Audit Finds Deep Failures at LA Homeless Agency

A homeless encampment stretches along Third Avenue and Sunset in Venice, a Los Angeles neighborhood that is home to the largest concentration of homeless people on the Westside. (Martin Macias Jr. / CNS)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The leading agency tasked with connecting people living on the streets of Los Angeles to shelter and services has failed to meet important goals and has become an inefficient reactive force to the homeless crisis, according to an audit released Wednesday.

An annual count showed the homeless population grew by 12% in Los Angeles County, with 59,000 people living on the street, and by 16% in the city of LA with 36,300 people unsheltered.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is contracted with both the city and county governments and performs outreach services to people living on the streets in order to connect them with care for substance abuse and mental health as well as housing providers.

The agency operates on a $300 million annual budget put together by a patchwork of federal and local funding sources, but has maintained goals for its services that do not match up between county and city governments.

Outreach teams are meant to connect people living on the street to important services that can help them secure mental health services or shelter space, but according to the audit released Wednesday more than two-thirds of outreach occurs during encampment cleanups generated by complaints.

“When the garbage truck is arriving is not necessarily the best moment to come and do outreach,” said L.A. Controller Ron Galperin, whose office conducted the audit. “While it’s important to do it at that stage it’s also very traumatic for the people who are being asked to leave at that moment.”

The agency has a loose reviews and reporting procedures that hinders its ability to make contact with people living in those encampments, said Galperin.

“In 2018 alone we had 918 deaths of homeless on the streets of Los Angeles,” said Galperin at a press conference on Wednesday. “That is a jump of 76% in five years. This is a crisis that impacts every single neighborhood and must be confronted. It is altogether unacceptable.”

Approximately 800 outreach workers, including 141 fulltime employees and 20 contractors work with LAHSA daily. They try to communicate with people living on the street, but during the year-long audit of the outreach program the efforts and resources are not where they should be said Galperin.

“In most areas LAHSA failed to even come close to achieving the goals that were set out,” said Galperin. “Last year they did not meet 5 of the outreach goals it set out. In some cases, there were only a 4% to 6% success rate.”

Meanwhile, the city’s own goals do not align with the county’s goal system and overall, outreach goals are not clear and easy to measure according to the audit.

Just 18% of the homeless population in the city of Los Angeles were contacted over the last two fiscal years. From the 6,600 who were contacted, 5,700 received some type of service aid – but that could be as simple as getting a bottle of water from an outreach worker.

The agency’s ability to place homeless people into bridge housing – putting someone in a shelter space with the intention to move them to permanent housing – was abysmal, according to Galperin. Getting people into those shelter spaces fell from 32% to 14%.

In a response Wednesday, LAHSA said while it welcomes oversight and scrutiny “unfortunately this report is misleading.”

“It ultimately says nothing about LAHSA’s outreach efforts, which contacted record numbers of our homeless neighbors in the year it studied,” the agency continued in its statement. “Instead, it notes that certain metrics were ill-suited to evaluating that work, while ignoring measures that show effectiveness. The work today proceeds with better data collection and metrics, but the controller’s report misleads the public if they get the impression that LAHSA’s work has been less than effective.”

But LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn said the audit “highlights concerns I have had about LAHSA for a long time.”

“We are in the early stages of a decades-long effort to address our homelessness crisis. We need to stop justifying our current approaches and figure out what strategies will actually get the job done,” Hahn said in a statement.

Pete White, director of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) based in LA Skid Row, said in an interview it is “troubling and problematic” that LAHSA didn’t reach its goals but – given the available housing stock in LA – the outcome was predictable.

“The building of outreach infrastructure for housing or services that didn’t exist didn’t make sense,” White said of the hundreds of outreach workers added to LAHSA in the last year.

White said rather than having city workers “outreach to nowhere,” funds could instead be used to build homes – including less expensive 3D-printed and shipping container homes – on city owned land while city officials could help tenants facing eviction.

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