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Tuesday, September 1, 2020
L.A. County Board May Reconsider Structure of Homeless Services Agency
By ELIZABETH MARCELLINO, City News Services
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is scheduled Tuesday to consider a suggestion that changes are needed in tracking the results of more than $400 million in spending on dozens of initiatives aimed at curbing homelessness, including restructuring the agency that manages that spending.
In a motion pointing to the results of a recent audit of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn said a new governance model may be needed, though the motion does not specify just what solution might be proposed.
“LAHSA was created before homelessness reached crisis proportions, and while it has bulked up personnel and scaled up operations in recent years, its governance model has remained stagnant,” Ridley-Thomas said in a statement.
“Perhaps it is time to explore new governance models with the goal of ensuring that we are best serving the thousands of homeless individuals and families who need help.”
Hahn echoed that sentiment.
“We need a new model that allows LAHSA to take on this crisis more effectively and treat it with the sense of urgency it demands,” Hahn said.
The agency has already gone through a major leadership change, with longtime CEO Peter Lynn stepping down in December after five years leading LAHSA. Heidi Marston, the acting executive director, was formally appointed to the role in June after a nationwide search.
The chair of the LAHSA commission said in June that Marston was up for the challenge.
“Heidi Marston is the exact person we want to reform an entrenched system — she’s brave, energetic and unflappable. She has a commanding mastery of the details of how a bold homeless services system should work,” LAHSA Commission Chair Sarah Dusseault said.
“She came to LAHSA for a challenge and relentlessly led our unprecedented COVID-19 response — housing thousands of seniors in weeks. She will continue the momentum of systemic change and racial justice. I’m proud to announce that her leadership of this organization will continue.”
Ridley-Thomas and Hahn’s motion was apparently written in response to an audit of internal controls over performance reporting that covered July 2018 through June 2019.
During that time period, LAHSA and its contractors provided services to about 70,000 people who were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, according to an August 26 letter to the Board of Supervisors from Auditor-Controller Arlene Barrera
“We noted various opportunities for LAHSA to improve and strengthen internal controls,” Barrera wrote.
LAHSA was initially unable to provide some documentation, like detailed lists of clients served, and sometimes overstated program outcomes, according to the letter.
The homeless services agency said it is called on to provide more than 100 performance metrics, some of which aren’t consistent with system-wide data normally reported and which require a complex series of data queries.
“Based on the sample selection by the AC, only 11 of these clients had inadequate supporting documentation, indicating less than 1% of error across all 19,909 clients that were reported,” the agency wrote in response to one finding, using the abbreviation for auditor-controller.
LAHSA has historically cross-referenced results with individual case files to ensure accuracy in reporting outcomes, but more staffing is needed to do that work, according to the agency. It told Barrera it has made substantial improvements since the audit and planned to fully implement other recommendations by this month.
The audit followed a 2018 review that also found management deficiencies and led to routine monitoring of LAHSA’s systems.
“The need for oversight and accountability were embedded into the law that created Measure H; the public should have confidence in the systems designed to track performance,” Ridley-Thomas said.
“Accurate and reliable data is crucial to making sure we are making the most of our resources, given the scale of the homeless crisis.”
The motion by Ridley-Thomas and Hahn seeks recommendations for alternative governance models and a recap of outstanding issues, asking Barrera, the new acting CEO Fesia Davenport and County Counsel Mary Wickham to report back in 30 days.
The proposed Measure H funding recommendations for the 2020-21 fiscal year are set to be reviewed by the board Sept. 15.