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Column: Time to Abolish LAHSA Is Now!

Undercounts by this bloated bureaucracy confirms an inability to solve the crisis of homelessness and encampments here in Venice and LA!

By Nick Antonicello

How does a government agency rely on securing an accurate count of the Los Angeles homeless population with volunteers on a single evening?

Having participated in four previous counts, why would an agency dedicated to solving this crisis not approach a homeless population survey much like how the federal government conducts census counts that have a far greater degree of reliability and accuracy?

For how hard is it to conduct a reliable and accurate count and why must these observations be made in the evening and not during the day?

It is a fundamental question that needs to be answered as Los Angeles considers new leadership in City Hall with a new Mayor as well as new members on the fifteen-member LA City Council.

While new leadership that has just arrived at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the larger question is this agency designed to maintain the status quo of this huge encampment population, or was it created to solve a problem that is now completely out of control?

For the whole delivery system of services with LAHSA in charge and the numerous service providers that are equally unaccountable and under the radar, is our city leadership willing to abolish a floundering agency and it’s collection of not-for-profits that don’t seem much interested in actual results?

For LAHSA, a super governmental agency of sorts created in 1993 with over 300 employees, 830 individuals, and 240 teams has been designated for nearly 30 years to provide sensible outreach or at least manage this out-of-control housing crisis that is not working!

The former executive director was paid handsomely, over $260,000 annually and reported to a 10-member commission of county and city officials whose mission it is to provide oversight as well as implement policies that would change the direction of homelessness, but as the dollar investment in this cottage industry of homelessness swells, where is a modicum of results?

For beyond the obvious ability to accurately count this street population, what are the standards, goals or objectives driven by real data that is reliable to adapt policies that actually assist and help the most vulnerable?

For agencies like LAHSA seem to suggest more money is at the core of their inability to make a serious dent in the encampment population, no matter what the circumstances. It is a frustrating process in which the public at-large has waited some thirty years for this bureaucracy to offer any sense of tangible progress.

With most policymakers and elected officials acknowledging that the construction of permanent housing is slow if not off line, where is the plan to move this population inside and grab hold of a process that does not tolerate the scourge of living on sidewalks?

Currently, the federal government spends some $9 billion dollars on homeless services and the state of California $7.2 billion. LAHSA is currently managing $800 million with $366 from LA County and $303 million from LA City. The federal government in addition kicks in $37 million to LAHSA and another $95.3 million from Sacramento.

For where is all this money going?

Employees and salaries?  

California has roughly 161,000 homeless individuals and that represents 27% of the entire homeless population of the United States.

In 2020 41,290 homeless individuals lived in LA with roughly 2,000 here in Venice. The irony of the homeless equation is that the entire amount of those on the street represents just 0.4% of the state population.  

For the true problem is one of managed and intentional containment.

Places like Los Angeles and in particular Venice are assuming the responsibility of this crisis and LAHSA seems to lack any plan of attack to address where homelessness is at epidemic levels as we come out of the pandemic.

And why is permanent housing not happening?

The answer is obvious, an expenditure so toxic due to selecting the most expensive of locales has permanent housing costs at roughly $837,000 per unit for single dwellers with that number increasing each and every day!

For the time for full disclosure and transparency regarding the whole process of managing the homeless dilemma is obvious and apparent.

LAHSA is a failed proposition and our elected officials must stop enabling a process that is dysfunctional and broken.

A data-driven approach must be considered and implemented no matter who is elected this November if we are to have a serious and reliable plan of action that decreases and eventually eliminates the street population that can no longer be tolerated and accepted as a part of a problem that has exhausted neighborhoods like Venice and beyond.

The time to dismantle LAHSA with a data-driven process that addresses mental illness, drug and alcohol recovery, and the influence of gang violence in these encampments needs to happen now.

The politics of homelessness must take a back seat and serious policy makers who are willing to take on the cottage industry of the unhoused should take a wrecking ball to this agency that has failed for three decades along with the service providers who are equally unaccountable, ineffective and picking the pockets of taxpayers must cease and desist.

Nick Antonicello is a longtime Venetian who serves on the Outreach and Oceanfront Walk Committees of the Venice Neighborhood Council (www.venicenc.org) and covers issues like homelessness and how it effects Venice. Have a take or a tip? You can e-mail Antonicello at nantoni@mindspring.com

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