Homeless agency sheltered 5,000 in first half of 2021

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Wave Staff Report

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority brought 5,312 unsheltered individuals inside and ended homelessness for an additional 472 people in the first half of 2021, according to a report issued by the authority last week.

During the same period, the county’s homeless rehousing system’s 240 outreach teams contacted 22,152 people 62,089 times. During those interactions, outreach teams built trust and rapport with people experiencing unsheltered homelessness by offering small items to help meet their needs, including hygiene kits, bottled water and food.

Those interactions helped outreach teams successfully start 15,208 people on the path to permanent housing through assessments or beginning case management services, the report said.

“Outreach is a critical part of the homeless rehousing system that we’ve built since the implementation of Measure H in 2017,” said Heidi Marston, executive director of the homeless authority that is the lead agency in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care, the regional planning body that coordinates housing and services for the homeless in Los Angeles County.

Marston said the authority has spent the last five years improving its outreach to the homeless population.

“From 2015-2020, the annual number of contacts our outreach teams made has increased by 296%,” she said. “There is no doubt that our outreach teams’ efforts have significantly contributed to ending homelessness for the more than 65,000 people our system has housed over the last three years.”

The new report reflects the Los Angeles Continuum of Care’s outreach efforts from January to mid-May 2021 as recorded by the authority’s Homeless Management Information System. The data accounts for about 80% of the efforts to address homelessness in Los Angeles County and does not include data from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs or the cities of Long Beach, Glendale and Pasadena.

The authority was created in 1993 by the city and county of Los Angeles to oversee efforts to ease homelessness.

As the homeless crisis has grown, the authority has come under its share of criticism.

County Supervisor Kathryn Barger called for a complete overhaul of the county system in July.

“I believe [the homeless authority] is broken, and I believe we need to seriously reconsider the structure of this agency,” Barger said. “Putting a Band-Aid on something that needs major surgery is a disservice.”

Barger said input from all 88 cities in Los Angeles County and the local Councils of Government was necessary to make a real difference.

Barger focused on one statistic, noting that 739 homeless people died in Los Angeles County in the first six months of 2021.

This is a life-or-death situation, and it should encourage us to act with urgency and a new sense of direction,” she said.

In June a coalition of civic leaders called for the city and county to create a new entity to address the homeless crisis through data, measurable outcomes and greater accountability.

The coalition issued a report commissioned by the Committee for Greater L.A. in partnership with the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles. Entitled “We’re Not Giving Up: A Plan for Homelessness Governance in Los Angeles,” the report was

There is no challenge that more clearly manifests the failure of our systems and the legacy of racism in Los Angeles than homelessness,” said the committee’s chair Miguel Santana, who has served at high levels in both city and county government and is currently president and CEO of the Weingart Foundation. “Despite our collected, unprecedented efforts and investments, the problem continues to worsen.”

Santana added that the committee’s goal is to “offer up a new approach: one that is grounded on shared goals and outcomes and specific strategies to reach them.”

The report blamed the county’s homeless governance problem on the lack of a central entity to address the problem. It said that that while the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is a shared city-county agency, it “was never designed nor has it evolved into the kind of entity that can knit together the fragmented threads of L.A. governance in homeless policy.”

There is no challenge that more clearly manifests the failure of our systems and the legacy of racism in Los Angeles than homelessness,” said the committee’s chair Miguel Santana, who has served at high levels in both city and county government and is currently president and CEO of the Weingart Foundation. “Despite our collected, unprecedented efforts and investments, the problem continues to worsen.”

The authority said it is continuously developing ways to improve the effectiveness of its outreach teams. It released a report last month entitled “Best Practices for Addressing Street Encampments” report, which offered guidance to its nonprofit partners on balancing the need for location-specific work on unsheltered homelessness with the importance of a regional, trauma-informed approach to unsheltered homelessness that effectively moves people from an encampment into shelter or housing in a lasting, sustainable way.

One of the key principles the authority focuses on in the report is providing adequate, appropriate and low-barrier resources to people experiencing unsheltered homelessness by securing enough shelter, permanent housing and affordable housing to create a balanced rehousing system.

During its July housing inventory count briefing, the authority revealed that a balanced rehousing system contains five permanent housing placements for every shelter bed. However, the Los Angeles system has a ratio closer to one-to-one.

The agency called upon its government partners to make a more significant investment in permanent housing for unsheltered individuals.

“It is critical that our region continues to add to our housing and shelter supply,” Marston said in her report.  “We need more strategic investments that create low-barrier and private shelter options in areas of the county where the need is greatest. But shelter without a permanent housing option leaves people stuck. Marston said that throughout the county there are nearly 13,000 permanent housing units on the way, but “we need thousands more to solve our region’s housing crisis.”

The authority has more than 850 people in 240 teams across several government agencies and dozens of nonprofits conduct outreach in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care. The County’s Department of Health Services Housing for Health unit utilizes Measure H to fund 70 multi-disciplinary teams specializing in mental health, substance abuse and emergency response.

The county Department of Mental Health’s teams work with the gravely disabled.

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