March 2, 2024 #1 Local News, Forum, Information and Event Source for Venice Beach, California.

Column: No Need for a ‘Tsar,’ the Need Is Results in Getting the Homeless off the Streets of LA & Venice Now!

By Nick Antonicello

Venice resident Michael Rapkin’s awkward and highly controversial premise that a single position or individual can somehow solve the homeless epidemic here in Los Angeles is an absurdity that cannot be taken seriously!

Rapkin, a former member of the Homeless Committee of the Venice Neighborhood Council (www.venicenc.org) has been an ongoing apologist of leaving the homeless on the streets of Venice, a position most Venetians summarily reject as ridiculous. 

Instead of addressing the current homeless formula of “housing first and treatment second,” Mr. Rapkin places his faith in a “one-size-fits-all” appointment of a homeless tsar, accountable to no one, especially the taxpaying public! 

For what he doesn’t address is the current relationship between service providers and LAHSA (Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority), the super agency created in 1993 to tackle homelessness with its 325 employees, 830 individuals and 240 teams designated for nearly thirty years to provide sensible outreach or at least manage this out-of-control epidemic and catastrophic public policy failure! 

Mr. Rapkin fails to mention that LAHSA is headed by Heidi Marston, the $260,000 per year executive director that reports to a bureaucratic, 10-member commission of county and city officials whose job it is to provide oversight from an elected official’s perspective charged to implement policies that would in fact change the face of homelessness here in Los Angeles. 

For we already have someone in charge, but are they accountable and getting the job done? 

The answer is obvious, no!

The agency has been a failure because there are no standards, goals or objectives driven by data to address the core of the problem. 

LAHSA relies on volunteers versus it’s own staff to provide any accuracy to the real time count of those living on our streets. 

Even the federal government hires temporary workers to ensure an honest and reliable US Census count. 

Why does LAHSA not do the same?

While Mr. Rapkin, long an apologist of the homeless here in Venice, where are the statistics or driven data that supports his assumptions and opinions? 

For this failed policy far has been to “shower” this human disgrace with money that for the most part has been spent, but where are the results and where are units of housing?

Consider the following: 

  • The federal government spends $9 billion annually on homeless services
  • The State of California spends $7.2 billion annually on homeless services
  • LAHSA will manage $800 million with $366 million from LA County and $303 million from LA City government 
  • The federal government kicks in $37 million to LAHSA and $95.3 million from California state government
  • Only 0.3% of LAHSA funding is privately funded, less than $2 million dollars! 

There are roughly 553,000 homeless individuals in the United States of which about 161,000 live in California and another 92,000 in the state of New York. 

27% of all homeless in the US live in California and 17% in New York. 

Basically,  half the homeless population lives in two states (44%) with the rest in Florida (28,000), Texas (26,000), Washington (22,000), Massachusetts (18,000), Oregon (16,000) and Pennsylvania (13,000). 

In 2020, 41,290 homeless individuals lived in LA and roughly 2,500 here in Venice. 

The total homeless population represents less than 1% of the entire state of California (0.4%). 

But how is it that California as a state represents 12% of the entire US population, but 22% of the homeless here in America? 

For the assumptions about homeless are just that, assumptions that are not based in any sense of statistical reality. 

Secondly, Mr. Rapkin does not even attempt to address the cost of construction which is now an astounding $837,000 per unit (studio apartments designed for a single dweller) and the government bureaucrats and  allied service providers insist on building this housing in the most expensive locales such as the impending construction of the Reese-Davidson debacle, that has little if any community support here in Venice. 

In fact, Mr. Rapkin calls for “fast tracking” this construction without requiring community hearings or “the ability of people to stand in the way of local projects.” 

In other words, he feels a “tsar,” a pre-1917 Russian Revolution “emperor” of sorts with wide-ranging authority and powers accountable to no one and appointed by some politician is the answer to this tragedy in government’s complete failure with all this funding to actually make the problem worse than it was before the formation of LAHSA? 

For Mr. Rapkin seemingly doubts democracy and direct accountability in solving the issue of homelessness and wants to further empower and insulate the bureaucrats and service providers from any public scrutiny and further squandering of even more tax dollars? 

It is this kind of failed logic and inability to acknowledge the obvious, that the current principles and assumptions of homelessness are 100% wrong, and that the current bloated bureaucracy of LAHSA must be dismantled and replaced with a data-driven approach that solves and no longer enables and apologizes for the cottage industry of homelessness! 

We have witnessed the evacuation and migration of nearly four million Ukraine refugees to neighboring countries such as Poland in the midst of military exercises and war imposed by Russia in a single month. 

These individuals are not homeless. 

They are receiving the help they need and why is it that Los Angeles cannot move to shelter a miniscule fraction of that population? 

And most importantly, why is the fact that 30% of all homeless suffer from severe mental illness and between 30-40% are alcoholic with another 10-15% drug-addicted and unless these issues are addressed first, how can homelessness be seriously solved? 

And finally, according to The New York Times 36% of those homeless are out-of-state transients, another fact Mr. Rapkin would never address regarding this mobility and the magnet California and specifically Venice has become because of the colossal failure of the current homeless policies at the local, county, state and federal levels.

The author is a member of the Oceanfront & Outreach Committees of the Venice Neighborhood Council, and can be reached via e-mail at nantoni@mindspring.com

in Opinion
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