Supes vote to revamp county homelessness programs

A homeless person huddles under a tarp and plastic sheeting on the sidewalk on The Old Road in Castaic during a heavy rain on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. Dan Watson/The Signal

By Jim Holt 

Senior Investigative Reporter 

L.A. County supervisors voted in favor Tuesday of streamlining funding for homeless services, and voted 3-2 for creating a new county entity that would spearhead the battle against homelessness. 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a motion submitted by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn to allocate funding for a streamlined set of strategies detailed in the rehousing plan approved by the board last month, called a New Framework to End Homelessness in Los Angeles County. 

The board was divided, however, when it came to approving a plan to revamp the county’s approach to governing homeless services and creating a whole new agency. 

Supervisors Barger, Hahn and Hilda L. Solis voted in favor of it.  Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Holly J. Mitchell voted against it. 

In the end, the board approved seven recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, a committee formed in July 2022 to engage stakeholders and assess how homeless service coordination could be revamped and improved.    

New county entity 

The commission’s recommendations call for creating a county entity that would coordinate and unify the homeless services provided by multiple county departments.   

It would also to serve as a centralized housing acquisition unit to house homeless people and connect them to support services. 

Its other recommendations focus on creating a “local solutions” fund through Measure H to fund cities’ efforts to implement their own homeless housing and service plans, and to streamline the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority by re-focusing its efforts exclusively on stewarding federal funding contracts and opportunities. 

Barger told the board that something had to be done. 

“When I thought of creating the (Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness) in July of last year the commission’s purpose was really, partly, to collaborate and engage as many stakeholders as possible to create a shared approach toward combatting homelessness because I do believe that collaboration is the key,” Barger said at the outset of Tuesday’s discussion. 

To make her point that the status quo was not acceptable, she cited recent mortality rates reported by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.  The report found that 1,988 homeless people died in the county in a single year, a 56% increase in homeless death compared to the prior year. 

“That number – I think we would all agree is appalling and unacceptable,” Barger told the board. 

“It is urgent that we change what we’re doing – or not doing – to help the most vulnerable individuals living on our street,” she said. 

In a statement sent out after the vote, Barger said that the commission was charged with taking a hard look at the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority and coming up with a new governance model for L.A. County homeless services. 

“The commission’s job was also to identify how our county can enhance accountability,” she said.  

“The end goal is to reform the systematic dysfunction that has resulted in the dismal outcomes we’re seeing play out on our streets, in our storefronts, and in our neighborhoods. I believe they’ve done their job and accomplished their mission,” she said. 

“We now have a path forward.” 

Opposing the recommendations 

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl discussed why she couldn’t support the recommendations. 

“This is not to say we don’t care on this board, I know we do. I just don’t think this is the right answer,” she said. “It does look to me like deck chairs on the Titanic.” 

Barger countered later, saying: “It won’t happen overnight, but change starts with taking the first step. I’m ready to get off of the Titanic.” 

To make her point, Kuehl shared an analogy with the board. 

“When you’re confronted with a hemorrhaging wound you don’t say, ‘Let’s reconstitute our hospital board of directors and then restructure the way we send the ambulance out and then deploy our paramedics differently and if you bleed out while we’re trying some of this stuff,  we’re sorry,” she said. 

Also opposing the recommendations, Mitchell said the commission left her with more questions than answers. 

“What I don’t see in any of these recommendations is a sense … about the cost and funding source of implementing the recommendations,” she said, noting that the commission has already cost the taxpayers $1 million. 

Hahn, while sharing some of the reservations voiced by Kuehl, felt compelled to vote for change. 

“It was almost a year ago I think we talked about the creation of this Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness and I was a little bit there, too.  I was thinking – are we just rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic?” 

“I was a little bit on the fence. But then it struck me that what we were doing didn’t seem to be working,” she said. 

“It seemed like we were spending more money and our numbers were going up every time we had a homeless count so I ended up voting for this. I just didn’t feel good not doing anything,” Hahn said. “For me, the status quo is not acceptable.” 

As for Solis, coauthor of the commission motion, she like Barger applauded a chance for collaboration. 

“I am excited about finally giving all our partner cities in the county at least a voice at the table,” Solis told the board. “To enhance collaboration and increase coordination among stakeholders countywide.” 

She said the commission synthesized everything she learned about serving homeless Angelenos. 

For her, it provides the framework for building a transparent, inclusive and accountable homeless governance system. 

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