Saturday, September 04, 2010

Love Evictions, Couch Surfing and SuperNofa's

“SHP-CPD-LOCCS-HMIS-APR-SRO-HUD-LAHSA” the man in the front of the room intoned.   "_#*@!#$ _” I muttered. This is going to be a very long day.

We are sitting in a room on the second floor of a building at 453 S. Spring Street. Here in yet another government building for yet another government workshop. This time it is the Los Angeles Housing Services Agency or LAHSA. Yes, THE LAHSA of LA Times headlines notoriety. Smack in the middle of City politics, this organization performed so poorly that the Feds have been summoned. And if there’s anyone who can improve a process, it’s the Federal government.

LAHSA was formed like our land masses, by something akin to continental drift. The plates of local government, the city plate and the county plate, clashing together, sliding across the lava of city politics. Once set in motion so definitively that even the terrifying Laura Chick, former City Controller could not put them together again.

More and more the workshops are led by outside consultants; identifiably by the fact that they still have a small spark of life. (side note for later exploration: What sucks the life out of the employees of these government agencies? Do they select for this dullness in the screening process? Or do they become this way over time? )

The goal of the workshop as defined by our consultants? To take less Pepto-Bismol. Our trainer herself was once a government employee, in charge of information technology. Her job? to manage the removal of typewriters!

The Feds sent their representative too. We were introduced to Rufus, the head of the homeless team. So if you want to solve the problems of homelessness and you go to the Feds for help, Rufus is your man.

The first pearl of wisdom delivered to us? “HUD Homeless Eligible” is NOT synonymous with “Homeless”. When asked “Why?” the consultant (obviously practiced at fielding this nonsense) replied “that’s above my pay grade”.

Workshops like this make me embarrassed to be a financial manager because they remind me exactly what my job requires me to manage. Maybe “typewriter removal” isn’t such a preposterous job goal after all.

Our hosts introduced us to the definitions of permanent, transitional and permanent with supportive services housing. There was a fourth type, it interested me the most. The category was called “Innovative Supportive Housing”. When our speaker reached this category, she said the following “I’m going to skip over this part.” She continued “because innovation is VERY rare”. Sigh.

Our training material was divided into cutesy mnemonic bytes. The six hours of our workshop could all be elucidated by memorizing the “3-6-8-8 “. The three program objectives, the six types of projects, the eight categories of homelessness and the eight legitimate ways to spend HUD money. Hmmm, I guess it works.

Mnomics aside, a lot of thought has gone into the activity of ending homelessness. How do people become homeless? Some are obvious such as succumbing to the mental illness, fleeing domestic violence, being evicted… What about being evicted by a family member? (that does it Johnny, you can’t live in the basement anymore!). These have become known in the industry as “love evictions”.

Where exactly are you when you are homeless? Living in a sub-standard place such a tent or a friends garage? Living in a motel room for 7 days and then sleeping in an alley? There are so many places to be and still fall within the definition of homeless. What about the category of “staying with friends”? This one has a name too: “couch surfing”.

How would you sum up today’s workshop? Perhaps the act of reverse engineering compassion.

Once upon a time, a hundred groups of folks around the country came with 100 innovative ways of bringing services to the homeless. By the hand of god (or an act of congress) whichever is greater, billions of tax payer dollars were allocated to implement these programs. Then the fun began. This time it wasn’t the innovators making up the system…it was the government. The government then regurgitated those techniques and the result was…CFR 24, Part 3, Section 5. Or something similar. The funding was announced, the groups applied for the dough, and the two parties signed a contract. Suddenly the fox was guarding the hen house. 

And now I’m taking classes from the fox.