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City audit is critical of county homeless authority

LOS ANGELES — The county authority charged with spearheading outreach to the homeless and providing housing services and referrals to mental illness and substance abuse treatment is failing to meet the obligations outlined in its contract with the city, according to an audit released Aug. 28.

The audit by Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin concluded that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority missed seven of nine goals during the 2017-18 fiscal year and five of eight last fiscal year.

Galperin acknowledged the outreach work the authority does is difficult and he commended its efforts, but said the agency has fallen short of its goals.

“We found that the outreach efforts in the city of Los Angeles are not where they should be,” Galperin said at a news conference. “LAHSA works with the city and needs to achieve measurable goals. It has a contract that requires that. In a few instances in the last two years, LAHSA has met or exceeded some goals, namely providing direct services to the homeless. However, in most areas, LAHSA failed to even come close to achieving the goals that were set out.”

According to the audit, during the fiscal year that ended in June, only 4% of homeless people assessed by the agency were placed into permanent housing, far short of the goal of 10%. The agency placed 14% of assessed homeless into shelters, shy of the goal of 20%.

The audit also found severe shortfalls in referrals to treatment.

LAHSA officials said the report was “misleading” and that it didn’t address the agency’s outreach efforts.

“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, the executive director of LAHSA. “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.”

The authority’s director of operations, Heidi Marston, said the audit reflected an “unbalanced system.”

Marston said federal privacy rules prevented the authority from accurately reporting mental health and substance abuse referrals. As a result, she said, the agency no longer uses the previously established goals.

“LAHSA welcomes the criticism and individuals looking into our information to see [if there] are ways that we could be doing this better,” Marston said. “The city and county are excellent partners with us in this work, and it’s going to take all of us collectively looking at what we’re doing, asking questions on how can we do this better.”

LAHSA is having trouble placing more homeless people into housing because it hasn’t been built yet, Marston said.

“We have a system that’s heavy on the engagement side, which is great, but we haven’t built enough housing,” she said.

Galperin said his office will soon present a report on the use of the city’s Proposition HHH funding, a $1.2 billion bond that provides loans to build supportive housing.

LAHSA reported earlier this year that there are close to 60,000 homeless people living in the county, with more than 36,000 of them within the city of Los Angeles. All but about 25% live on the streets.

Galperin said he wants LAHSA to use a product called HomeSTAT to track the homeless people the authority serves. Such technology is used by fire and police departments to track and closely predict incidents.

The report called on the city and county to do more to provide more resources such as restrooms, showers, storage facilities and waste services to assist people living on the street.

“I would agree that one of the reasons that so much of the work is, in fact, reactive versus proactive is by the terms and conditions of the contract itself, which is why I am recommending in this report that we really examine the provisions and the goals and what we are seeking to achieve in that contract,” Galperin said.

County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl criticized Galperin’s report, saying she does not believe it provides “a full and fair analysis.”

“Data concerning our wide range of efforts are consistently collected, reported and utilized, and every new report is used to sharpen our strategic deployment of resources,” Kuehl said. “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 data shows that overall outreach approaches are working by successfully connecting homeless people with services and placing thousands into temporary or permanent housing.

County Supervisor Janice Hahn, on the other hand, said the report echoes concerns she’s had for some time.

“[LAHSA’s] outreach has not been as effective as it should be. This report shows that the reactive approach LAHSA has taken isn’t working,” Hahn said. “I would like to see LAHSA’s outreach teams take a more proactive approach especially on encampments. We need to stop justifying our current approaches and figure out what strategies will actually get the job done.”

“In most areas, LAHSA failed to even come close to achieving the goals that were set out.”

— L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin

Wave Wire Services