Abt Associates’ Evaluation of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Chronic Homelessness Initiative

During 2018, community stakeholders continued to come together with a shared commitment to address the growing homelessness crisis across the Los Angeles region. These stakeholders worked in new ways to expand the homeless service system and coordinate its resources. Measure H’s landmark infusion of funds means that the homeless service system has been taken to a dramatically different scale. With Measure H’s 10-year investment come challenges in increasing the capacity of the homeless service system, including creating sound policies and procedures to guide the system; cultivating leadership, hiring new staff, retaining current staff to operate the growing system; and improving technology and data systems to allow system leaders to make data-informed policy decisions.

Despite the infusion of resources and the community’s commitment to ending homelessness, we cannot ignore the macro issues affecting the United States and Los Angeles—rising housing and healthcare costs, wage stagnation, and slow development of affordable housing. These factors affect the inflow into homelessness and the effectiveness of the homeless service system’s efforts to reduce or stop it. With this in mind, community stakeholders that operate and manage the homeless system more than ever need to be aligned around goals and solutions, have functional processes and procedures, and be sustainably resourced.

As the Los Angeles community and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation continue to invest in efforts to end and prevent chronic homelessness, the evaluation team summarizes the recommendations made throughout this 2019 Annual Report.

We have organized these recommendations into four focus areas:

  1. Engaging public officials and agency leaders across the Los Angeles County, including local cities, to support and invest in long-term solutions to chronic homelessness.
  2. Garnering statewide political will to advocate for and invest in sustainable resources for the growing homelessness crisis across California.
  3. Growing the homeless service system and the organizations tasked with implementing the system’s components.
  4. Using data to report progress, elevate challenges, and inform decision-making.

Key Areas to Maximize Progress

1. Engaging public officials and agency leaders across the Los Angeles County, including local cities, to support and invest in long-term solutions to chronic homelessness:

  • Community Opportunity: Community stakeholders should continue to engage with and educate elected officials and community leaders to maintain their political will in support of PSH as a long-term solution to chronic homelessness, especially as elected leaders must respond to the affordable housing shortage and the scale of unsheltered homelessness across LA County and California. With County Supervisors now term-limited, current champions such as Mark Ridley-Thomas will be leaving office in the next few years. Current and new leaders will need to step into the champion role to continue the efforts to end homelessness and support long-term solutions.
  • Community Opportunity: The United Way of Greater Los Angeles Home For Good team and other community organizations might consider creating a campaign similar to “Pledge 222” for other cities in LA County. As city leaders begin to implement their local plans to address homelessness and examine the full array of housing types that may be needed (bridge housing, supportive housing, other affordable housing), creating such goals could help make local leaders accountable.
  • Community Opportunity: Proposition HHH and Measure H brought significant resources to the City and County to implement the goals of the joint comprehensive homeless plans, but additional work to deploy those resources is needed. Going forward, public officials, community leaders, and key stakeholders need to advocate for and educate the public on solutions to homelessness, including building bridge housing and PSH, to overcome local policy barriers and pockets of resistance to siting housing in the community.

2. Garnering statewide political will to advocate for and invest in sustainable resources for the growing homelessness crisis across California:

  • Community Opportunity: Recent activity at the state legislative level demonstrates that Governor Newsom intends to address homelessness and the lack of affordable housing during his term. Community stakeholders should use this as an opportunity to meet with state elected officials to showcase Los Angeles’s plans for addressing homelessness, highlight progress made, and advocate for additional legislation and needed funding.
  • Community Opportunity: The newly formed state advocacy workgroup should continue to coordinate on statewide policies and funding opportunities. However, for this effort to be successful, the workgroup will need to task member organizations with action and follow  a defined approach for leveraging the activities of its members. Workgroup members may face challenges as they work through the wording of proposed legislation, their own internal approval processes, and organizational restrictions for engaging in advocacy on state issues.
  • Community Opportunity: Community stakeholders, including the state advocacy workgroup, should continue to educate and advocate with statewide elected officials for the resources and policy changes that Los Angeles needs to combat chronic homelessness. California has seen steep increases in the number of people staying on the streets and in other unsheltered settings, often sleeping in vehicles or tents. The response to that growth in the unsheltered homeless population has been a growing recognition of the need for solutions to homelessness among members of the public, the media, and local elected officials. State policymakers are facing a chorus of demands for action to address this statewide crisis. They face competing demands for funding for short-term responses such as emergency shelter and encampment cleanup efforts versus long-term solutions such as policy reforms and expanding the supply of supportive and other affordable housing. State policymakers need to be challenged to balance commitments to long-term housing solutions with investments in interim strategies. Real solutions to the state’s shortage of affordable rental housing will require policymakers not only to provide funding to support local programs but also to act on controversial policy measures that provide protections to tenants, prohibit housing discrimination against people who rely on rental subsidies, and encourage the removal of regulatory barriers to low-cost housing options such as accessory dwellings.

Potential Foundation Role: The Foundation should continue to work with state-level advocacy organizations such as Housing California on messaging and strategies needed to reduce chronic homelessness. This includes substantial investments in affordable and permanent supportive housing and on-going funding for supportive services.

  • Community Opportunity: A state Medicaid waiver provides a significant amount of funding to Los Angeles County through the Whole Person Care pilot. One stakeholder estimated that funding related to the Whole Person Care pilot contributes at least $50 million a year for DHS programs related to housing and homelessness. These funds are coordinated with funding from Measure H to support services and housing for people experiencing homelessness. County leaders and community stakeholders need to engage in planning efforts to sustain these resources beyond the end of the current waiver, which is set to expire in December 2020.

3. Growing the homeless service system and the organizations tasked with implementing the system’s components:

  • Community Opportunity: Over the coming years, current programs will continue to be scaled up and new initiatives will be launched. Throughout this process, current City and County leaders will need to prepare to bring on new leaders and organizations responsible for overseeing expanded duties and new initiatives. Effective planning, coordination, and communication will be essential to ensuring responsibility is distributed and progress toward the comprehensive plans continues.
  • Community Opportunity: Community stakeholders need to continue to hold public officials accountable for removing bottlenecks and obstacles in the development process and investing in the capacity (i.e., staffing, training) of departments tasked with overseeing the components of housing development.
  • Community Opportunity: Public agencies should continue to build creative partnerships with local colleges, and universities to meet countywide staffing needs within the homeless service system.
  • Community Opportunity: Public and private funders should identify ways to help service providers retaining staff and minimize staff turnover while also supporting staff well-being. This may involve acquiring and analyzing countywide data on staff turnover across service providers and convening staff at different levels to identify how they do and do not feel supported to undertake their roles.

Potential Foundation Role: Convene direct-service staff to understand job retention and turnover issues and ways to mitigate challenges faced.

  • Community Opportunity: Public agencies and philanthropic partners should continue to provide flexible funding to service providers as they continue to grow their organization and serve more high-acuity clients.
  • Community Opportunity: Public agencies should continue to focus on communication and messaging efforts so clients, community partners, and the public understand what is reasonable to expect for matching people prioritized for PSH into housing. Until significantly more PSH units become available across the community, many highly vulnerable people experiencing homelessness with have to wait for housing placements.
  • Community Opportunity: Service providers and public agencies reported inadequate physical office space for employees. Providers and public agencies should look for opportunities to support new workspace models such as teleworking or touchdown hubs where several service providers could share office space. Providers explained that many direct-service staff spend a lot of their work time in the field meeting with clients. For those staff, ensuring that they have mobile devices to connect with colleagues and clients is imperative.
  • Community Opportunity: Providers reported experiencing funding gaps between what their contracts cover and what it costs them to sustainably operate and deliver services. Providers should continue to document and analyze their “full” costs and use those analyses to ask for additional funding to support those costs. Public and private funders should continue to support the work of financial consultants and strategists who can help providers in conduct financial analysis and creating plans for organizational growth and sustainability.

Potential Foundation Opportunity: The Foundation could continue to support the work of financial consultants working with homeless service providers and continue to look for opportunities to support providers across the County in capacity-building efforts.

  • Community Opportunity: Public agencies, the philanthropic community, and community organizations have provided—and continue to provide—assistance to service providers through funding, training, and technical assistance. It will be important to continue to seek providers’ guidance and input on what types of assistance and resources are most useful to help develop their internal capacities. Service providers across the County have different needs. Public and private funders need to be attuned to those differences and recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Many provider organizations are led by people who have worked within the homeless service system for decades. Their expertise and experience should be exploited when thinking about how to structure and provide capacity-building resources.
  • Community Opportunity: As the community scales outreach efforts, there is a greater need for coordination and communication among homeless outreach teams and outreach coordinators.

Potential Foundation Opportunity: The Foundation should ensure that service providers and other community agencies conducting outreach have the technology needed to communicate and coordinate with one another in real time. By brainstorming with these stakeholders on what is most needed in the field to facilitate this coordination and communication.

4. Using data to report progress, elevate challenges, and inform decision-making:

  • Community Opportunity: The community should work on the challenges to tracking PSH inventory as it becomes available and compare this inventory to the targets set in the community housing gaps analysis. This requires an investment in resources from several public entities tasked with managing the current PSH inventory and pipeline.
  • Community Opportunity: Community stakeholders should examine geographic and demographic data for voucher holders who are successful at leasing a unit versus voucher holders who are not successful. By examining demographic data, stakeholders could determine whether there are racial disparities that might indicate discrimination within some or all areas of the County. By examining which stages of the lease-up process are delaying placement in housing, stakeholders might be able to uncover lease-up strategies when it looks like someone may be having difficulty or specific landlord engagement activities in targeted geographic areas. Stakeholders might also conduct qualitative studies of the experiences of voucher holders who were successful at leasing a unit versus voucher holders who have been unsuccessful. Stakeholders might discover some nuanced best practices that can be applied across voucher programs to increase success rates.  Finally, stakeholders should focus on implementation of state and local laws making discrimination on the basis of source of income illegal, including litigation that demonstrates the responsibility of landlords to obey the laws.

Potential Foundation Opportunity: The Foundation should look for ways to support non-profit and advocacy organizations in their efforts to enforce the new “source of income” laws.  This might focus on litigation on behalf of people trying to use tenant-based assistance for PSH, although overall enforcement of these laws could also help people trying to use vouchers to leave homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless.  The Foundation also has an opportunity to fund research that can be used to improve the voucher success rate, including: (1) further analysis of success rates that focuses on the use of tenant-based subsidies for PSH and identifies geographic areas where success rates are particularly low and landlord engagement efforts could be targeted;  (2) analyzing the processes between voucher issuance and lease-up to uncover strategies for offering housing search assistance or other supports when a voucher holder appears to be having difficulty; and (3) analyzing success rates for the Housing for Health program and strategies that program may be using to ensure successful placements, including ways that service providers interact with landlords. Foundation could use direct-engagement to bring in other stakeholders and funders, as well as considering grant-making opportunities.

  • Community Opportunity: The new data dashboards created by the County, City, LAHSA, and the United Way represent significant progress in providing transparency to the public. However, the community still needs to work on which metrics are most important to track for various audiences, including stakeholders, elected officials, and voters and analyze how those metrics relate to the goals set by the community. For example, are the most vulnerable people being prioritized? Are lag times decreasing? Are people who are chronically homeless exiting homelessness into PSH?

Potential Foundation Opportunity: The Foundation could help the community convening data managers and analysts across homeless system partners to discuss the best ways for the community to use and report data.

  • Community Opportunity: Community stakeholders should continue to examine placement and lease-up times for all tenant-based and project-based subsidies. Though funders and program administrators have eligibility requirements, and verification processes to follow exploring each entity’s processes and timelines could reveal opportunities for improvements.
  • Community Opportunity: LAHSA and DHS might consider how to integrate HMIS and CHAMP systems so that dual entry is not required, or, alternatively, implement regular data reconciliation to make sure clients are properly accounted for in both systems.
  • Community Opportunity: Community Opportunity: Public agencies, community organizations, and funders should continue to support efforts to identify the causes of racial disparities in experiences in returns from supportive housing to homelessness and invest in strategies to decrease those disparities. They might investigate CES processes and assessment tools to ensure the tools are equitable and not perpetuating racial inequalities.

Potential Foundation Opportunity: The Foundation should support efforts that are designed to increase the representation of African Americans and people with lived homelessness experience among organizational leadership and staff that provide supportive housing. This could include focusing recruitment, training, and capacity-building efforts on creating an expanded workforce.

  • Community Opportunity: Policymakers, funders, and researchers should try to understand the factors behind inflow into homelessness and chronic homelessness. This may include supporting research, assessing the implications of research findings, and working with other systems of care to test approaches to preventing vulnerable people from becoming homelessness or developing chronic patterns of homelessness.

Potential Foundation Opportunity: Continue to support evaluation efforts and convene stakeholders to disseminate research findings and brainstorm on community solutions to inflow into homelessness and chronic homelessness.

  • Community Opportunity: As the community launches new programs, ensure that entities tasked with implementation are tracking client outcomes, evaluating program impacts, and including proactive learning and the ability to incorporate lessons learned into the models.