Los Angeles County’s strategy to end homelessness is just not cutting it. That’s why the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness this week unanimously approved seven recommendations to address the inadequacies in the County’s response to the homelessness crisis.
The County Board of Supervisors established the commission last year to analyze the governance model of the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA), which coordinates housing and services for unhoused people in the county. For the past six months, we’ve taken a close look at the various means for addressing homelessness in the county, including LAHSA.
As a commissioner, I’m proud of the recommendations my colleagues and I developed with the guidance of local government leaders, issue experts and people who provide services to the unhoused people of our county. These recommendations are preliminary, and I am hopeful they will be adopted by the Board of Supervisors to change the system and improve efficiency in delivering solutions to homelessness.
First, we recommend creating a new county entity and leadership post. The entity will be responsible for homelessness prevention, housing acquisition, rehousing, and medical care access for the unhoused. Its leader would hold accountable LAHSA and Los Angeles County departments for timely contracting and payments and urgent access to services. Part of the entity’s goal will be to streamline LAHSA, transitioning LAHSA away from providing direct services to unhoused people. Instead, the new entity will coordinate urgent access to direct services, while LAHSA focuses on its role as a Continuum of Care, a system meant to guide and track unhoused individuals through housing and services.
This reorganization will not reshuffle the deck or create new bureaucracy. Rather, it will create lines of authority that lead to greater accountability than the current system provides. To improve LAHSA’s operations, our recommendations call for an operations team that will audit existing systems, like procurement and communications, and guide reform that will ensure LAHSA’s executives reflect the depth and resources required to operate an organization responsible for stewarding more than $700 million to end homelessness in Los Angeles. We also recommend defining decision-making responsibilities among the leadership of LAHSA and other boards, commissions and organizations addressing homelessness.
We can better define responsibilities by consolidating the LAHSA Commission, Los Angeles Continuum of Care Board, and Coordinated Entry System Policy Council into a single board. This new board will be composed of members with lived experience and representing the county’s diverse 88 city government landscape alongside existing commissioners appointed by the City of Los Angeles and County of Los Angeles. The new commission makeup will make it and its decisions more representative of the entire county than the existing LAHSA Commission.
We can also achieve greater representation in our response to homelessness when our local communities receive more funding from Measure H, which currently takes sales tax dollars out of the cities in Los Angeles County to finance LAHSA. Since 2017, when voters approved Measure H, nearly $37 million of the collected taxes directly went to cities or a Council of Governments (COG), which can then grant it to cities in its region in the form of a local return. But, where is that “local” return? Unfortunately, $37 million only represents 3% of the money raised by the tax over the past five years. How has more money not gone directly to cities, which are the most familiar with the homeless populations in their neighborhoods? This reality is why the commission recommends creating a multi-year “local solutions” fund using Measure H dollars. Between local return funding and local know-how and commitments to end homelessness, cities and COGs will at last have the opportunity to make a real dent in solving homelessness in their communities.
And that brings me to flexibility. We often hear that a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t work. That’s true with addressing homelessness in our county, too. Cities and COGs should have the flexibility to spend Measure H funds to meet the specific needs of their communities. It really comes down to listening – something LAHSA has not done over the years. It’s time to allow city government – the closest form of government to you, the people – to determine its spending priorities in delivering a mix of housing, services and other resources to restore our unhoused neighbors to fully-functioning members of our communities.
We – you and I and our neighbors in the 88 cities and unincorporated communities of Los Angeles – can solve homelessness. I urge all residents of Los Angeles County to demand their County Supervisor get behind these recommendations and the solutions in the commission’s forthcoming report and make a united effort to solve homelessness once and for all.
Marcel Rodarte is a member of the Los Angeles Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness and executive director of the California Contract Cities Association. He is also a former Norwalk mayor and councilmember.
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Update as of April 29, 2022:
After months of meetings and public input, the BRCH has forwarded its final report with seven recommendations to the Board of Supervisors to be voted on May 3, 2022. The recommendations outlined below will have a profound impact on how we address homelessness in L.A. County.
- Create a County entity and identify a leader that can unify the work product of various agencies and eliminate existing silos to create a more transparent and effective response that fully incorporates mainstream systems.
- Renew and re-start relationships with cities and Councils of Government by establishing a multi-year local solutions fund available for jurisdictions that will commit to providing in-kind or matching contributions for the development of service programs and/or housing.
- Streamline LAHSA by re-focusing the authority back on its primary role as lead of the Greater Los Angeles Continuum of Care (CoC), and transition away from providing direct services in order for the above-recommended County entity to coordinate immediate access to direct services. In the interim, maintain the current number of seats on the LAHSA Commission but change who sits in them (e.g., County department heads, those with lived expertise, Councils of Governments, or city representatives).
- Simplify CoC governance into one cohesive board by beginning the process to consolidate the LAHSA Commission, CoC Board, and Coordinated Entry System Policy Council into a single decision-making entity.
- Improve LAHSA’s operations immediately by, among other recommendations, embedding an “Ops Team” to maximize LAHSA’s internal effectiveness.
- Demand data and metrics excellence by requiring data sharing between cities, the County, and LAHSA. Define and implement metrics of success, track equity goals, and establish tools for accountability. Develop formulas for tracking, in a more comprehensive manner, Measure H funding and other funds supporting people experiencing homelessness.
- Establish an executive-level action team to drive urgently needed reforms, discuss issues of common interest, and facilitate data development and sharing.
CCCA believes the motion can be better with the following three amendments.
- Increasing city leadership representation across all committees mentioned in BRCH’s recommendations, including the single body that will consolidate the LAHSA Commission, Continuum of Care Board, and CES Policy Council Greater, as well as the Executive Level Action Team.
- Allowing Measure H funding to be allocated to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST), as well as cities with their own police departments that actively partner with the HOST team.
- Amending the recommendation for the local solutions fund so that it clearly outlines how disadvantaged communities will be able to benefit from the fund and participate in its matching contributions program. By defining a process that waives disadvantaged communities’ matching contribution, diversity, equity, and inclusion will be at the forefront of the program’s mission and design.