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L.A. County Board of Supervisors votes to create super agency on homelessness

A homeless encampment in downtown Los Angeles.
County supervisors voted 3-2 to revamp efforts on homelessness. Above, an encampment in downtown Los Angeles in November.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a new office or department that would coordinate the county’s response to the homelessness crisis in the region.

The new entity would have authority over various agencies — including the county’s departments of health services, social services and mental health — and would report directly to the Board of Supervisors.

In a divided vote, the supervisors called for the county chief executive to return with recommendations on the specific powers and structure of the new office. Among the options to be considered were modeling it after the county Office of Emergency Management, which coordinates county agencies during emergencies or elevating the Homeless Initiative, which currently manages homeless funds from the Measure H sales tax.

The new entity was one of seven recommendations presented to the board Tuesday by a special committee set up to examine 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. That joint powers agency could implement some of the recommendations independently, but others might require negotiation between the city and county.

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All the recommendations were approved on a single 3-2 vote.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who co-authored and introduced the motion, said the recommendations would improve coordination of services for unhoused people and increase accountability of the county’s agencies.

“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,” she said. “We now have a path forward.”

The changes would give county agencies and cities access to the Homeless Management Information System, a database that tracks services provided to people experiencing homelessness. Additionally, the board approved a recommendation that a yet-to-be-determined share of revenue from Measure H, the 2017 sales tax increase to help homeless people, 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-authored 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 city partners had at the table to enhance collaboration to support unhoused individuals living in their jurisdictions,” she said.

Given its name, many perceive LAHSA as a one-stop shop for solving the county’s homeless crisis.

But the agency doesn’t control many of the tools that help people get off the streets and into housing. Its powers overlap with that of city and county departments, complicating the larger effort to get people into housing.

Created in 1993, LAHSA was given limited powers and an even more limited mission of stopping the city and county from bickering over federal dollars for homeless housing and services. Its inability to live up to the public’s expectations — coupled with the county’s skyrocketing homeless population — has led to a growing consensus that the agency needed to be restructured.

Those efforts started last July, when the Board of Supervisors established the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, an eight-member committee tasked with conducting a comprehensive study and analysis of LAHSA’s governance and operations and providing recommendations to change and improve the agency’s effectiveness

Six months of meetings resulted in the recommendations, in which the commission and its staff sought feedback from the county supervisors’ staff, Los Angeles City Council members, business associations, coalitions of faith leaders, officials from cities across the county, and civic groups like the Committee for Greater LA.

The supervisors say they want LAHSA to refocus its efforts on ensuring that federal funding opportunities are in line with state and local priorities.

Despite its approval, at least two members of the board remain skeptical about whether enacting the recommendations would fix any of the ongoing problems. They also worry about the disruption of services during the transitional phase.

Voting against the motion was Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who said the recommendations would “cause a thickening of the county bureaucracy and a process of administrative seat-swapping that will divert time, resources and attention.”

“It’s like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic and thinking it will keep it afloat.”

Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell said she still couldn’t see how the new entity could coordinate so many different departments on a complex issue. She also worried about the costs in implementing the recommendations. She said the county had already spent $1 million just to conduct the study.

“This motion is creating another system without us knowing how much money we are using, where it’s going and the impact it will have,” she said.

Ahmad Chapman, spokesman for LAHSA, said the split of votes among supervisors demonstrates the difficulty in addressing the crisis.

“LAHSA remains committed to leading our rehousing system with commitment, innovation, and heart,” Chapman said. “Homelessness is an all-hands-on-deck emergency that requires all of us working together to bring our unhoused neighbors home.”

Times staff writer Doug Smith contributed to this report.


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