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District commission proposes new homelessness unit

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A commission appointed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to study ways to improve homeless services is proposing the creation of a new position to oversee all of the county’s homeless services.

Although they don’t describe their new position as tsar, the eight commissioners said on Wednesday they saw the need for more direct responsibilities and better coordination for a crisis involving numerous district departments.

The new chief would report directly to the oversight body and would have the power to “overlap” agencies such as the county’s public social services, mental health and health services departments, said Sarah Dusseault, co-chair of the commission.

“There was no unit, a coordinated unit, a agency in the county that can make sure all the spokes of the wheel are moving together,” Commissioner Wendy Greuel said, “and that’s health and substance abuse, distraction, all those things that would help keep us going people from the street.”

The recommendation was the result of six-month meetings of the task force, was designated the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness when appointed in July. County officials solicited feedback from county supervisor staff, members of the Los Angeles City Council, business associations, coalitions of faith leaders, officials from cities across the county, and civic groups such as the Committee for Greater LA and Hollywood 4WRD.

The commissioners also proposed creating a “local solutions” fund that would direct a portion of Measure H sales tax dollars for homelessness, approved by voters in 2017, to the county’s smaller towns.

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger have long pushed for a more direct distribution of the county’s homelessness funds to smaller towns in Los Angeles County.

Cities are “ground zero and critical partners in our fight against homelessness,” Barger said in a statement accompanying the recommendations. “They know best what local housing solutions work for their communities and homeless residents.”

In a presentation to the commission, El Monte City Manager Alma Martinez described the need to invest Funds from Measure H directly in cities so they can consistently fund their own homelessness programs.

“We have to make sure of that [cities] have access to the funds needed to both start new programs and continue funding existing programs for people living with homelessness,” said Solis, who represents many small towns in the San Gabriel Valley, in a statement.

Many of the details of Wednesday’s recommendations, which were largely broad and lacking in detail, are summarized in a report that the commission will consider at its next meeting on March 30, before presenting it to regulators.

The commission had no involvement from the City of Los Angeles. Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez declined to appoint four members of the commission, saying the commission’s work would only stall progress on tackling the homeless crisis.

Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement it was “disappointing” that the city did not participate on the commission as it would “complicate the implementation of some of these recommendations”.

Regulators have discretion to decide what the new county-level homeless agency will look like or how its chief will be elected if they choose to implement the recommendation, Dusseault said.

The future role of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is also unclear.

The officials have long since agreed on this need for restructuring the supreme agency for homeless services, a joint city-county agency that has limited powers over the tools that help people get off the streets and into their homes. In 2020, LAHSA had already undergone a year-long audit by a Houston consulting firm and an internal review process.

The agency’s problems stem in part from the fact that it is plagued by compliance with federal regulations and fragmented governance, with multiple commissions, panels, and councils responsible for different and sometimes competing jobs. It also responds to city and county political leaders, navigating city and county departments, as well as activist groups and nonprofits influencing homelessness policy.

Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously rejected the option to disband LAHSA entirely, but recommended it be “streamlined.”

Their recommendation called for LAHSA to eventually move away from providing direct, county-funded services — a majority of which is outreach — and instead have the new county agency coordinate those services while the agency focuses on its core responsibilities of administering the state’s homelessness funds Federal focused and annual homeless census and administration of referrals to homeless shelters.

“The goal was to streamline LAHSA so they could offer excellence and data management and be at the forefront of relocation,” Dusseault said.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-18/commission-passes-recommendations-on-overhauling-homeless-services-agency District commission proposes new homelessness unit

Dais Johnston

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