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City controller ‘skeptical’ of progress combating LA’s homeless crisis

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The remark came after releasing an audit skewering the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s methods for tracking outreach to homeless residents

A green and white tent against a chainlink fence on a freeway pass.
An audit suggests that LAHSA overstated the number of people it has placed into housing.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The city controller said Wednesday that he’s suspicious of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s reporting on outreach and housing efforts.

“I have reason to be skeptical of all of it,” City Controller Ron Galperin said.

The remark came after releasing an audit Tuesday night skewering the authority’s methods for tracking how well it’s conducting outreach to homeless residents living on city streets.

The audit finds LAHSA failed to meet seven of nine city goals related to shelter, housing, and treatment for people with substance abuse disorders and mental health needs.

For example, of the 4,199 people that outreach teams contacted on city streets last year, only 167—or 4 percent—were placed into permanent housing. The goal was 10 percent. Fewer than 600—or 14 percent—were placed into crisis or “bridge” housing. The goal was 20 percent.

“Some of these awful numbers can be attributed to the fact that LAHSA does not keep track of numbers well at all,” says Galperin. “Four different times, they gave us four different sets of numbers. Very little of what they provide is trustworthy.”

The homeless services authority contracts with the city and county to provide supplies and services to homeless residents and connect them with shelters and housing. It also conducts a critical point-in-time survey of the region to determine how many people are living in shelters, vehicles, and encampments.

The audit suggests that LAHSA has overstated the number of people it has placed into housing.

LASHA reported in June that it had moved 21,631 people across Los Angeles County into permanent housing in 2018. But the city controller’s office finds that number includes people who were housed more than once after falling back into homelessness.

In a response to the report, a LAHSA spokesperson said 1,428 of the 21,631 placements were repeats.

“What you can end up with is a situation in which people are being placed into something very temporary, and maybe a couple of weeks later, they’re out of that,” Galperin says. “If they are now back on the back on the street, and then they’re placed again, they’re counted into that number again—and that’s a real problem.”

Heidi Marston, LAHSA’s chief program officer, says the duplications prove the system is working to keep people off the streets.

“To me, it’s good news,” she says. “We had a system to rehouse them quickly.”

The city controller’s audit is focused largely on outreach efforts funded by the city, to the tune of $6.8 million this fiscal year. That’s a sliver of LAHSA’s budget, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a statement that the report was unfair.

“Unfortunately, this report chose to focus only on a single city contract and, as a result, gives a partial and incomplete picture of the effects of our multiple approaches and efforts,” she said.

But the report doesn’t entirely put the blame on LAHSA. Galperin says the city needs to do a better job managing its contract, and he acknowledged that it would have been able to place more people into housing—if more housing were available.

The authority has nearly 21,000 permanent housing units and about 15,600 beds in emergency shelters, transitional housing facilities, and “safe havens.”

The homeless population, meanwhile, has swelled. According to LAHSA’s point-in-time count, 58,936 people in LA County and and 36,300 in the city of Los Angeles are homeless.

Voters in the city of Los Angeles approved Measure HHH in 2016, a major funding initiative to pay for, or help pay for, 10,000 units of permanent housing. But as emphasized in the report, “no permanent housing facility has been fully constructed and opened for use with [those] funds.” (Measure HHH money has been used to open temporary housing).

The city, not LAHSA, is ultimately responsible for making sure that Measure HHH housing gets built. At a press conference on Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said more than 8,000 units funded by Measure HHH are in the pipeline.