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County considering homeless authority changes

LOS ANGELES — The county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Feb. 10 to rethink the structure and responsibility of a lead agency responsible for battling homelessness.

Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Hilda Solis co-authored the motion recommending a review of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

“I believe something has to change,” Barger said. “If not … my cities are going to feel that they are not being represented fairly.”

The authority was established in 1993 in response to a lawsuit filed against the county by the city of Los Angeles, which felt that the county wasn’t doing its share to solve the problem. A joint powers agency governed by a commission with five county and five city appointees, it manages more than $400 million annually, including roughly 70% of all Measure H funds.

Barger said many city leaders have complained that the authority focuses too much on Los Angeles rather than taking a countywide perspective.

When Measure H — the quarter-cent sales tax assessed to help fund housing support services — was passed in 2017, the board chose to have the authority administer the funds going to service providers rather than setting up another layer of bureaucracy. The county could now choose to manage the money itself, though the board originally determined that would be less efficient and possibly less cost effective, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.

However, the supervisors agreed that things have changed dramatically over the last three years.

The authority “clearly grew exponentially just in terms of what they were being required to do,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said. “We have really pinned the problem of homelessness on them.”

Hahn suggested that the authority is not nimble enough to effectively address the full scope of homelessness.

“I have felt a lack of urgency,” Hahn said. “The bureaucracy that it is there has not been flexible enough to grow and change and adapt.”

She shared a story about her own staff stepping in to rent motel rooms for homeless individuals in Whittier when they were unable to get the help they wanted from the authority.

Solis agreed, saying, “We’re triaging … I can’t afford to wait for [the authority].”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she didn’t believe that a bigger or smaller board would have made a difference in the county’s response to homelessness.

“I don’t care what we do with that board, it is not the central thing that will solve homelessness,” she said.

Kuehl also pointed out that two ideas for how to structure the board could pull in opposite directions — bringing officials from more cities to the table could work against a truly countywide approach.

“I like the city-county partnership,” Kuehl said, before adding that more federal and state funding is the real key to fixing the problem.

Barger said cities are concerned because they’re not seeing the money at work in their communities and she worried aloud that the authority hasn’t been able to manage its growth effectively.

“This is not about money anymore, this is about leadership,” Barger said.

The authority is the lead agency in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care, the regional planning agency that coordinates housing and services for homeless people. However, the Continuum of Care has a board of its own and there are various other commissions and advisory boards — as well as the Coordinated Entry System Policy Council and county Homeless Initiative — which share responsibility for policy and oversight.

Authority Commission Chair Sarah Dusseault said she hoped to participate in tough conversations about how to move forward but hoped the report back to the board would be open-ended.

“Our hope is that this isn’t prescriptive,” Dusseault told the board.

The Los Angeles City Council is also reviewing the authority’s governance structure. The authority itself has set up an ad hoc committee on governance as well as a new Housing Central Command tool to try and address challenges to finding housing quickly for homeless residents with HUD vouchers.

Wave Wire Services