An audit of Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority by the City Controller sharply criticized the City for its tackling of the homeless crisis, in particular, its outreach to the growing number of homeless on the streets.
The report is just the latest in the history of criticism of the City by the Controllers office. This time it's on the city's efforts on homeless, through LAHSA, the agency it's contracted to tackle the problem. Since NBCLA's I-Team reported the findings Tuesday, LAHSA and the Mayor of Los Angeles have responded.
"We need to reach more people more effectively," City Controller Ron Galperin said, adding LAHSA has fallen short in tackling LA's homeless crisis. He also said its workers have spent too much time cleaning up encampments instead of helping of people find the housing, substance abuse, and mental health treatment they need.
Streets Of Shame
Reports on Los Angeles' homelessness issue
"I hope that if we are to make progress on homelessness we take a really hard look at where we are at today," Galperin said.
Our I-Team investigation revealed some of the Controllers findings — including that LAHSA put only 14% of people it contacted into shelters, 4% into permanent housing, 6% into substance abuse treatment, and 4% into mental health treatment, falling well short of its stated goals. Galperin says the city also needs to use more real time data on homelessness, much like the LAPD does on crime.
"I go out with outreach teams every week," Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
Garcetti said while he agreed with some of the audit's recommendations, he disagreed with how the it measured LAHSA's progress on housing.
"LAHSA isn't the only agency that houses people. Our veterans administration — I just cited that we've housed over 10,000 veterans — that is something that is federal government and local government together," Garcetti said.
The controller's findings state that only 167 people were moved into permanent supportive housing, but LAHSA officials say that number is taken out of context, and that thousands have been placed throughout the system. LAHSA officials now say substance abuse and mental health referrals are not good ways to measure effectiveness.
"We don't see people often going straight from the street to permanent housing. We often see people engaging some sort of shelter program first so it's hard to make a direct correlation," LAHSA chief program officer Heidi Marston said.
LAHSA also clarified that the number of homeless people they've reached out to is 6,634, and out of those people, 167 were linked to permanent housing.
The controller said this audit did not address the city's handling of Measure HHH, the billion dollar bond measure meant to create 10,000 units of housing — none of which have opened yet. He says that report will come later.
Read LAHSA's full response below:
"Today the Los Angeles City Controller released a report that examines one City of Los Angeles outreach contract representing $3.5 million (6%) of the total outreach allocation and less than 1% of LAHSA's total budget.
LAHSA welcomes public oversight and scrutiny, which is invaluable to a system undergoing massive growth. None of this work could be possible without close collaboration among City, County and community-based partners, and none of it could be possible without openness to uncomfortable criticism.
"The day-to-day work of connecting with people on the street requires passion and patience: forming bonds with our most vulnerable," said Peter Lynn, Executive Director of LAHSA. "These are individuals and families for whom the system has failed. Its pace can be frustrating, but by the measurements that matter, Los Angeles City and County have invested in programs that are reaching more people than ever before. LAHSA will continue to do this work. As more permanent and bridge housing come online, we will have more success helping our neighbors come indoors."
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. 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.
An audit of one contract does not stand in for the results of an entire system. This report discusses difficulties in setting metrics and collecting data, but does readers a disservice to the extent that it implies poor results on the ground. Numbers appear without context; for example, multiple outlets have already reported that "only 167 people moved into permanent housing" (p. 25) without noting that the number is out of a small subset of 4,199 (chart, p. 26). In fact, LAHSA reported 17,558 placements in 2017 and 21,631 for 2018 systemwide. Further, the report evaluates legacy procedures that do not reflect the current operations of LAHSA outreach teams.
LA's homeless services system is more effective and helps more people exit homelessness than it ever has. The contract audited by the Controller took place in fiscal year 2018-19, following a three-year expansion when local funding increased by 342% and staff increased by 240%. In that year, new resources made a tremendous difference in the capacity of the homeless services system and made great strides in helping people exit homelessness and move into housing.
Compared to 2015, the system made twice as many housing placements (21,631), prevented three times as many people from falling into homelessness (5,643), and completed outreach to three times as many people (34,110). In the past year, 75,796 people were helped by the programs and services of LA's homeless services system — and 80% of them were new to that system.
The following highlights areas of agreement, concern, and disagreement with the Controller's audit.
Points of agreement:
Complaint-driven outreach should be de-emphasized throughout the system.
We're grateful for the Controller's criticism of the high proportion of reactive outreach, and we applaud strategic outreach efforts such as Encampment to Home and CARE/CARE+. This is a useful spur to shifting resources in that direction.
Improvements to metrics and data collection have been vital.
Though the controller's audit does not mention this, LAHSA has already set better goals for outreach; improved data collection, sharing, and reporting practices; and enhanced its approach to serving its unsheltered population. We do not dispute the Controller's criticism of our past efforts in these areas, but we the report should have include current efforts.
Some housing placement represent multiple instances of assistance.
The report notes that LAHSA's 21,631 housing placements include "repeated placements for the same person or family falling in and out of homelessness during a year." The number of repeated placements, 1,428, represents 6.6% of that total (and is not included in the report). LAHSA has previously noted that our success rate with permanent housing is above 90%. Repeats happen in every system. They signal that we have the infrastructure in place to identify people when they fall back into homelessness and we are able to rehouse those people quickly. LAHSA will update its presentation of that number accordingly.
Points of concern:
Some recommendations are redundant to efforts underway.
The recommendation to adopt a "HomeSTAT" like approach is a valuable perspective that merits comparison to the Unified Homeless Response Center, which operates out of the Emergency Operations Center, putting LAHSA and critical City Departments at the same table to provide a coordinated real-time response with services and engagement.
LAHSA is committed to a Housing First, low-barriers-to-entry approach that has shown strong results.
We agree that immediate help for people experiencing homelessness is valuable; we want to caution that resources for "short-term solutions" (p. 3) should not come at the expense of housing. We also caution against measuring "substantive outcomes, such as ... individuals that achieved sobriety" (p. 4), which would contradict core principles and evidence-based practices from the U.S Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH).
A Housing First approach sees housing as a basic human right and recognizes: 1) that people experiencing homelessness need safety and stability before all else; and 2) that safety and stability are most effectively achieved through permanent housing.
Housing First seeks to remove as many obstacles as possible — that is to say, without preconditions including sobriety — that impede the way to permanent housing.
Points of disagreement:
The "five missed goals" (p1-2) are portrayed as operational failures, but they describe metrics in need of revision.
Goals 1-2. Placement in shelter and bridge housing or permanent housing. These are important criticisms to make of an unbalanced system. LAHSA outreach cannot place people in shelter or housing that has yet to be built or is blocked.
Goals 3-4. Metrics around mental health and substance use are not appropriate metrics when evaluating outreach, which is why LAHSA has updated our metrics with the City and County to goals that more accurately reflect the function of outreach teams. Further, individual privacy and protection laws such as HIPAA impede LAHSA's ability to track engagement with these services at the individual level.
Goal 5. Program data is complete and accurate, as described in an email sent on August 12th and available by request."