City officials working to house Santa Monica’s homeless are contemplating leaving the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s continuum of care over disputes about funding and housing vouchers. City officials said LAHSA, a joint-powers authority formed in 1993 by the county and city of Los Angeles which manages and distributes over $70 million annually for homeless services, is using a funding formula that essentially penalizes Santa Monica, which we all know is doing more than just about any city in the region to address chronic homelessness. Officials with LAHSA say they are trying to better distribute resources so that other cities in the system can provide services. LAHSA says Santa Monica demands too much.
We say, both sides need to take a step back, come to their senses and work on a compromise because if Santa Monica breaks away, it will be bad for all involved, especially the homeless and nonprofits working with them daily.
City Hall has laid the foundation for success and has the numbers to prove it. They are housing more chronically homeless people than ever before and are reducing the numbers of people living on our streets, according to the most recent homeless count. We have become victims of our own success. We attract more homeless than other cities because of our reputation for lending a helping hand, putting more stress on our nonprofits. But because we are an affluent community we are penalized by the feds, and in turn, LAHSA, which rely too much on formulas and not enough on common sense.
City Hall has made special requests before, and has been shot down by LAHSA, which was unwilling to approve exceptions to the rule. In the end, demands by LAHSA and requests by City Hall have created a dysfunctional relationship. One director of a homeless services provider in Santa Monica said its like being a child trapped in a rocky marriage. The adults are fighting instead of taking care of the children.
Until LAHSA puts pressure on other cities to do their part, Santa Monica should be given the extra funding and vouchers it needs to continue to make an impact. In exchange, city officials could work with other cities to help them create a system similar to ours and have success.
If not, then perhaps it’s time to step out from LAHSA’s shadow, take control over our destiny and go it alone. We have the connections in Washington, D.C. and the track record to compete for funding. The only problem is the uncertainty and the possibility that being independent like Long Beach or Pasadena (which are not a part of LAHSA) would create more bureaucracy for the nonprofits doing the work. Working with the homeless is already difficult enough. Creating more paperwork for service providers isn’t the right move.
We appreciate City Hall’s power play, but it better be ready to deal with the consequences if LAHSA calls its bluff. It would be best for everyone involved if the two can come together, hash out their differences and reach a compromise that keeps the relationship intact. Divorce isn’t cheap and does not come without a little pain and regret.