LAist article from their "Housing and Homelessness" section: A Wave Of Departures Shakes Up LA’s Homeless Agency

LAist article from their "Housing and Homelessness" section: A Wave Of Departures Shakes Up LA’s Homeless Agency

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A Wave Of Departures Shakes Up LA’s Homeless Agency

By Nick Gerda

Three top L.A. homelessness officials have left their jobs in recent weeks, LAist has learned.

The exits at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) include the executives who oversaw finance and data. Public announcements were not made about most of the changes.

The departures are prompting questions about why people are leaving and whether there’s now a leadership vacuum that affects oversight of homeless services, according to interviews with city and county officials.

LAHSA’s leadership “parted ways” with two of the three executives “after careful consideration,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement to LAist.

The staffing shakeup comes as homelessness continues to dominate as a key issue for the public, including in the March 5 election. The city council has authorized unprecedented spending to try and address the problems, and has acknowledged major data gaps that hinder the city’s ability to track its progress.

About 33,000 people live outdoors in the city of L.A. as of the latest count that’s available — a number that has spiked sharply in recent years, and that L.A. Mayor Karen Bass has pledged to reduce.

Who’s out

The recent known departures started Jan. 22 with LAHSA’s top finance official, Kristina Dixon.

A few days later, on Feb. 1, came the exit of the agency’s data chief, Emily Vaughn Henry. She had a key leadership role over the agency’s crucial point in time counts.

And in recent days, the agency’s director of access and engagement, Brittnee Hill, departed.

“These are high-level, important positions,” said L.A. City Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who’s on the council’s homelessness committee. She said she’s sorry to see these executives go, including Hill, whom Rodriguez said was working closely with her staff to connect people to housing.

Asked if LAHSA had informed her about the impact of these vacancies, Rodriguez said no.

“I have no indication or information that would help inform me what the circumstances or the impacts are going to be,” she said.

“There's always a lag when you have new people starting,” she added. “I have no clear insight on that.”

Vaughn Henry told LAist the loss of her job took her by surprise.

“It was devastating,” she said. “I did not expect this.”

The other recently departed executives — Dixon and Hill — could not immediately be reached for comment.

“[LAHSA CEO Va Lecia] Adams Kellum is committed to building a new LAHSA and looks forward to continuing to work with all of our partners to achieve our shared vision of bringing our unhoused neighbors home,” LAHSA leadership said in a statement provided by spokesperson Ahmad Chapman, regarding Dixon and Vaughn Henry’s departures.

Chapman said he was unable to say why LAHSA management parted ways with the two executives.

A nationwide search is underway for the top finance position, with Deputy Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Samson filling in on an acting basis in the meantime, according to the statement.

Data management will temporarily be overseen by Bevin Kuhn, a senior advisor for IT and data, while the agency looks for a permanent replacement, the statement added.

The departures come as the county is preparing to audit LAHSA’s finances and its annual point in time count of people experiencing homelessness, with an eye toward possibly restructuring the often-criticized agency.

LAist also reached out to spokespeople for the top local officials overseeing homelessness and LAHSA: L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, county Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, and Supervisor Kathryn Barger, all of whom sit on LAHSA’s governing commission; as well as the five L.A. city council members on the council’s homelessness committee: Nithya Raman, Bob Blumenfield, Rodriguez, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and John Lee.

The only elected official who commented was Rodriguez.

A Bass spokesperson said the mayor did not have a comment. Raman's spokesperson said the council member didn't have a comment because she's not involved in day-to-day operations at LAHSA. Barger declined to comment through a spokesperson, and Blumenfield's spokesperson referred comment to Adams Kellum "as she builds her executive team."

County plans audits

Two areas that were under the purview of the recently-departed officials — finance and the annual point in time count — are set to be the focus of outside audits recently approved by county supervisors.

“As Los Angeles County continues to combat the humanitarian crisis that is homelessness, every entity that plays a role in ending the crisis must be challenged, evaluated, and supported to ensure optimal performance,” states a motion by Horvath and Barger to have county auditors examine LAHSA’s finances. It was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

Horvath and Barger noted that the agency will be getting new financial leadership, and said the audit is meant to be helpful.

“The intention of this audit is to provide a clear and accurate picture of the financial health and practices of LAHSA to best inform incoming financial leadership and staff,” the motion states.

“Especially as executive financial leadership at LAHSA is changing, this audit will give incoming officers a head start on where to focus. We must dig into the details to expedite the homelessness solutions our communities deserve,” Horvath added in a statement Tuesday.

Adams Kellum, the LAHSA CEO, said she welcomes the audits.

“LAHSA is proactively making adjustments, including in key leadership positions, that will transform LAHSA’s financial infrastructure,” she said in a statement to LAist, adding they look forward to “working collaboratively and in partnership with the Auditor-Controller’s Office to improve our financial practices to serve our unsheltered neighbors better.”

‘Horrifying’ data problems

Problems with getting accurate data from LAHSA have long frustrated L.A. council members.

Vaughn Henry, as the agency’s former data chief, fielded questions from council members at a heated discussion about it in August.

During that meeting, council members learned the city may be paying for services that were never used, such as motel rooms that sat empty under a program they approved for $300 million.

“It’s just insanity,” Councilmember Rodriguez said at the time. “There's a fundamental problem with getting some very basic information here, and it's costing taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Council members were particularly frustrated by missing data points about people who leave Inside Safe, a signature motel shelter program launched by Bass shortly after she took office in December 2022.

The nonprofits that serve unhoused people are supposed to log when unhoused people exit the motel room program. But that requirement was not enforced by LAHSA, which contracts with the providers and manages the data system. The agency’s system allows staff to “bypass” disclosing whether a person has left the program, Vaughn Henry told council members.

That means the city might not know if it’s paying for empty motel rooms after people leave, council members were told by Mercedes Marquez, who at the time was the mayor’s top homelessness advisor.

“That's horrifying,” Councilmember Blumenfield said at the meeting.

“So we could be paying for weeks for an empty room, when somebody left two weeks earlier, and we could be using that room to house somebody?” he asked.

Marquez acknowledged that could be the case.

“If there was nothing else that was being done, you would be absolutely correct,” Marquez said in response to Blumenfield’s question.

Council member says data problems remain 'merry-go-round from hell'

In an interview with LAist on Tuesday, Rodriguez said the same type of data problems remain unresolved.

“I'm still on the merry-go-round from hell,” she said, repeating a term she used at the August meeting.

“I think there's still a lack of really clear, measurable outcomes that we can concretely say, in terms of measuring the costs associated with it,” Rodriguez added.

“That has been a really big challenge and frustration of mine, to just get very clear data points, on what we're paying for.”