At a packed Los Angeles City Council meeting Tuesday — the only one of the usually three regularly scheduled meetings taking place this week — the Los Angeles City Council approved several motions instructing city offices to begin planning programs related to assisting people experiencing homelessness and others in need of affordable housing.

One of these programs is the development of a methodology to determine the level of services it needs to provide to each individual based on certain circumstances. Another will create a multilingual online search engine for those searching for affordable housing, and a third motion passed directs city staff to design a reimagined Winter Shelter program with increased funding approved earlier this year.

In order to further implement its own homelessness solutions, the city is in need of a way to properly assess the needs of people experiencing homelessness (PEH), according to a motion by councilmember Bob Blumenfield and seconded by 11th District Councilmember Traci Park and 4th District Councilmember Nithya Raman — whose district includes Western Hollywood.

The motion, dated September 27, noted that the city does have a defined line for people experiencing homelessness who are allowed in shelters and those who are not. Current policy defines “City Shelter Appropriate PEH” as “People who do not have serious mental illness and are not chronically homeless with a substance use disorder or chronic physical illness.” 

By creating a more detailed and rigorous assessment tool for use on individual cases, city staff will be more properly able to implement programs that will ensure steps are taken towards fulfilling the obligations outlined in the Sept. 2022 settlement between the city and L.A. Alliance for Human Rights. 

The assessment will not only measure the aspects already analyzed for determining a person’s fit in city shelters, it will also look to help diagnose issues like hoarding disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health diagnoses recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Additionally, this motion will require a minimum level of care to be set by the city with regard to its unhoused PEH population. While the assessments will be focused on sheltered PEH, unsheltered PEH throughout the city will also have a minimum care standard set throughout.

For those looking for affordable housing options, a significant investment was approved by the council for the development of an online system to help assist in that search. The city council approved a contract worth over $2.3 million with San Francisco-based software company Exygy to develop the digital system, which will be available in multiple languages to maximize access and inclusion. 

The Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) has developed a registry of affordable housing in the city over the past seven years, but the staff of the companies who developed the system specialize in “business-facing” software, which has made improving the system’s ease of use challenging, according to an October 10 report from the LAHD. 

This current registry has several important features already built into it — including the ability to search for housing based on certain criteria, sign up for notifications on when new projects are open for lease, and pre-apply for 100 percent affordable housing — but it can be difficult to navigate for members of the public.

Exygy will be tasked with creating a system to host the data on the registry with three primary sections. The first is a public portal for property searches and pre-applications. The second is a partner portal for developers and the third is an administrative portal for use by city staff.

Several improvements meant to assist the public in the use of the portal will be emphasized, including ensuring listings are jargon-free, clear and understandable steps to operate the portal and a streamlined way to manage and track multiple listings. 

The launch of the portal is expected between July 1, 2024, and June 30, 2025.

More money is going into Los Angeles’ Winter Shelter Program, and the program will see a reimagining to account for it.

Around $750,000 is being provided to the program in additional funding after a motion was approved Tuesday. As it currently operates, the Winter Shelter Program provides low-barrier shelter to PEH from November through February. The site-based shelter program provides services around the clock during its operation, and there is an alternative branch of the program that provides motel vouchers during the harshest weather conditions.

A total of 156 beds were provided during the previous year’s iteration of the project, but this number was below what was offered last year despite concerted efforts to expand the capacity of the program. These efforts have been met with several challenges, many of which are related to securing sites to run the program.

The motion passed Tuesday will mobilize city staff to create a plan for an “inclement weather shelter program” as a means to alleviate some of the challenges the program faces, the biggest of which is inventory. To host the program, the city needs sites that can be available 24/7 for the five-month period the program runs.

Additionally, the motel voucher program — called the Augmented Winter Shelter Program — can require incredibly short notice, sometimes same-day. This can cause issues with redeploying staff and resources with limited notice, among other operational concerns.

There is also concern that there will be a smaller pool of motel units available for use this year coming off of a colder-than-normal winter where the Augmented Winter Shelter Program was utilized more than usual.

These are the challenges that city staff will attempt to solve as they carve out a new section of the program. The over $750,000 is about 15% of the current newly enhanced budget, which will sit at around $5 million with the funds from Tuesday’s motion included.

Photo by smodj

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