Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger once again urged her peers to reject the failing status quo and to develop a cohesive way to address homelessness at the Board of Supervisors meeting when they gather on Tuesday, May 3.
Tuesday’s vote could mean the creation of a new entity entirely responsible for homelessness matters in county jurisdictions, a concept she hopes can alter the lives of millions, and that allows county leaders to “take the first step to reforming how homeless systems are governed in our county,” said Barger.
The move comes on the heels of Heidi Marston’s abrupt resignation as director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), announced at a politically fraught time in which a report from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homeless criticized the status quo.
“The region is in crisis, but the system serving persons experiencing homelessness is not set up to operate in crisis mode,” according to the blue-ribbon report released in late March.
Because the system is too fractured and ill-equipped to handle the breadth of the problem, the report said, county leaders are readying to vote on a slate of reform concepts.
Barger, who co-authored the motion creating the blue-ribbon commission, has hailed the panel’s work, noting that “what we’re doing in LA County is failing.”
Highlighting the county’s 56% increase in homelessness-related deaths in 2021 over the prior year, Barger said Monday that the statistics are “a painful reminder that we must change what we are doing, or quite frankly – what we’re not doing – to help the most vulnerable and indigenous people that are living on our streets.”
Barger later added, “As an elected official, it’s my job to step up to the plate and say we need to change. And that’s exactly what I’m proposing tomorrow with Supervisor (Hilda) Solis.”
A new way forward
The blue-ribbon commissioners were tasked with taking an in-depth look at LAHSA, and to recommend remedies to impediments that hamper the county’s ability to effectively manage and govern homeless service systems.
The undertaking “was an extremely intense process,” Sarah Dusseault, co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, explained Monday.
Commissioners spent hours in public meetings to shape recommendations they hope can create momentum for collective action. “We cannot sit idly by with 2,000 deaths in 12 months. We have to do more,” she said.
Initially, county leaders were skeptical about the need to create a commission to assess homelessness efforts when reports had been done. “However,” Barger said Monday, “none have been as comprehensive as the Blue Ribbon Commission’s assessment.”
When released, the report noted a lack of “vital infrastructure” in the region that forces providers to operate with limited abilities that hamper what can be accomplished.
As a result, commissioners recommended that the county create a central entity “with responsible charge, accountability and authority over homelessness,” according to the report.
“I want to be clear this is not — and I repeat — this is not about creating a new lumbering bureaucracy,” Barger said Monday. “It’s about creating a nimble entity that will be directly accountable to this board. It’s about creating a department that will support flexible solutions that help people experiencing homelessness by meeting them where they are.”
If approved Tuesday, Barger added the recommendations would “get people experiencing homelessness a roof over their head, connected to supportive services, and off our streets for good.”
Other goals included in the 98-page report related to collective action, or “how do we bring more people into the solution?” Dusseault said.
Another recommendation is sharing of data, because “we’re not going to solve this crisis if we don’t have great data,” Dusseault said. She noted that including the community and those with lived experiences are equally as important.
Ronald Williams, a homeless advocate with lived experience, said during the seminar that homelessness is traumatic and for many leads to substance abuse, incarceration, job loss, domestic violence and mental health challenges.
“Homelessness is not linear … nor does it have a one-size-fits-all approach,” Williams said. The commission’s recommendations are a “golden opportunity to bring trauma-informed care to the forefront and incorporated into our multidisciplinary outreach programs.”
The Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission on downtown’s Skid Row, agreed during the seminar when he applauded the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission.
“I think we’re finally to a time where we are going to live up to be the city and the county of angels,” Bales said.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Barger said, anticipating a 60-day rollout at least. “But thanks to the work completed by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, we now have a roadmap, really, a path forward.”