A day after a news report captured Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority workers throwing away food meant for unhoused people, L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer sent a letter to the agency demanding answers.
The report, aired by KCBS-TV Channel 2 on Monday, showed LAHSA workers throwing cases of food into a dumpster. The news station said it had followed homeless services workers for months and used hidden cameras.
Many were seen at the end of their work days folding empty boxes after presumably handing out the meals, according to KCBS.
Some workers were seen going to breakfast after picking up meal boxes before driving around, stopping twice to hand out meals, then walking in a park for an hour, the station reported. Toward the end of that team’s shift, the news station captured the workers handing out the food at an encampment in Panorama City.
Other teams were also seen going to breakfast after picking up meal boxes. One team was seen stopping at a Target, Starbucks and McDonald’s after breakfast before driving around and passing encampments without handing out food.
One employee on that team was seen throwing away a case of food in a dumpster behind LAHSA’s Panorama City office at the end of the day, according to the news report.
Another team was captured taking two boxes of food out of their car and throwing them into a dumpster behind the agency’s office, KCBS reported.
“I was incredulous as I watched the recent report by KCBS’s David Goldstein depicting Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority … staff throwing edible meals intended for people experiencing homelessness into the trash,” Feuer said in a letter sent Tuesday to LAHSA board chair Jacqueline Waggoner and acting co-executive directors Kristina Dixon and Molly Rysman.
Feuer called the “apparent waste of taxpayer-funded resources … inexplicable and utterly unacceptable” and urged LAHSA to launch an immediate investigation into employees’ actions. Among the questions he wanted answered were:
- Whether LAHSA has written protocols for food distribution, and if so, what they are.
- If there are written protocols, who is responsible for ensuring they are followed.
- Whether throwing out undistributed food breaks protocol.
- What consequences are in place for violating protocols.
- What corrective action LAHSA will take if an investigation finds “the conduct depicted in Mr. Goldstein’s piece amounted to the inexcusable waste of food.”
The city attorney also said the news report raised “disturbing questions” on whether the agency’s outreach workers devote their work days to their core task of “getting people experiencing homelessness off the street and into appropriate housing and services.”
Feuer also asked LAHSA for the steps it will take to ensure its outreach workers fulfill their objectives, whether the agency has procedures in place to monitor outreach workers, whether those employees have to fill out vehicle logs when using agency vehicles and whether those logs are audited by supervisors.
In a response to KCBS’ report, LAHSA said Tuesday evening that its outreach workers have been distributing the county-funded meals for more than two years as part of their “life-saving COVID-19 response” and that the health of the people they serve is of the utmost importance.
“The lunches LAHSA outreach teams provide to our unsheltered neighbors are perishable,” the statement said. “While an outreach team will take out enough meals to serve everyone in their assigned area, not all of the people they encounter will accept them.”
Excess meals can be given to shelters or other service providers but are otherwise thrown away “to protect the health and safety of the people they serve,” LAHSA said.
The agency pushed back against allegations that its workers were wasting taxpayer funds, stating that they are entitled to take breaks and have lunch periods under labor laws. LAHSA said it does not dictate how its employees take breaks or lunch.
Because outreach work requires a hands-on approach, LAHSA said, workers sometimes go to a store to buy items for unhoused people that help them stay safe or could help them secure housing or shelter.
The agency said its teams are most effective when they have time to build rapport and establish trust with the people they serve, which could involve providing items such as food and water or giving a ride to a doctor’s appointment.
“So engagement can be different depending on the individual the team has engaged,” the agency said in its statement. “Eventually, the client trusts the outreach team and works with them to address their homelessness.”
LAHSA said its workers contacted more than 50,000 unhoused people in 2021, “helped nearly 5,200 people come inside and ended homelessness for over 1,300 people,” according to the statement.
The recent allegations against LAHSA come after the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted this month to create a new office or department that would coordinate the county’s response to the homelessness crisis in the region.
The new entity would have authority over various agencies — including the county’s departments of health services, social services and mental health — and would report directly to the Board of Supervisors.
The measure passed in a 3 to 2 vote and called for the county chief executive to draw up recommendations on the new office’s specific powers and structure.
Creating the new entity was one of seven recommendations presented to the board by a special committee set up to examine ways to improve the county’s response to homelessness. Among them were several proposals to improve the efficiency of LAHSA and clarify its role.
Created in 1993, LAHSA was given limited powers and an even more limited mission of stopping the city and county from bickering over federal dollars for homeless housing and services. Its inability to live up to the public’s expectations — coupled with the county’s skyrocketing homeless population — has led to a growing consensus that the agency needed to be restructured.
Those efforts started last July, when the Board of Supervisors established the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, an eight-member committee tasked with conducting a comprehensive study and analysis of LAHSA’s governance and operations and providing recommendations to change and improve the agency’s effectiveness.