Not a single person or government agency seems to know how to solve one of the biggest crises in Los Angeles: homelessness. Amid the fervent finger-pointing at Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the Board of Supervisors is set to consider creating a blue-ribbon task force to examine why LAHSA can’t find a solution.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger co-authored a motion with Supervisor Hilda Solis to create the commission, saying the entire county needs to be brought to the table to study what’s working and what’s not. “It's time for us to really get back to the drawing board and look at what we need to do differently,” Barger tells KCRW.
Under her proposal, nine experts -— hand-picked by each county supervisor and the other four each nominated by the Los Angeles mayor, City Council president, the Contract Cities Association and Councils of Government — would take a close look at LAHSA’s operations.
The proposed task force would research homelessness governance reports and best practices, including protocols in working with those with mental health needs and substance abuse issues, for six months before offering recommendations, according to Barger.
“[The blue ribbon] commission would sunset in six months. It would look at what’s currently in place and make recommendations on where we need to change, whether it be our Joint Powers Authority with LAHSA and the governance, which is being debated at the City of LA as well.”
The supervisor for the 5th District also insists the task force should be led by private citizens, not elected officials, who specialize in related fields. And those selected members would make recommendations without holding any decision-making power.
“Quite frankly, the non-elected sometimes have a better view of the world than the elected,” explains Barger, who says different organizations across the county express their frustration that they are not getting their fair share of Measure H funding. “They do deserve a seat at the table because right now they are not part of the discussion as it relates to Measure H dollars with LAHSA.”
Barger also suggests that the county be more judicious about the homelessness funding and examine how the money is being spent. Despite billions of dollars having been spent over the last few decades — and more funding is being carved out — she says throwing money into the housing crisis won’t solve the problem. “Money alone is not going to solve this. We can’t spend our way out of this.”
While the supervisor says she does not blame LAHSA for the growing unhoused population, she admits the county is lacking a “holistic approach.”
“I believe the lack of mental health services is exacerbating the situation,” says Barger. She says her first-hand experience has made her realize the county needs to get to the root cause.
“There’s a woman in Pasadena who was on a corner, stark naked in the middle of the day. She’s been in and out of hospitals six times. They gave her a prescription and [told her] where to go to get services. Now you tell me if that worked. She was back out on the street naked and then put in a hospital again. Our system is broken. That person is now going to become more and more resistant to services and is getting sicker on the street.”
According to the 2020 data from LAHSA, at least 66,436 people in Los Angeles were experiencing homelessness. That figure has likely grown, given the coronavirus pandemic and financial distress it’s caused on many Angelenos.