VIEWPOINT: Data Leaks in Foothills Threaten 2015 Homeless Count Credibility

Outside Looking In

By: Joseph F. Mailander

Two weeks after Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro kicked off the Greater LA Homeless Count by awarding a record  $91,956,831 to organizations that combat homelessness in Los Angeles County, the Foothills have sprung a data leak involving the count that threatens its credibility, and also the credibility of some of the top funded homeless services agencies in the County.

Representatives from two Sunland-Tujunga organizations that are a part of the Sunland-Tujunga Homeless Working Group actively promoted leaks of select homeless census tract data from the recent Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.

The reps from the two organizations—from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council—culled data from a handful of select homeless census findings, attempting to indicate that homelessness has dropped in certain tracts of Sunland-Tujunga. Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s office as well as Councilman Felipe Fuentes’ office have previously identified both the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church as providing volunteer representatives to the Sunland-Tujunga Homeless Working Group.

Social workers from the County’s homeless authority, LAHSA, which is responsible for administrating the homeless count, also belong to the Homeless Working Group, as does the developer of the new homeless housing facility on Day Street, L.A. Family Housing.

Some in the Homeless Working Group and its adjunct volunteer community have portrayed the leaked data in advance of actual Homeless Count tabulations as an attempt to demonstrate that the controversial LA Family Housing complex at Day Street is working to abate homelessness in the community.

But in their administration of the homeless count, LAHSA has cautioned against using any data, even finalized data, for parsings such as those the volunteers aspired to promote to the community.

“What the Count is not designed to answer is WHY. Example: Why did the numbers increase or decrease in my area?” a part of LAHSA’s final Homeless Count report from 2013 noted.

LAHSA’s Eileen Bryson also released the following statement regarding the leaks:

“We can’t speak to the numbers being released by the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council or any other entity. Informal tallies should not be conflated with the actual count data, and we will communicate with the organizations…cited. The working group is exactly that, a working group, with volunteer members from a variety of organizations. Individual members releasing informal tallies doesn’t mean that the working group acted as a body, and doesn’t equate to LAHSA’s participation or approval.”

While LAHSA’s statement was less than contrite, its first report on the 2015 Homeless Count is not due for another two months, and a final report will only be made available to the public in summer. And even as LAHSA had expressed an earlier “concern” about the leaks when the first one appeared, other volunteers—volunteers not affiliated with the Homeless Working Group—who participated in the Homeless Count contended that if the leaked census figures are found to be close to accurate, the figures will work further to undermine the count’s integrity and credibility.

“I do not know the numbers from the 2013 Count specifically, but I did my own personal, unofficial count of people in the Canyon/Wash by speaking to people by name, and I am not so sure numbers have decreased,” a Homeless Count volunteer who wished to remain anonymous told The Foothill Record.  The volunteer contended that the homeless may or may not have decreased “in just the Canyon alone” but “nowhere else in Sunland-Tujunga and Shadow Hills, except for a few vans and RV’s.”

The Sunland-Tujunga Homeless Working Group, whose meetings are not open to the public nor reviewable by documentation, is assembled by invitation of City Councilman Fuentes’ office. It is often chaired by a representative from L.A. Family Housing, the developer of a $10.5 million permanent supportive housing complex on Day Street that speedily navigated various City of LA planning hurdles, opening on the site south of Foothill Boulevard in the middle of last year.

The developer/CEO of the homeless housing agency also indicated in a 2013 community meeting that she would like to build still more permanent supportive housing in the community. Secretary Castro’s recent HUD award to Los Angeles County organizations included another record amount—$10,120,541—to LAHSA, so that the Authority could seed the development of more new permanent supportive housing projects such as the one at Day Street.

Councilman Fuentes’ office insists that the Sunland-Tujunga Homeless Working Group bars the public from attending its meetings to protect the confidentiality of homeless and other indigent “clients.” However, LA Family Housing also revealed the identities of many of the present inhabitants of Day Street in a promotional article by Sue Abrams in the LA Daily News late last year.

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