LAHSA’s Heidi Marston Explains How People Are Prevented from Entering Homelessness

Heidi Marston, the chief operating officer for the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, spoke to                                            Pacific Palisades residents.                               Photo: Courtesy of LAHSA

(Editor’s note: At the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness meeting at the Palisades Library community room on September 23, Councilman Mike Bonin spoke—see story posted September 30. The second speaker that night was Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Heidi Marston.)

By JAMES GAGE

Special to Circling the News

LAHSA’s Chief Program Officer Heidi Marston provided implementation details for planned housing and services. Outreach workers, such as those working with PPTFH, use LAHSA’s Coordinated Entry System (CES) to connect homeless individuals to services and housing.

“Thank you for having me,” said Marston. “It’s always so refreshing and encouraging to see community members step up…and be part of the solution.”

She reviewed LAHSA’s history and core functions. The Authority reports both to the city and county and is charged with overseeing L.A.’s entire response system to homelessness.

It administers over $400 million in grants, services and funding for providers, contractors and over 250 outreach workers. LAHSA, conversely, does not develop housing, engage in case management, or operate shelters.

Because of the increase in funds from Measure HHH, LAHSA is currently building up its system, explained Marston.

“You can pour $200-$300 million into our system but it’s going to take time to get people staffed up to do that and be trained,” she said.

According to LAHSA, there are 721,000 households in L.A. that pay more than 50 percent of their incomes on rent and are considered “severely rent burdened.”

Last year, LAHSA prevented 6,000 people from entering homelessness by offering housing subsidies and stipends. But many of these solutions are corks plugging up a leaking boat. In 2018, roughly 55,000 people fell into homelessness, with LAHSA’s system managing to house 21,000 and resolve more than 27,000 cases of homelessness without subsidies.

Marston also discussed the crucial role the CES plays in finding housing for homeless individuals.

“We want to make sure that the system is fair and equal in accessing services,” she said. “We want to make sure every person has equal and fair opportunity to get the resources they need. CES tries to find people who can’t advocate for themselves and make sure they get just as much opportunity for housing as the person who comes through the door asking for it.”

CES tracks everybody that comes through LAHSA’s system including families with children, adults, and youths, tailoring services to the specific population.

“What we’re trying to help people see is that the homelessness system is a safety net, but it should be the last safety net,” said Marston. “We work with the foster system, mental health and the criminal justice system, figuring out how to address this. We’re starting to get engagement from some of those systems. It’s a work in progress but were doing now more than we ever have.”

Marston offered LAHSA’s new LA Hot Portal as a means for community members to report encampments and administer outreach teams, and then took questions.

Community members asked about the educated homeless (those who are over-qualified and can’t find a job) along with rent subsidies, food and electric bill stipends, and the role landlords play in the homelessness crisis.

With homelessness down in the Palisades but up everywhere else across the city, Marston commented on the work done to date by the PPTFH.

“Everything the task force is doing are the right things,” said Marston. “There’s no silver bullet. Homelessness didn’t become like this overnight and it won’t go away overnight, but we know the task force [approach] works. We know permanent housing works. And we know the tools that are necessary to get there.”

Marston also discussed the complications of raffle housing and the promise of a program run by the People Concern wherein the organization acts as a master leaser paying landlords directly to house homeless tenants. She finished by addressing the overwhelming need of today’s homeless population amidst limited resources.

“In the CES system today we have 26,000 homeless sheltered or unsheltered who have said, ‘Yes, I want housing. I want resources,’ and we don’t have any to offer them,” Marston said.

 

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