Head of homeless authority resigns over pay issues

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — The executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has submitted her resignation letter, citing disagreements with the Board of Directors over compensation for staff.

Heidi Marston, who has guided the organization that oversees housing and services for homeless individuals in Los Angeles County since 2019, noted that the authority previously paid employees as low as $33,119 a year, and as executive director she raised the 196 lowest compensated employees’ pay to $50,000 a year in March 2021.

“The employees of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority should not make so little that they qualify for homeless services themselves,” she said.

Along with increasing the compensation floor for employees, Marston also stopped increasing the pay of the 10 highest paid employees, according to her letter of resignation submitted April 25.

Following her decision, she said she was accused of “undermining management’s position” in labor negotiations. She added that service providers believed she was trying to “poach” the authority’s staff.

“My journey in this role has revealed that when decisions are made that further drive the disparities and inequities we see in this work, the greatest manifestation of which is the homelessness crisis, being silent is no different than being complicit,” Marston said.

Marston’s letter said her resignation would be effective May 27.

She also said that in her time serving as the authority’s executive director, she has “faced the impossible dilemma of representing and driving L.A.’s best-practice homeless services, while charged with silent adoption of policy and funding decisions that stray from those best practices,” adding that speaking out on the decisions means threatening funding.

Marston’s letter was praised by the CEO of People Assisting The Homeless, or PATH, which contracts with the city to provide services to people experiencing homelessness.

“Having closely worked with Heidi Marston and LAHSA for a number of years, I am saddened to see her stepping down as executive director,” said PATH CEO Jennifer Hark Dietz. “Unfortunately, the current homeless services system is highly politicized and funding for proven solutions is subject to frequently changing winds of public opinion.

“Much of the work the current L.A. system does addresses the symptoms of homelessness, not the systemic causes. I applaud Heidi’s strength to call out the systems that cause and perpetuate homelessness.”

Jacqueline Waggoner, chair of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Commission, said the authority would continue serving the homeless population while looking for a new executive director.

“[Our] priority is serving people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County,” Waggoner said. “We will ensure [the authority’s] staff continues to be fully supported as they carry out their essential day-to-day tasks to fulfill [our] mission. Interim leadership will be appointed in short order to ensure continuity in services to the community.”

Commission Vice Chair Wendy Greuel added: “We value the men and women … who are working every day to end homelessness in the city and county of Los Angeles. Our … staff are at the heart of what we do and who we serve. We will continue to focus on the most important issues which is ending homelessness and making sure people transition from shelters to permanent housing.”

 

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