EDITOR'S NOTE: Multimedia journalist Taylor Torregano spoke with Charles O'Neal, who lives in a bus with his family, about how Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority's new strategy to curb homelessness might help them. Click the arrow to watch the video.
LOS ANGELES — Almost a month after Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Executive Director Heidi Marston abruptly resigned, the county agency announced a new plan to reduce unsheltered homelessness over the next three years.
“LAHSA is refocusing its efforts to better serve the unhoused and those who are in housing to make sure that they remain there,” said Kristina Dixon, one of two executive directors now leading the agency.
Dixon said the agency is working with stakeholders across the county to change how it moves people from shelter to house more quickly and more efficiently.
“By ending homelessness for our unsheltered neighbors, we will free up more shelter beds and bring more of our unsheltered neighbors inside, so it becomes a cycle,” she said. “We get people housed, and those who aren’t housed can then come into the system and get housed.”
To achieve that goal, LAHSA says it will focus on a handful of key areas using the thousands of Prop HHH housing units in the pipeline. In 2016, LA voters approved the $1.2 billion bond measure designed to create 10,000 housing units in ten years. As of February, 1,200 units had been completed, but almost 4,400 more are currently under construction.
LAHSA’s goal is to leverage those units as soon as they become available to increase the speed and volume of people moving from interim to permanent housing.
“During the pandemic, we got to experience how quickly we could bring people who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness inside with the creation of Project Roomkey and our recovery rehousing program,” said co-executive director Molly Rysman. “We were able to bring thousands of people indoors incredibly fast and ultimately get them connected to permanent housing.”
California launched Project Roomkey shortly after the pandemic begin in April 2020 to provide temporary emergency shelter in hotel and motel rooms and set unsheltered individuals on a path toward permanent housing. During the pandemic, LAHSA’s recovery rehousing program helped get over 2,000 households into permanent housing, Rysman said.
LAHSA’s new three-year plan hopes to build on what it learned during the pandemic and apply it system-wide, starting with how LAHSA connects people with a permanent place to call home. Specifically, it plans to overhaul the prioritization and matching policy it uses to identify individuals who need to be connected to specific permanent resources. Instead of worrying about who needs to be targeted and for what type of housing, it will prioritize getting them housed and figure out the specifics of wraparound services and rental subsidies once they are indoors.
“Once somebody’s inside, they’re starting to stabilize rather than trying to assess those things on the front end,” Rysman said.
“Every time we get somebody from interim housing into permanent housing, that bed frees up and our outreach teams can then fill that bed with somebody else who’s on the streets,” Rysman added. ”The key is to keep people moving through our shelter system on a path to permanent housing as fast as possible so that when we’re engaging with people in encampments, we have beds that are available that we can connect them to. We can do all the engagement in the world, but if there isn’t a bed available, we’re not going to get somebody out of an encampment.”
The agency’s new direction was developed with elected officials, LAHSA staff, homeless care providers and government partners, LAHSA said.
While LAHSA is tasked with rehousing individuals who have fallen into homelessness and keeping people housed who already have roofs over their heads, two exacerbating factors remain out of its control: preventing people from falling into homelessness and an adequate affordable housing supply.
Economic hardship and “the limitations of our correctional, foster care and welfare systems push thousands of people into homelessness every year,” Rysman said.
But the other critical factor is that LA County needs 500,000 affordable housing units it doesn’t currently have.
“We know this is a huge struggle in LA. There are not enough available apartments. There are not enough at affordable rents. That is a critical component that also needs to be in place for us to be able to reduce homelessness,” Rysman said. “Without that housing supply, this work is incredibly hard.”
In 2020, 205 people in LA County found housing that enabled them to stop being homeless, but another 225 people fell into homelessness on the same day.
Over 66,000 people in LA county experienced homeless in 2020, according to LAHSA’s last homeless count. Updated figures from the count taken earlier this year have not yet been released.