At the Democratic Club “garden party” fundraiser at a private residence in the Riviera section of the Pacific Palisades on August 6, each of the five public officials in attendance made brief remarks, before taking questions from the audience.
L.A. County District 3 Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, who represents Pacific Palisades and Brentwood and whose district stretches from the Ventura County line to West Hollywood, was asked about the new encampment that has grown up in the area by the Veteran’s Administration in Brentwood, which had been cleared by former Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Horvath was also asked about $15 million slated for mental illness that was returned to the state. She was asked about the County-sponsored needle giveaway to addicts in Santa Monica Parks.
Horvath, who was voted to chair the LAHSA (Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority Commission) on July 28, began by saying that she was working with partners to expedite hiring and contracting. “I am working on accountability, getting things done and not finger pointing. I am also listening,” she said.
A person asked, “Can you explain why the county has returned $15 million slated for mental health?” LAHSA has reported that about 25 percent of the homeless adults on the street suffer from mental illness.
A county mental health program had received $30 million from the state to provide care to individuals in vulnerable or crisis situations to prevent them from landing in hospitals and jails.
The grants expired in June, and $15 million that went unspent was returned to the state.
Horvath said, “We have to spend in a timely fashion, and we have to expedite so we don’t have to return the money. We’re working with mental health to see what was slowing the dollars down.”
(Voters approved the Mental Health Services Act, initially known as Proposition 63, in 2004. The act imposes a one percent tax on people who earn more than $1 million a year to pay for mental health programs. The tax generates about $2 billion annually, which goes to local agencies to expand programs for those who suffer from mental illness or are at risk for mental illness. A state auditor’s report in 2018 criticized the California Department of Health Care authorities for allowing counties to accumulate $2.5 billion in unspent funds.)
A person asked Horvath about the needle distribution in Santa Monica public parks, adding “the needles are getting stuck in storm drains and in the park.” The person asked if the distribution could be done from a building, rather than a public park.
“Sometimes you have to build relationships,” Horvath said, which meant that workers go to people in the park and then “we’re able to get them out of the park and into a brick-and-mortar building.”
The questioner said that in his experience “addicts are staying all day in the park.”
This CTN editor went to Reed and Tongva Parks in Santa Monica in June and observed needle distribution. Despite the assurance by Horvath that no workers went into the park seeking addicts, this editor observed otherwise.
Addicts were asked for their birthdate and their initials. They were asked if they wanted needles, wipes and Narcan, but there was no offer of rehab services.
Horvath’s office was asked about numbers for the needle program. She sent CTN’s request to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
CTN specifically asked how many people received clean syringes from the Venice Family Clinic Van in March, April and May. CTN asked in those three months, how many individuals had followed up with rehab requests.
DPH responded in an August 8 email to CTN that last year, about 2,700 people in Los Angeles County died from an overdose and over half of those involved fentanyl or methamphetamine. DPH wrote that drug overdose is the leading cause of death for the homeless and that there is about two deaths a day.
Along with methamphetamine, fentanyl has been the drug type driving overdose deaths since the start of the pandemic, with the percentage of overdose deaths involving fentanyl almost tripling from 20% in 2019 to 58% in 2021.
DPH wrote that harm reduction helps prevent HIV and added “from March 2023 – May 2023, approximately 45-60 people received clean syringes from Venice Family Clinic. Among these people, a majority are repeat customers. Five percent of participants generally pursued substance use treatment at the clinic, which is about the same as the national average.”
CTN wanted to clarify that of 45 people, only 2 sought rehab help and emailed DPH back to see if that was correct, because a 5 percent “success” rate for a program that was touted as one way to help prevent deaths seemed low.
An August 9 email from DPH confirmed “From March – May, 45-60 individuals received sterile syringes from Venice Family Clinic. The 5% that sought out treatment is of the 30-40 people who interacted with VFC, about 1 – 2 individuals per month. From March – May, 5-6 individuals sought substance use disorder treatment.”
The L.A. County budget for “harm reduction” has been increased this year from $5.4 to $31.5 million.
Horvath’s public spokesperson, Constance Farrell, wrote: “DPH and Venice Family Clinic, the provider who operates the limited harm reduction program in Santa Monica, have modified operations to focus on offering services in a van as opposed to on foot. The services are offered three hours per week adjacent to parks where those in need of services are located.
“Harm reduction programs exist to save lives through overdose prevention. This is particularly important given the fentanyl crisis. One of the purposes is to collect used needles to prevent the spread of disease among users; Venice Family Clinic collects needles to prevent them from being left as refuse.
“Supervisor Horvath raised the point about relationship building [on Sunday] because that is a key tenant of successful outreach to people . . .experiencing homelessness. It takes many interactions to build trust to bring someone into temporary shelter and eventually into permanent supportive housing.”
John Alle, of the Santa Monica Coalition, who has sent this editor photos of needles in parks and drug deals, said “Contrary to Horvath’s remarks on Sunday, the program is not curbside. County Health and Venice Family Clinic employees walk into the park and distribute needles, handwipes and Narcan.”
Alle said he had sent photos to Horvath and Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, but they have not “responded to photos from City workers showing discarded needles in the parks and alongside the water drains. This is not environmentally sound,” Alle said.
(Tomorrow, the encampment on the Westside of the VA and on County property has returned. Supervisor Horvath’s response will be discussed.)