One obstacle to solving LA’s homelessness crisis is that everybody is in charge and nobody is in charge. Between the 15-member City Council, the mayor, the five-member Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority or LAHSA (a city-county agency), not to mention the other 80-plus cities within LA County, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Would adding another help?
A group of prominent philanthropists, academics, nonprofit executives and other civic leaders called the Committee for Greater LA thinks it’s worth a shot. They are calling for a new, independent entity to corral all those players onto the same page and set strict new accountability standards for getting people off the streets.
“The problem is the lack of a center,” said Raphe Sonenshein, the head of Cal State LA’s Pat Brown Institute for Governmental Affairs, who was brought in by the committee to author the report. All the existing government officials and nonprofit organizations currently working on homelessness in LA, he said, “have to be aligned to a north star, a mission and a goal.”
The group’s report is called “We’re Not Giving Up: A Plan for Homelessness Governance in Los Angeles.” It identifies many of the complicated drivers behind LA’s homelessness crisis, from a lack of affordable housing, to institutional racism that leads to a disproportionate number of unhoused Black Angelenos, to a lack of supportive services for people exiting mental health care facilities and jails.
Instead of prescribing solutions, the committee has laid out a roadmap for how local governments could better come together to create specific, shared goals around homelessness. The idea is that “the Center” would serve as a kind of facilitator, with its own CEO and staff and two overseeing boards. One would include the LA mayor and the chair of the LA County Board of Supervisors (Eric Garcetti and Hilda Solis currently), and the other would include community members and people who have experienced homelessness.
In recent years, however, local officials including Garcetti, LA County supervisors and LAHSA leaders have insisted that LA’s homelessness system is working better than ever and housing more people than ever before. The mayor’s proposed budget that the City Council is considering pledges to spend $1 billion on homelessness. The problem, elected officials say, is “inflow,” meaning the number of people falling into homelessness outpaces the number of people helped out of it each month. So how would “the Center” help address that?
“That’s the frustration,” said Committee for Greater LA Chair Miguel Santana. “The outcome we have today is the best that the current system could do.”
These civic leaders are not the only new actors getting involved in what has traditionally been the domain of local government. U.S. District Judge David O. Carter has issued a sweeping injunction against the city and county, ordering them to urgently house every person living on Skid Row. It’s not clear how that federal litigation will ultimately impact homelessness policy in LA, as it’s still ongoing.