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Housing and Homelessness

Missing Inside Safe Transparency Reports Raise Accountability Questions As Mayor Bass Makes Homelessness LA's Top Priority

Karen Bass, wearing glasses and a light blue suit jacket and blue blouse, has her left hand on a bible and her right hand raised as she faces Kamala Harris, whose back is turned to the camera.
Karen Bass is sworn in as the first women elected mayor of Los Angeles in an inauguration ceremony held at Microsoft Theater on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022.
(Brian Feinzimer
for LAist)
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Under L.A. Mayor Karen Bass’ signature homelessness program Inside Safe, transparency reports are supposed to go to the City Council every two weeks — showing exactly where the money is going and how many people have been sheltered.

But those biweekly reports haven’t been provided to the council, months after councilmembers ordered them in January, LAist has learned.

And a separate required report that gives an overview of Inside Safe was delivered about a month and a half late.

The transparency questions come at a time when the mayor has set addressing homelessness as her top priority, and drawn national attention and local support for her efforts to combat the crisis.

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Shortly after Bass was elected in November, she told CBS’ Face the Nation it was her intent to address the issue on day one.

“People are literally dying on the streets in Los Angeles and this has got to stop,” Bass said at the time.

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.

More than 1,200 people have been sheltered under the Inside Safe program, the mayor told host Larry Mantle during a live interview with LAist's AirTalk public affairs show this week.

The absence of the biweekly reports leaves a key part of the City Council’s transparency mechanism missing.

“We have not seen any of those reports,” Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez told LAist. But Hernandez added that she was not concerned about it because Bass had provided regular updates on the program.

Six other city officials interviewed by LAist confirmed the reports haven’t been provided.

Response from the mayor’s office

Bass was not available for an interview for this story by deadline, spokesperson Zach Seidl.

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Seidl deferred questions to City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo on why the biweekly reports haven’t been turned in.

Szabo, who works under the mayor and council’s direction, was testifying at a budget committee hearing and didn’t return calls Thursday.

Regular updates are crucial

Regular reporting on homelessness spending is crucial, said Gary Blasi, a UCLA law professor who closely follows homelessness and has represented unhoused people as an attorney.

“Without that transparency, we’ve gone down several paths we probably should not have gone down — and wouldn’t have — if people had been paying attention,” Blasi told LAist about spending before Bass was elected mayor.

“So when the council required these reports, I thought that was a good thing,” he added.

Blasi said he’s “hopeful and supportive of the mayor’s general direction” on homelessness, but that transparency is crucial.

“I’m not sure why they’re not forthcoming. But it’s important this kind of accountability be followed through on.”

City checkbook shows little spending

An LAist review also found the city’s public accounting details only a small fraction of the program’s costs so far.

In January, the council moved $50 million into a fund for the mayor to spend on Inside Safe.

Three months later, the city’s online checkbook shows just $114,000 has been spent from the Inside Safe fund, which is called the Homelessness Emergency Account.

Seidl, the mayor’s spokesperson, said the low numbers are because the spending only shows up after the city has actually paid for motels and other vendors in the program, which started four months ago.

“The ‘spend’ is low because the City makes an agreement for goods and services, then is billed for those goods and services, then makes a payment, at which point the ‘spend’ is recorded and reported,” he said in a written statement.

By the end of June, about $44 million in costs will be committed to the Inside Safe account, according to an estimate from Szabo in his report last week.

What’s going on with the spending?

Some of the Inside Safe spending is being arranged outside City Hall, according to the overdue city report.

That April 21 report says the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) has been negotiating $14 million in contracts for Inside Safe service providers using existing funds separate from the one the council set up.

LAHSA is a separate agency from the city whose board is appointed by the mayor and county supervisors.

Bass is now asking the council for another $250 million for Inside Safe, as her main proposed increase to homelessness spending in her city budget proposal. Hearings on the proposals are taking place this week and into May.

How to watch the LA budget hearings

The backstory

Bass launched Inside Safe soon after taking office in December and has received strong support from many city councilmembers. They’ve credited the program as providing progress by cleaning up encampments, bringing people indoors and helping to dispel the myth that most unhoused people don’t want help.

And when the council set aside $50 million for the program in January, they unanimously ordered a series of transparency reports due every two weeks about spending and outcomes, which were never delivered.

Another requirement: a report by Szabo, the city administrative officer, about the overall outcomes so far of the program, including how many total people were placed in shelters, the cost, types of services provided, outcomes and the role of nonprofit groups and governments.

That’s the report that came a month and a half late, on April 21.

At a city council budget hearing Thursday afternoon, Szabo said Inside Safe bills have been coming in slowly through the city’s payment process.

“In many cases … the providers have been using resources that are already available to them, and so the invoices for that work has been a little bit slow coming in,” Szabo said.

The transparency measures were meant to help officials better understand what’s working, what’s not, and how the spending of taxpayer funds might need to be adjusted.

At the council’s discussion back in January, Councilmember Bob Blumenfeld said he was concerned at first about the lack of detail about where the $50 million would go. But he joined other councilmembers in supporting the mayor and her overall effort.

“When I first saw [the $50 million request for Inside Safe], my inclination … was concern, because there’s not a lot of detail on where the money is going,” Blumenfield, who chairs the council’s budget and finance committee, said during the meeting.

“But we are in this crisis right now and we want the mayor to succeed.”

Bass has strong support from many local elected leaders

Bass has significant support for her homelessness initiatives among city councilmembers and county supervisors, who credit her for bridging gaps between officials that previously stymied efforts to address the crisis.

There have been concerns around cockroaches at some of the Inside Safe motels, people being moved around from one motel to another and people cycling back to the street from motels.

But Bass says she’s been working to quickly move people indoors and fix problems as they come up.

Asked by LAist if she’s satisfied with the council’s ability to monitor the $50 million effectively, Councilmember Hernandez said she’s happy so far.

“I believe that they are keeping track of what they're spending their money on. And so from the little things that I've heard, I do think that those expenditures make sense,” she said.

Hernandez said the mayor has been in “constant communication” on the rollout of the program and the number of people who have been housed.

“I'm sure that will continue and we'll keep asking questions because we want to make sure that we're going in the right direction,” Hernandez said.

How many people have been sheltered so far?

During the campaign, Bass set a goal of housing 17,000 unhoused Angelenos in her first year.

As she approaches her fifth full month in office, figures provided by Bass show she’s about 25% of the way there.

That includes people sheltered and housed since she was sworn in, both through Inside Safe and another 3,000 people through other programs that started before she took office.

At various times, Bass’ office has provided the overall number of people sheltered in Inside Safe, though lately the number has shifted to being less specific.

  • As of March 15, about three and a half months into the program, 516 people had been sheltered, Bass and her staff said at a media briefing.
  • A few days later, on March 22, around the time of her 100th day in office, they said that number had nearly doubled to 1,012 people.
  • A month later, at her State of the City address on April 17, Bass said the program had sheltered “more than 1,000” people.
  • And on Wednesday, she told LAist’s Larry Mantle that “over 1,200 people” had been sheltered.

Asked on Thursday for the number, her spokesperson cited a figure from four weeks earlier that “1,077 Angelenos were housed under Inside Safe as of March 31.”
As Angelenos continue to rank homelessness as their top concern, Bass has openly acknowledged challenges.

That includes breaking from tradition in her first State of the City speech on April 17 by saying she “cannot declare that the State of our City is where it needs to be.”

“How do I say the state of the city is strong when 40,000 people are in tents?” she said in a news conference the next day.

“I think it’s just really important to be honest, even when it might be a message that people don’t want to hear.”

LAist correspondent Frank Stoltze and news intern C.C. Clark contributed reporting to this story.

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