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Housing and Homelessness

LA Council Backs More Money, More Transparency For Bass' Inside Safe Program

Karen Bass, wearing a light blue suit jacket and blue blouse, stands at a podium with the city seal of Los Angeles. She is speaking as she extends her right arm out. Behind her is a floral arrangement with bursts of orange and large backdrop that consists in part of the letters "L-A" in purple.
Karen Bass speaks after being sworn in as the 43rd mayor of the City of Los Angeles at the Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live on Dec. 11, 2022.
(Brian Feinzimer
for LAist)
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L.A. Mayor Karen Bass’ signature homelessness program will get a major funding increase — but with stricter oversight and transparency rules from the city council, following LAist reporting that uncovered required transparency reports were never provided.

The city council gave unanimous backing Thursday to Bass’ request for $250 million for her Inside Safe motel shelter program — an amount so large it’s been described as "unprecedented" by the city council’s top budget advisor.

Under the new oversight rules, the funding will end if the mayor doesn’t provide two reports each month to the council about where the money has gone, where it’s planned to go, and metrics on whether the program is working.

The council also is granting themselves veto power to cut off funding mid-year if they choose to.

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Even as councilmembers limited Bass’ control of how to address homelessness, they emphasized that they fully support the mayor and her efforts to address the crisis.

“By making record investments in homelessness, we all recognize that this is a humanitarian crisis, and it is the most pressing issue facing our city today,” said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who chairs the budget committee.

“The mayor asked for maximum flexibility in spending — more than $250 million on Inside Safe, to reflect her determination and urgency to find solutions … I’m glad that Mayor Bass and [the council] have agreed on a plan to give her this flexibility, while maintaining a layer of transparency and accountability around this unprecedented funding.”

Concerns before the vote

The lack of data on Inside Safe’s outcomes — first reported by LAist last month — has been drawing public concern from Councilmember Monica Rodriguez and others on the council.

“Problematic” is how Rodriguez put it at a city council meeting this week, after LAist revealed that required transparency reports for Inside Safe had not been provided to the council.

At a separate budget committee meeting last week, she said the council needs to ensure “that what we’re investing in is actually the successful outcomes that we all aspire to have.”

“Right now, we’ve got nothing to measure it to.”

And on Wednesday, Councilmember Nithya Raman noted the council has gotten “no information” about “how many people have actually been matched to permanent [housing] units or other options” through the overall Inside Safe program.

That’s despite previously getting such information about an Inside Safe operation in her district that moved about 30 people to motel rooms, said Raman, who chairs the council’s housing and homelessness committee.

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What is Inside Safe?
  • Inside Safe is L.A. Mayor Karen Bass’ signature program to address homelessness and aims to give people living outdoors immediate quality housing in motels or hotels.

    • The L.A. mayor’s office defines it this way: “Los Angeles’ citywide proactive housing-led strategy to bring people inside from tents and encampments for good, and to prevent encampments from returning.”
    • Read Bass’ executive directive issued in December here.

What’s known about the numbers so far

Since Inside Safe launched in late December, 1,205 people have been moved from encampments into motels and hotels under the program. That’s according to the latest available figures, which run through April 28.

But it’s unclear how many people have moved to permanent housing — the program’s ultimate goal — versus remaining in the program or returning to the streets.

The public and council have received occasional data, including in a report released on Tuesday, that outlines how many times people moved to Inside Safe motels — known as being “placed” — but not about how many times people have left and what type of housing situation they went to.

Those details are being tracked in a system managed by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) but have not been released publicly.

Follow-up data on where people live after interacting with public services is crucial to addressing homelessness, said Gary Blasi, a leading expert on homelessness who teaches law at UCLA.

“What matters is not how many people are ‘placed’ but how long they stay, and if they exit, where they go,” Blasi said.

“Saying you have ‘placed’ someone is akin to a hospital saying they have ‘treated’ a patient. From that fact, you know nothing about what the hospital did or whether the patient lived or died. The bane of all bureaucracies is confusing activities with accomplishments,” he added.

“These data are critical not only for oversight but for Mayor Bass herself to know what she is accomplishing and will be able to report to the voters down the road.”

Bass’ spokesperson didn’t have an answer this week about the number of people who have left the program and where they’ve gone.

But he said a large majority of people remain in the program.

“Because we are in constant communication with the service providers who regularly work with Inside Safe participants, we know that the vast majority of Inside Safe participants are still in the program,” said Zach Seidl, the mayor’s spokesperson, in a statement to LAist. “Inside Safe was created with the challenges that could lead to Angelenos falling out of housing programs in mind. Sustained outreach, as well as onsite service provision and case management are all aspects of this program that minimize the chance that participants exit Inside Safe.”

Why tracking has been a challenge

Bass’ top homelessness advisor, Mercedes Marquez, told councilmembers earlier this week the mayor’s office can’t obtain certain data because of privacy concerns. Marquez said she and others in the mayor’s office are frustrated by that and are working hard to get it from the LAHSA.

However, more detailed data has been provided in the past by LAHSA following prior encampment clearouts at freeway underpasses, said Blumenfield and Raman.

“So it’s very frustrating to not have it,” Blumenfield said at a council meeting on Tuesday.

California’s highest court has ruled there are no privacy concerns if data of public importance is combined together — or “clustered” — in ways where individual people can’t be identified.

Details of the vote

On Thursday, the city council approved the mayor’s $250 million increase for Inside Safe — a five-fold boost in spending. Details of what passed:

  • Bass will have to present updates to the council about Inside Safe twice a month — showing how the money’s been spent, how she plans to spend it, and what’s happening with the program.
  • Those reports will be required in order for her to continue to get funding. 
  • The reports are required to start by June 1.
  • The council will also have veto power to shut off the program’s funding mid-year.
How to watch the L.A. City Council meeting

Council President Paul Krekorian has said it’s essential that the council and public get more transparency.

“It is imperative that this council have detailed reports back, regularly,” he said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“Not for the council’s sake, for the public’s sake — so that we know, as the representatives of the public, exactly what’s happening.”

What questions do you have about homelessness in Southern California?

Updated May 18, 2023 at 12:30 PM PDT
This story was updated with details from the city council vote on Thursday.
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