The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to create a new office or department that would coordinate the county’s response to the region’s homelessness crisis.
The new entity would have authority over various agencies — including the county’s health services, social services and mental health departments — and report directly to the board of oversight.
In a split vote, supervisors called on the county chief executive to return with recommendations on the specific powers and structure of the new office. Among the options to consider were the model of the County Emergency Management Office, which coordinates county agencies in emergencies or the elevation of the Homeless Initiative, which currently manages the funds of the homeless from the sales tax of measure H.
The new entity was one of seven recommendations presented to council on Tuesday by a special committee set up to consider ways to improve the county’s response to homelessness. Among them were several proposals to improve the efficiency of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and clarify its role. This joint powers agency could implement some of the recommendations independently, but others may require negotiations between the city and the county.
All recommendations were approved on a single 3-2 vote.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who co-wrote and introduced the motion, said the recommendations would improve the coordination of services for homeless people and increase the accountability of county agencies.
“The end goal is to reform the systematic dysfunction that has led to the dismal results we see playing out on our streets, in our storefronts and in our neighborhoods,” she said. “We now have a way forward.”
The changes would give county agencies and cities access to the Homeless Management Information System, a database that tracks services provided to homeless people. Additionally, the council approved a recommendation that a yet-to-be-determined share of revenue from Measure H, the 2017 sales tax increase to help the homeless, be directed to a “local solutions fund.” to help support cities’ efforts to implement their own homeless housing and service plans.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-drafted the motion, said the recommendations provide a “framework for building a transparent, inclusive and accountable homeless governance system.”
“But what I am most grateful for is the voice our municipal partners have had at the table to improve collaboration to support homeless people living in their jurisdiction,” she said.
Given its name, many perceive LAHSA as a one-stop shop for solving the county’s homelessness crisis.
But the agency does not control many of the tools that help people get off the streets and into housing. Its powers overlap with those of city and county departments, complicating the broader effort to get people into housing.
Created in 1993, LAHSA was given limited powers and an even more limited mission to keep the city and county from bickering over federal dollars for housing and homeless services. Its failure to meet public expectations—coupled with the county’s skyrocketing homeless population—led to a growing consensus that the agency needed to be restructured.
These efforts began last July, when the Board of Overseers established the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, an eight-member committee to conduct in-depth study and analysis of the governance and operations of LAHSA and its provide recommendations for change and improve agency effectiveness.
Six months of meetings culminated in the recommendations, in which the commission and its staff sought input from county supervisor staff, members of the Los Angeles City Council, trade associations, coalitions of faith leaders, city officials county and civic groups like the Committee for Greater LA.
Supervisors say they want LAHSA to refocus its efforts on ensuring that federal funding opportunities align with state and local priorities.
Despite his endorsement, at least two board members remain skeptical whether adopting the recommendations would solve any of the ongoing issues. They are also concerned about the disruption of services during the transition phase.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted against the motion, which said the recommendations “would cause a thickening of county bureaucracy and an administrative seat swapping process that would divert time, resources and attention.”
“It’s like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic and thinking that will keep it afloat.”
Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell said she still doesn’t see how the new entity could coordinate so many different departments on a complex issue. She also expressed concern about the costs of implementing the recommendations. She said the county had already spent $1 million just to conduct the study.
“This motion creates another system without us knowing how much money we are using, where it is going and what impact it will have,” she said.
Ahmad Chapman, spokesperson for LAHSA, said the distribution of votes among supervisors demonstrates the difficulty of dealing with the crisis.
“LAHSA remains committed to leading our relocation system with commitment, innovation and heart,” Chapman said. “Homelessness is an emergency on deck that demands we all work together to bring our homeless neighbors home.”
Times editor Doug Smith contributed to this report.
Los Angeles Times