Column: Bass has an achievable and ambitious homelessness goal


During a tour of the Los Angeles LGBT center in Hollywood on Tuesday, mayoral candidate Karen Bass appeared alternately impressed and flabbergasted.

She was impressed with the center’s programs, dedicated staff, and mission to provide a full range of social healing services – and housing – to LGBTQ clients who have experienced trauma, discrimination and homelessness.

But she was flabbergasted by the tangled and incompetent bureaucracies that dragged out the construction and opening of the center and drove up costs.

Joe Hollendoner, the agency’s chief executive, said she often receives conflicting advice from multiple government agencies. At one point, the center’s obligation to pay for a bike lane on its portion of Santa Monica Boulevard turned into a months-long nightmare involving the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the moving power lines, causing more delays and more costs.

Bass shook his head, then asked:

“Have you found anyone in town who’s really committed to pushing this forward for you?”

Yes, we told him. Sarah Dusseault, who worked for the regional councilor at the time and is now a member of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Commission, helped find money to offset some of the cost increases caused by the delays.

But overall, Hollendoner said, opening the doors last year to provide urgently needed services “was just quite difficult.”

Director of Youth Services Lisa Phillips told Bass that a government contract for housing only pays a fraction of the actual cost. And for 25 young people with mental health and addictions needs, Phillips said, there’s a contract that covers 1.5 employees working a total of two hours a week, and “that’s just not reasonable.”

“It’s not safe,” Bass said.

The MP had another notable reaction during our tour. We were taken to the center’s senior housing building, which opened last year and is home to 98 LGBTQ people. The project was funded in part by the voter-approved HHH proposal, which made headlines over high costs and slow construction amid the humanitarian crisis.

We were told the cost per unit was around $522,000, to which Bass responded with a nutshell:

“Jesus.”

And $522,000 is well below the current HHH housing unit cost average. If Bass gets the best of Rick Caruso on Election Day next month and becomes mayor, cutting costs and delays in a city with around 40,000 homeless people will be the bestial challenge she wakes up to every day.

She has already put her nose there, vowing to house 15,000 people in her first year in office. Caruso, meanwhile, matched and doubled that number.

Voters are tired of broken promises, especially on homelessness. And yet, would anyone want bashful appeals and modest proclamations from Bass or Caruso?

“Believe me, I’m not naive about what to expect,” Bass told me as we headed downtown for another round of housing.

If temporary housing under the Roomkey and Homekey projects is not renewed, she said, it will put thousands of people back on the streets where serious addictions and serious mental illnesses are common.

Next come relationship challenges. With county officials. With a new comptroller and a city attorney. With a city council that could go more left and less willing to compromise on the agenda of Bass or anyone else.

“I think it’s going to be a rocky road,” Bass said, but she was quick to add that she relished the challenge.

As we moved from camp to camp, she said she wanted to do what was “reasonable and achievable, but still very ambitious. And stick to it.

There’s a lot of sense in his plan; not much new and radical.

More and better homelessness prevention. Lower cost housing through non-profit community land trusts. Simplify housing approvals and speed up construction. Better use of emergency shelter vouchers. Commercial building repurposing and more accessory dwelling units and modular design.

But Bass insists that a big part of the problem is a disjointed response and leadership vacuum that results in the kind of nonsense we were told about at the LGBT Center.

“You shouldn’t have to run through 20 different departments,” she said. There should be a “centralized system” and she wants “leadership in departments that understands that things need to go as fast as possible”.

In Bass’s vision, his many years of collaboration in Sacramento and Washington would be the honey that brings city, county, state and federal officials together with the task of providing fixes rather than excuses, and perhaps congressional representatives could be tasked with providing money for specific regional projects.

There’s just no alignment as it stands, Bass said. No coordination or urgency. And she hasn’t given up on the idea of ​​revamping the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which serves the city and county and has a lot of responsibility and little authority in a system that no one is in charge of.

It is fair to note that these are things that have been declared, thought about and, in some cases, rejected by others.

But that doesn’t mean a better day is out of reach. As Bass says, despite all the challenges, nothing stands in the way of better leadership.

At the Care First Village named for County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Bass liked what she saw. Here, on what was vacant county property near the downtown jails, it took just a few months in late 2020 to build a 232-home village from shipping containers. Most of the money came from federal coronavirus relief funds, and the cost per unit was around $220,000.

Bass told me she had around 1,000 tiny houses in her plan, but she prefers this design and hopes to replicate it. Units are more spacious and have bathrooms, and social services are on site.

Karen Bass with Judith Brown, who said she felt blessed to be in her new home.

(Steve Lopez/Los Angeles Times)

In one unit, Bass met Judith Brown, who moved inside in August. She had been in a shelter and lived in her car after losing her job and being treated for cancer.

“Now I have my own bathroom, my own privacy,” Brown said.

“You look fabulous,” Bass told her.

“It’s a blessing,” Brown said. “This place is awesome.”

::

On the way back I stopped at Highland Park, just off the Arroyo Seco Drive at Ave 64. There was a homeless encampment there for years, and now a small village family is nearby. Between the two is a house with a Caruso sign.

I rang the doorbell and the man who answered, a carpenter, said he thought Caruso was the guy to fight homelessness.

I contacted Caruso, who said he would come back with me to visit the carpenter.

When that comes together, you’ll find out more here.

Steve.lopez@latimes.com


Los Angeles Times

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