Number of Homeless People on Skid Row Spikes by 11%

LAHSA's January 2019 count found that the number of sheltered people on Skid Row declined, while the number of unsheltered people spiked by 23%.

In an effort to address the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles County, the joint-power agency overseeing homeless services in the county and city has unveiled a new approach to more efficiently track available resources and speed up the rate in which people are moved into supportive housing units that become available.

Last month on Feb. 18, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, along with partners such as the County Department of Health Services, the Mayor’s Office, and the County Development Agency, unveiled the Homeless Central Command, a new initiative meant to consolidate information and speed up the process to get people into permanent supportive housing. In the course of launching the new approach, partner agencies already uncovered a number of resources that had gone unregistered with departments.

The goal of the new approach is to create a unified understanding of all resources available to service provider organizations in Los Angeles. From there, the initiative will make bureaucratic changes to rapidly match people with those resources, regardless of who or what agency owns or oversees them. The goal is to reach 95% utilization.

“We know our piece of the pie, but we are not looking at the pie collectively,” LAHSA Interim Executive Director Heidi Marston said at a Feb. 18 presentation to the County Board of Supervisors.

The path to launching Housing Central Command started in November, according to Marston. She told Los Angeles Downtown News that federal grants the agency received in 2017 were expiring, and roughly a third of that money was going unspent and had to be returned to Washington. That required LAHSA to reapply for those funds.

With that deadline approaching, the agency and partners decided to model their approach after a crisis response model developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for rapidly rehousing people after natural disasters. Marston said that HUD staff has been on hand providing assistance since December, helping set up the initiative before its formal launch last month.

Homeless Central Command includes dedicated staff from LAHSA and partner agencies, who have been meeting daily, to review and consolidate data on available housing units, funds for services and other tools to rehouse people. Currently, the taskforce is focused on Service Provider Areas 4 and 7, which are metro Los Angeles (including Downtown) and East Los Angeles, Bell and other areas, respectively.

“Let’s find [those in need of shelter], let’s get them ready, and let’s move them in as rapidly as possible, and let’s track that to see where we can bring all of these efficiencies to scale,” Marston said.

Alongside identifying inventory, the new approach is meant to make the process easier to manage for housing applicants. That includes using digital documentation across all partner agencies and allowing applicants to submit forms and IDs electronically. The new model also got rid of a rule requiring clients to periodically submit documents showing disabilities.

The plan is to review actions in the two service areas after 30-60 days. In practice, Marston said, the centralized planning and information system will get people moved into supportive housing at a quicker rate, and ensure that more federal funds are used before they can expire.

The new approach comes after the 2019 Homeless Count found that homelessness had increased by 12% in the County and by 16% in the City of Los Angeles over 2018. The results of the 2020 count, conducted over three days in January, are expected in the coming months.

The reviews are already uncovering tools that had fallen through the cracks. At a Feb. 18 presentation to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Marston said that LAHSA had uncovered roughly 3,000 available resources, including housing units, housing vouchers and subsidies, that had not been logged into the system.

LAHSA confirmed that some of those resources are located in Downtown Los Angeles, but did not provide a breakdown of how many are there by press time.

According to Marston, almost all of those resources were in use by service providers, but simply not logged properly into city and county records. Marston told Los Angeles Downtown News that it is possible more resources will be uncovered from further work by Housing Central Command.

The move comes as LAHSA has been under increased scrutiny from city and county leaders. On Feb. 11, Fifth District County Supervisor Kathryn Barger filed a motion calling for a review of LAHSA’s organization and the effectiveness of its structure. In a statement to Los Angeles Downtown News last week, Barger said that the revelation of those uncovered resources is why she wanted transparent conversations with LAHSA and county departments involved in homelessness relief.

“We need to have a baseline understanding of what our resources are so that we can make informed policy and funding decisions to improve our systems and address this issue,” Barger continued.

The Housing Central Command initiative comes as the city continues to build Proposition HHH-funded permanent supportive housing units. Since voters approved the bond in November 2016, construction costs have risen and development has been slow. When proposed, the city estimated it would create up to 10,000 permanent supportive housing units. As of press time, more than 20 projects are in construction. Current estimates on prices put the cost of one unit at roughly $500,000.

City Controller Ron Galperin, whose office released a scathing report on the cost of homeless housing last October, has been increasingly critical of LAHSA and the city’s response to the homelessness crisis. In a statement to Los Angeles Downtown News, Galperin said that he found that the agency’s efforts in the City of Los Angeles to be “too reactive and responsive,” and that it left most homeless individuals unserved.

“We don’t yet know enough about the new Housing Central Command structure to say whether or not it will lead to better results, but it is clear that LAHSA’s leadership is now projecting a sense of urgency that wasn’t there before, which is absolutely necessary given the widening scope of homelessness in the region,” Galperin continued. “My main concern is that public dollars are used to fund programs and strategies that directly help the people who need them most.”

If the review from the initial test period is positive, Marston said that the approach would be implemented across the county.

nslayton@timespublications.com.