According to reports coming out during the weekend, three Los Angeles County homeless agencies responsible with reducing homelessness in the LA area failed to spend around $150 million in federal grants between 2015 and 2020, a figure that would have helped ease homelessness for a significant number of people.
Rather than spend the money, the three agencies in questions simply returned it to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This included the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) returning $29 million to HUD, the Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA) returning $38 million, and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) giving back $82 million to the federal agency.
Crackdowns on homeless encampments and reducing the areas they can legally camp have climbed in recent years, with the Los Angeles City Council passing ordinances that have banned encampments in many public areas ranging from sidewalks to near schools, as well as going after on-street bike repairs and where RVs can park. At the same time, the number of new shelters and housing units for homeless individuals have also been passed, creating more shelter options for the homeless despite city crackdowns. The end of programs such as project roomkey, which gave the homeless hotel rooms to use during the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased the need for shelter space in LA at the same time. All together, this has created a situation where every penny of federal funds would be needed.
“The agency operates in a climate where the rental market is so hard to access, it makes it very challenging to use all these resources,” noted LAHSA spokesman Ahmad Chapman.
LAHSA chief programs officer Molly Rysman added that the problem is due to “HUD’s rigid and complex funding system, which makes it challenging to spend funds quickly or reallocate money that can’t be used for its original purpose. We’ve said this to HUD over and over again. We need a lot more flexibility.”
$150 million being left unspent
However, many in LA County are growing frustrated with the agencies, with local lawmakers divided as to putting more funds to more direct programs, or continue to go through agencies like LAHSA, which received federal funds. Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfield has been one of those in favor of shifting away from LAHSA to a more direct city approach.
“Los Angeles has recently worked to build on our city’s homeless response system,” said Blumenfield during the weekend, At this point, we were already doing the work and we should look at what it takes to bring homeless services in house. Many of us are building our own pilot programs. Our regional homeless system is too big in my opinion, and it’s unresponsive to our local needs.”
LAHSA and the other two agencies leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table has also upset many homeless in the county, who have said that the agencies should have compromised and used as much funding as possible.
“They’re trying to say that we all don’t understand the realities they face and how they aren’t able to spend it all,” explained Jax, a homeless advocate in LA who also assists homeless in finding food and shelter. “I dare anyone from those agencies to come and explain to us here that they were not able to spend , what, $150 million? Tell the guy in the box that. Tell the woman living in a tent sleeping with fear each night that. If you tell any of them that ‘Well HUD needs to be more flexible’ they’ll be booed away.”
“What we really need is help. Pure and simple. And none of us care about ‘flexibility’ or ‘complexities’ involved. That $150 million could have helped a lot of us. It could have saved some who didn’t make it. This isn’t on HUD. It’s on them.”
Decisions on whether cities and the county should break more away from the three agencies are expected in the near future.
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