LA controller calls for data-driven homelessness strategy

Citing "ill-defined" goals and ineffective spending, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin proposes a technological solution to city's homelessness problem.
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Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin’s latest audit says the city should adopt a data-driven approach to reverse its growing homelessness problem, but the city’s homelessness officials say they disagree with the report’s findings. 

The audit, released on Wednesday, assessed two years of city-funded contracts between the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The HCID provided $3.5 million to LAHSA in 2017 and $6.8 million in 2018 to fund homeless outreach initiatives, but Galperin’s review found that homelessness jumped 16 percent in that time and that the authority failed to meet 12 out of 17 outreach goals, many of which were “ill-defined” to begin with, according to the audit.

The solution that Galperin proposes is to use a statistical performance management system to collect real-time data on homeless populations, giving officials the opportunity to make faster and more effective decisions. Right now, the audit found, LAHSA lacks accurate and timely metrics, as well as a data-driven performance review process to evaluate those metrics.

“My report shows that a better plan to reach out to the City’s homeless population is needed. LAHSA is spending far too much time reacting to complaints and contacting far too few people as a result,” Galperin said in a press statement. “By implementing a data-driven approach, LAHSA will be able to engage in proactive outreach and get more people off the streets and into shelters and homes.”


Officials at LAHSA, however, disagreed with the findings. In an email to StateScoop, a LAHSA spokesperson said “the audit addressed only a fraction of the outreach conducted by LAHSA.”

Heidi Marston, LAHSA’s chief program officer told the Los Angeles Times the city is already developing a data-driven outreach system and said Galperin’s office mischaracterized her agency’s work.

In an open letter signed by LAHSA executive director Peter Lynn, the authority says it’s not responsible for several of its missed goals. On failure to meet benchmarks on placing homeless residents in shelter, “bridge” or permanent housing, for instance, Lynn notes “outreach cannot place people in shelter or housing that has yet to be built or is blocked.”

LAHSA’s letter concludes that there’s more work to be done, often in the face of limited resources. Lynn writes: “30,000 of our neighbors experiencing homelessness have said ‘yes’ to resources like housing and shelter, but there are not enough resources available to serve them all. According to the authority, there are between 50,000 and 60,000 homeless people living in Los Angeles.

Galperin compared the proposed “HomeSTAT” system to the CompStat systems used by law enforcement agencies around the country, which rely on real-time statistics and rapid resource deployment.


Other cities have already used such data-driven strategies to address homelessness. New York City’s Home-STAT regularly collects and publishes data on homeless populations and outreach. NYC’s program employs canvassers just like LAHSA does, but the data each canvasser collects daily is integrated with all of the other data in real time, enabling swift decisions to be made to benefit the homeless.

The audit recommends that the HCID, LAHSA and Los Angles City Administrator Richard Llewellyn build a performance management system that incorporates real-time data transmission and geo-location data of homelessness outreach employees as they work. The goal, Galperin said, is to make LAHSA proactive in its outreach. The audit found that 67 percent of LAHSA’s outreach is spent responding to complaints, rather than seeking out the homeless to provide services.

“HomeSTAT would fundamentally reshape LAHSA’s outreach program by using real-time data on homelessness to evaluate performance and make informed decisions about resource allocation,” the audit says.

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