The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) presented its recovery plan to house 15,000 at-risk people experiencing homelessness as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning.
LAHSA Interim Director Heidi Marston told councilmembers that they anticipate participants of the program will be temporarily housed within the next 30 to 60 days and settled into permanent housing by April 2022.
“We know that homelessness was a crisis long before COVID-19 came into the picture but COVID-19 has also accelerated not only the speed of our work, but also the need to maintain this crisis response model,” Marston said in a briefing before the board presentation.
LAHSA perceives at-risk individuals in alliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition: those who have underlying medical conditions and are over the age of 65 years. According to a 2019 count by LAHSA, there were almost 60,000 homeless people living in L.A. County.
Although 80% of the housing is aimed at those seen as at-risk, Marston said 20% is dedicated to others who may be chronically homeless but not as vulnerable.
The plan is targeted at immediate, short-term and long-term goals for those affected by homelessness by focusing on identifying available units through “inventory management [systems]” and assigning them to those individuals along with other assistive resources, Marston said.
In the county’s predecessor program, Project Roomkey launched in early April, 15,000 hotel rooms were leased for temporary housing of homeless people. During the board meeting, director of the county’s Homeless Initiative, Phil Ansell, said that of the more than 30 hotels designated for Project Roomkey, almost 3,000 people have been assigned rooms and 2,500 were waiting and eligible.
“We’re setting really bold goals here and we recognize that, we know that it’s going to take a really big investment of resources and alignment to move our system in a way that’s much faster than we’ve moved before… we have every reason to believe that we can do it and that we should hold ourselves accountable to meeting the needs that we know exist,” Marston said.
According to Marston, units for Project Roomkey were at 87% capacity with a large waitlist and a turnover of over 300 people leaving the housing to either cycle back in or make room for new people.
To tackle plans on how to efficiently move people out of the units and into more permanent housing, the County has funded a “100-day project” by targeting one Project Roomkey hotel, according to Martson.
The key values provided in the recovery plan presentation created by Marston notes that permanent and immediate housing solutions, homelessness prevention, preparedness for future crises and a “racial equity lens in all efforts” are important to program. The presentation also listed the five pillars of response needed: “unsheltered, shelter, housing, prevention and diversion and strengthening systems.”
“We need to ensure that in any approach that we have, we are valuing all individuals and all populations equally,” Marston said. “That we’re recognizing and rectifying historical injustices and not further perpetuating those and that we’re providing resources based on the need of individuals.”
The program has infused new benefits for participating individuals including Department of Public Social Services programs such as Supplemental Security Income and CalFresh, legal aid and DMV assistance with IDs needed to gain access to housing.
Shallow subsidies, rapid rehousing programs and more focused supportive housing including sober living homes and adult residential care facilities are some of the options mentioned in the presentation.
With so many ambitious proposals, funding concerns were brought forward during the board meeting by Los Angeles county supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
“It is very thoughtful, very well put together and gives me real hope that we will be able to help this vulnerable population in ways that we really were not able to before. I think the real challenge is the budget,” Kuehl said.
Marston sites funding will come from state efforts to aid coronavirus relief and the federal financing including the CARES Act. She also added that FEMA reimbursement will determine if hotels and motels will extend their agreements to accommodate homeless people.
“It’s going to require a lot of hard choices. Everything we fund is really valuable and makes a difference in the lives of people and we can’t do all of it,” Marston said. “There are some things that we need to focus on that permanently resolve people’s housing that might require us to have hard conversations about what we’re going to fund and what we’re not going to fund as a system which again, having these five pillars that we align to will be helpful to guide those conversations.”