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Los Angeles’ sloppy, expensive approach to homelessness collides with reality

Karen Bass, Mayor, City of Los Angeles, speaks during a press conference to kick off the 2024 LAHSA homeless count for Los Angeles County at Tiara Street Park in North Hollywood on Tuesday Jan. 23, 2024. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Yet another hearing was held on Monday in the ongoing dispute between the city of Los Angeles and reality, part of a larger battle between the state of California and reality.

Reality, it turns out, really punches above its weight.

In Monday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge David Carter considered whether to approve an independent audit of L.A.’s homelessness spending on programs such as the Inside Safe initiative run by the office of Mayor Karen Bass. Inside Safe has moved 21,000 people indoors since December 2022, according to the mayor’s office, although the accuracy of this statement may depend on your definition of “moved.” 

It may also depend on your definition of 21,000. The mayor’s office says 2,152 people were moved into interim housing and 402 were moved into permanent housing, and how that adds up to 21,000 is a question that two separate sets of auditors may soon be exploring.

Judge Carter has this case because the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights sued the city and county of Los Angeles for not providing shelter for the people who were living on downtown sidewalks. A settlement was reached in 2022, but reality was not a party to the settlement, which is how it ended up back in the courtroom.

The settlement called for the city to provide shelter for at least 60% of the street-dwelling population in each city council district by deadlines, provide various reports and documentation of its progress, and return the sidewalks to the purpose for which they were intended.

If reality had been at the table, it might have pointed out that there will never be enough money in the whole known universe to fulfill the terms of the settlement, because city officials define “shelter” as a free studio apartment built by workers paid the highest-in-the-universe prevailing wage and staffed by organizations that get juicy government contracts and then pay their executives enough to buy a second home.

Reality might have added that as long as state law continues to require that taxpayer-funded free apartments must be offered to people who are using hard drugs and intend to continue doing so, there are going to be some problems.

The L.A. Alliance wants the city to pay a $6.4 million fine for failing to comply with the terms of the settlement, but Judge Carter seemed hesitant about that, saying he was “uncomfortable” with that penalty. 

There will be another hearing on Friday, at which the judge may order an independent, outside audit of L.A.’s spending on homelessness programs. He has said $600 million vanished into those programs in the years before Karen Bass was elected mayor. Her Inside Safe program has received another $250 million in this year’s budget, and City Controller Kenneth Mejia says he plans his own audit. Other city officials insist the mayor’s program is outside Mejia’s authority.

While they were bickering about who wasted more of your money, the federal government dropped a bombshell into the discussion.

Remember when the Project Roomkey homeless-housing-in-hotels program was initiated in April 2020 because of COVID, and California officials announced that 75% of the cost would be paid by the FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency? Then, in January 2021, FEMA said it would cover 100% of the cost of housing vulnerable homeless individuals in hotel rooms during the crisis.

However, FEMA has now informed California that it only agreed to pay for hotel stays of up to 20 days once the governor’s stay-at-home order was lifted, which happened on June 11, 2021.

Now the city of L.A. could lose $60 million in expected reimbursement, and a time when it has just agreed to lavish salary increases for city employees, for which funds already were insufficient. And the city also has a new expense estimated at $3 billion over ten years for idiotic road diets after voters said yes to Measure HLA.

This all makes it even more likely that city and county officials will try to put tax increases for homelessness programs on the November ballot. 

We’ll see how that works out.

After the not-so-fast-there reaction of voters to the governor’s $6.38-billion Proposition 1 plan for homelessness, reality may have other ideas.

By Susan Shelley | | Los Angeles Daily News

March 20, 2024 at 7:05 a.m. | UPDATED: March 20, 2024 at 7:05 a.m


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