LA, mostly the homeless come back, and I suspect it is the same for most of the City. 

In the County, LAHSA is so bureaucratically twisty that little really gets done on the ground.  Just read Heidi Marston’s letter.  I am not an expert in this field, but I know enough to safely say that yet another Blue Ribbon Committee is ridiculous. 

So where do we go from here?


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)