LA homelessness authority calls for government to treat homelessness crisis with same urgency as natural disaster

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The head of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency says she wants the federal government to treat Southern California's homelessness crisis with the same urgency as a natural disaster.

"We have a problem," said Heidi Marston, LAHSA's interim executive director. "We have an emergency on our streets and we need an emergency response."

When LAHSA began forming its Housing Central Command last November, Marston said she sought out federal disaster officials to take part.

"We have a high number of people who need to be re-housed rapidly so it was really important to me to make sure we're bringing the folks who have the emergency response lens to the work," Marston said.

MORE: LA County supervisors vote to rethink structure of homeless agency
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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to rethink the structure and responsibility of the public agency on the forefront of the region's homeless crisis.

She says the amount of federal funding L.A. received last year hit a record high, but LAHSA still has a problem spending those funds. Marston points out that each year, the authority sends tens of millions of dollars back to the federal government.

"Nobody was holding the full picture of how all of those resources were playing together to make sure that we were optimizing their utilization," she said.

Now that the housing central command is up and running, helping to streamline the process, Marston says an additional 3,000 housing units lost in the vast system have recently been discovered.

Marston says that's just the start of making LAHSA more efficient. Her ultimate goal: using 95% of the resources brought in. But the L,A, County Board of Supervisors isn't happy with LAHSA. It voted last week to look into possibly restructuring the authority.

LAHSA, a combined effort by both the city and county of Los Angeles, manages $400 million a year to provide shelter and housing for people experiencing homelessness. Questions have been raised, however, about its effectiveness.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger filed the motion to analyze the agency.

"It was formed through a lawsuit and quite frankly from day one, because I was a staffer at the time, on paper it looked good - the joint power agreement - but in reality there were problems from day one," Barger said.
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