The homeless outreach agency that was meant to move hundreds of people from the streets into housing, shelters or treatment for mental illness and substance abuse has failed dramatically to meet the goals of its contract with the city of Los Angeles, according to a new audit by Controller Ron Galperin.
Among its key faults: “Data-driven decisions about the deployment of resources are not made because the information is neither timely nor accurate.”
The audit found that, despite having more than doubled its staff of outreach workers in the last two years, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority missed seven of nine goals during the 2017-18 fiscal year and five of eight last fiscal year.
Outreach workers were supposed to place into permanent housing 10 percent of the homeless people they assessed. But in the fiscal year that ended in June, they placed only 4 percent, the audit reported. The goal for placing people in shelters was 20 percent, but they achieved only 14 percent.
The discrepancies were greater for referrals to treatment: 6 percent for substance abuse and 4 percent for mental health. Both had goals of 25 percent.
In a biting written response distributed at a news conference Wednesday, the authority’s executive director, Peter Lynn, called the report misleading because it addressed only measures that are not well suited to judging the effectiveness of outreach.
“It ultimately says nothing about LAHSA’s outreach efforts, which contacted record numbers of our homeless neighbors in the year it studied,” Lynn said.
The authority’s chief program officer, Heidi Marston, said LAHSA, as the authority is commonly known, “can’t place people in shelter or housing that has yet to be built or is blocked.”
She said federal privacy rules prevented LAHSA from accurately reporting mental health and substance abuse referrals. As a result, she said, the agency no longer uses those goals.
Galperin, in releasing the report Wednesday, called the results “shocking.” In an earlier interview, he told The Times that “the goals that were set by the city are not unreasonable. Quite frankly, they are [setting a] pretty low bar to begin with. If you can’t meet the low bar, that’s a problem.”
While attributing some of the shortfalls to the underlying shortage of affordable housing and treatment resources in the city, the audit also criticized the city for setting fuzzy goals that weren't linked to the scale of the homelessness crisis and knocked the authority for not being able to meet them.
In its 2019 count, LAHSA reported that there were close to 60,000 homeless people living in the county, with more than 36,000 of them in the city. All but about 25 percent live on the streets.
Galperin said the audit, which began last year, took months to complete “partly because getting accurate and consistent numbers from LAHSA has been a challenge.”
The authority, according to the audit, “lacks a rigorous performance review process for its outreach activities. Moreover, data-driven decisions about the deployment of resources are not made because the information is neither timely nor accurate.”
LAHSA provided the controller’s office with four different versions of its outreach numbers, each one significantly different, Galperin said. A chart in the audit reviewed by The Times showed the percentage of homeless people placed into shelters dropping from 64 percent in the first version to 19 percent in the last.
The authority attributed these changes to the loss of some records during a transition to a new data system.
The audit also faulted the authority’s report of placing 21,000 into permanent housing. Not only did the number include placements made by other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; it included duplicates by counting individuals or families that fell in and out of homelessness during the year, the audit said.
The cleanups of homeless encampments by the city’s Bureau of Sanitation also contributed to LAHSA’s failings with outreach, the report said. The authority estimated that cleanups accounted for 67 percent of its outreach time in the city.
“In many cases, they are required to talk with people that are already working with homeless-service providers,” the report said. The city should “rethink its outreach policies and more sufficiently find a balance between a proactive outreach strategy and an effective response to 'hot-spot' encampments.”
The audit sharply criticized the goals set by the city in its contract with LAHSA.
The goal that 25 percent of homeless people with a substance abuse disorder would be connected to appropriate treatment “supplies no indication about what the 25 percent target represents,” it said. “Even if LAHSA had met its 25 percent target, only 167... would have received substance abuse treatment,” it said.
Galperin said the city and authority should recast goals that are understandable and specify the number of people expected to receive assistance, rather than using a percentage. LAHSA also should adopt a data-driven outreach system modeled after the COMPSTAT policing model used by police departments across the country, including the LAPD.
Marston said that the authority is already doing that at the city’s Unified Homeless Response Center, and that it has set better goals for data collection and reporting.
The city uses a reactive outreach with encampment cleanups initiated by requests from residents, elected officials or police, or planned by the city through the Bureau of Sanitation.
With the infusion of sales tax dollars from Measure H, the city-county outreach system has grown from fewer than 300 workers to nearly 800. Those include teams employed by the homeless authority and its contractors, and teams fielded by the Los Angeles County departments of Health Services and Mental Health.
The city contributed $3.5 million from its general fund in the 2017-18 fiscal year to LAHSA and $6.8 million last year, the audit said. County contributions increased from $13 million to $31 million.
(c)2019 the Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.