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15
Wed, Jul

The Challenge: Finding the Homeless a Home

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-Housing cannot be built overnight. With the ever-increasing numbers of homeless Angelenos and the pending post-pandemic spike, why is the City still focusing first on foundation-up construction? 

The smart approach would be temporary transition housing and then addressing long-term needs, especially in the Los Angeles market with its innate volatility. And now, an even less predictable future. 

Media exposure 

Last year, the City tried to show the world that it was effectively addressing its homelessness problem by inviting the press to openings of homeless shelters. 

However, these showcased openings were overshadowed by multiple articles and TV coverage pointing to an ever-expanding, worsening homeless crisis and the high cost of permanent supportive housing. 

The recently released homeless count from January confirmed the numbers of homeless people have been increasing in both LA County and the City. The excellent response by both entities to protect the homeless with the advent of the pandemic is commendable and probably reduced numbers below those of January and, possibly, below those of January 2019. 

Recently, with the dual political impact of Black Lives Matter and the continuing challenges of COVID-19, the fate of the City’s long-term homeless people may take a back seat to further drama and the potential spike of newly unhoused Angelenos in the wake of lay-offs, furloughs and failing businesses. 

Therefore, it is important to keep earning the public’s confidence and validate hopes that more of LA’s homeless will be housed. 

As openings of shelters and of housing are covered during and following the pandemic, the City should keep the public informed of the larger picture -- that numerous projects are in the works, providing timelines for units to be completed. 

The City should release data illustrating successes such as the 93% of persons housed under the Rapid Re-housing program who remain in housing a year later. Further, publicity should highlight success stories of individuals recently housed. 

Speeding the Building Process 

Carrying costs and interest expense adds to the total cost of construction projects. The City and the public are looking at ways to build less expensively including first, how to speed up the funding process, and then, how to expedite the construction of permanent supportive housing and shelters. 

The Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) are working to implement a common application which is due to be released soon. This would allow for a one-step process to apply for state and federal housing funds and should substantially speed the funding of housing projects. 

California Assembly Bill 1197 will exempt supportive housing and emergency shelters in Los Angeles from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements, eliminating lawsuits and environmental reviews which can delay projects. 

These proposed changes could reduce the timeline to complete construction on housing projects such as “A Bridge Home” from the current three years to one year. But a year is still too long. 

Rapid re-housing 

The City has provided short-term rental subsidies for 6 to 12 months after which tenants take over the entire rent. 93% of those who have received subsidies remain housed a year later. 

Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency (LAHSA) 

The City Administrative Officer (CAO) oversees the Homeless Initiative, evaluating LAHSA’s requests for funding, and meeting monthly with LAHSA and HCID. LAHSA provides direct services for those experiencing homelessness while the City’s only direct service is the Sanitation Department’s Pitstop Program. 

LAHSA serves three masters – the City, the County, and the LAHSA Commission which has the authority to make budgetary, funding, planning, and program policies. About 60% of the County’s homeless population is in the City, and around 60% of LAHSA’s funding goes towards services for the City’s homeless. The City’s willingness to accept services ensures that the City receives full value for the funds it commits. HCID administers the contract with LAHSA and proposes amendments as additional projects are identified. 

Advocacy for mental health services 

An area of concern to both residents and businesses in our communities is how to coexist with people experiencing homelessness and others who habitually disrupt the peace as a consequence of drug-induced psychoses and other mental illnesses. 

County Mental Health and LAPD resources have limited ability to make a difference. Mental health workers offer services that people can decline. Arrests for low level crimes result in immediate release onto the streets. Improved mental health services are needed, separate from policing. 

Expanding the criteria for involuntary mental health services under the Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act to include drug-induced psychoses is essential for both the safety of homeless individuals and the safety of the housed public. 

In the interest of the homeless as well as public safety, the City should advocate with state officials to update the LPS Act so that those with drug-induced psychoses may receive involuntary treatment before unnecessary social, criminal justice, and/or medical consequences occur. 

How can Angelenos help their homeless neighbors? 

Before the pandemic, housing for the homeless faced countless obstacles from NIMBYs. 

Generally, only those opposing a proposed project will attend meetings or otherwise voice their complaints. When Neighborhood Councils and property owner associations back proposed projects for the homeless, they have more opportunities to shape how these developments impact their community. 

People from all areas of the City can and should speak up in support of homeless projects coming to their neighborhoods. City Councilmembers listen to constituents and they have the ability to influence the homeless authorities. 

Make sure that your voice is heard by leaning on the Mayor and Councilmembers to: 

  • Prioritize housing projects that are less costly and can commit to coming on-line faster 
  • Maximize efficiencies in the funding process to speed up homeless projects 
  • Expand incentives for the early repayment of loans on homeless housing 
  • Implement a system to connect homeless to income-restricted units 
  • Ensure effective monitoring of all subsidized housing projects including affordable units in Transit Oriented Communities 
  • Advocate provision of enhanced services under the California Lanterman-Petris-Short Act for persons impaired by substance abuse psychosis.

In these uncertain times, too many Angelenos from all walks of life are only a month or so away from being on the streets themselves. 

The foregoing is derived from meetings the Budget Advocates held on October 17th and 30th with the CAO and his senior staff including Meg Barclay, Principal Project Coordinator for the City’s Homeless Initiative.

 

(Liz Amsden is a member of the Budget Advocates, an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Photo: AFP / Getty Images. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.