Los Angeles Adopts New 'War Room' Strategy for Tackling Homelessness
The new initiative is inspired by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's approach to finding homes for people suddenly displaced by hurricanes.
By Christopher Weber
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles city and county officials on Tuesday announced a new strategy to speed the process of getting homeless people into permanent housing that is modeled on the federal government's response to natural disasters.
The creation of a "Housing Central Command" marks an overhaul of how agencies work together in addressing the growing number of people living on the street, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Previously the system was slowed by red tape and gaps in information showing what housing units were available and who is eligible to move into them, officials said.
In some cases there was a waiting period of 10 months from a person being matched to housing to signing a lease.
Nobody was holding the full picture of resources," said LAHSA interim executive director Heidi Marston. "Our systems weren't talking to each other."
The new initiative uses a "war room model" inspired by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's approach to finding homes for people suddenly displaced by hurricanes, Marston said.
Now officials will have access to real-time data showing housing availability as well as funding streams, according to LAHSA.
Since the launch in December, officials have identified some 3,000 potential housing units that were previously not part of the overall inventory, Marston said.
The central command is a major step toward restructuring a response system overseen by LAHSA that also includes housing and development authorities, the mayor's office and health departments.
"We have a high number of people who need to be rehoused rapidly," Marson said of the situation in greater Los Angeles, where officials have declared homelessness a state of emergency. Including crisis-response experts on a day-to-day basis shows that officials are treating the problem with the urgency it deserves, she said.
In its 2019 count, the authority reported that there were close to 60,000 homeless people living in LA County, with more than 36,000 of them in the city. All but about 25% live on the streets.
Freeway overpasses are lined with tents, and it's a common sight to see someone pushing a shopping cart filled with belongings through downtown.
According to LAHSA and Mayor Eric Garcetti's office, an average of 130 homeless people in Los Angeles move into housing daily. However, an average of 150 people become homeless every day.
The homelessness crisis demands an emergency response, and moving the needle means being nimble, flexible and creative with our resources," Garcetti said in a statement praising the new strategy.
Through the new process, officials also discovered $30 million of a $107 million grant from HUD to Los Angeles in 2017 had gone unspent within a calendar-year deadline, LAHSA said.
That happened because of low vacancy rates and higher market rates than public housing authorities could pay, LAHSA officials said, along with "landlord bias" against tenants with mental disorders or a history of homelessness.
"It is completely unacceptable that housing funds were left unspent when our unsheltered neighbors continue to languish out on the street," said LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis. The new efforts will leave behind a "disjointed" system and "maximize all of the region's resources," she said.
Solis represents East Los Angeles, one of two neighborhoods including downtown where the new command structure is being tested starting this week. LAHSA staff will set up shop at local housing authorities, where they can shepherd and troubleshoot applications.
Tuesday's announcement comes a week after Garcetti and HUD Secretary Ben Carson met in Los Angeles to announce the formation of a joint working group to address homelessness. Garcetti and Carson told the Los Angeles Times that they were close to a deal to use federal and state funds to open more homeless shelters in the city.
Earlier this month, the county Board of Supervisors called for a re-evaluation of the structure of LAHSA's operation following an audit last August that found the authority failed to meet goals for placing people into permanent housing.
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