Mayor Bass’ pick to lead homeless authority sees hope amidst crisis

By Nihar Patel

A homeless encampment is seen in Westwood, California. Photo by Amy Ta.

It’s not a job for just anyone, but it’s arguably LA’s most important one that needed filling. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) will have a new leader beginning in late March. Mayor Karen Bass says her pick will help align efforts amid the unprecedented homelessness crisis.

“City, county, commission, community — for too long, and too often, they worked separately,” declared Mayor Bass at a press conference last week. “A unified approach is the only way we can make a difference, and that’s exactly the road we’re on.”

Bass has tapped Va Lecia Adams Kellum, currently the president and CEO of the St. Joseph Center based in Venice, which provides support for low-income families and unhoused people. Adams Kellum says she’s seen the cumulative impact that the crisis has had on people’s faith in the system.

“I think of LAHSA in the sense that it's a part of a system that's been depressed and needs hope,” says Adams Kellum. “The system, overall, has tried so hard, the [voter] measures have helped. But still, the streets don't tell the story of all the hard work. So much discouragement, a feeling of four steps forward and 10 steps backwards.”

Adams Kellum joins LAHSA, which has an annual budget approaching $730 million, at a time when it has been criticized for not better accomplishing its core mission of coordinating housing resources and solutions between different levels of government.

“I don't think anyone is pleased with … the suffering that we see on our streets,” Adams Kellum laments. “You can have lots of money… and [if] it's not coordinated, if it's not targeted, if there's not a feeling of being on one accord about priorities … you don’t see the results. I believe when we start to do that … there will be less frustration.” 

Among the efforts that Mayor Bass is hoping will have results is Inside Safe, the city’s new initiative to move unhoused people living in encampments indoors. Inside Safe is currently being tested in two areas, Hollywood and Venice, with the ultimate goal of being rolled out across the city. Adams Kellum was instrumental in setting up the program.

“It is a service-led, housing-driven intervention, it is not a sweep,” she insists. “We're saying here is a housing resource … one is an immediate housing resource for tonight. It's a motel because that's what we have that's local and available now. And we will connect you to a [more] permanent housing resource, we will consider your needs.”

It will take time, Adams Kellum believes, before Inside Safe can be determined successful in helping unhoused Angelenos find a more permanent roof over their heads. Signs that it, and other efforts, are working will be clear in the numbers, but also if a public space that once had an encampment on it is reclaimed by the community. But for Adams Kellum, the community includes everyone. 

“We reclaim it with our neighbors who were once unhoused, who are now housed, and on the path of well-being. And [they] have their ability then to share those spaces.”