Editorial: LA’s focus on preventative measures distracts from preexisting homeless population
By Daily Bruin Staff
Jan. 8, 2020 10:35 p.m.
This post was updated Jan. 13 at 2:46 p.m.
Predictive powers don’t do much when the future is already here.
For Los Angeles, that future came quickly – in the form of an evergrowing homelessness crisis.
Nonetheless, UCLA recently publicized an algorithm to predict homelessness. The numbers don’t look bad: The software would increase the accurate identification of individuals to 50%, using data analysis of individual interactions with social services.
In fact, the numbers for LA County appeared good enough to prompt the rollout of a $3 million dollar pilot program based on the research. The program will be funded under Measure H, a sales tax focused on funding preventative measures addressing homelessness.
When it comes to the already-existing homeless population, however, LA isn’t making the same strides. Proposition HHH, a bond with the goal of building 10,000 housing units for LA populations experiencing homelessness, serves as a case in point. Since its approval in 2016, only one housing development has officially opened, with more perpetually on the way, never arriving.
Surely preventative measures are almost never a bad idea – but when they come on the heels of failed immediate progress, there’s clearly something left to be desired.
Funding for a preventative pilot program through Measure H is warranted, but it only serves to help the community if more resources and efforts are put toward current housing funding options – such as Proposition HHH.
Because as of now, it seems the proposition can’t provide for the current population.
Between neighborhood disapproval and zoning issues, HHH is falling behind the steep trajectory of homelessness in the county. A recent audit critiqued the mismanagement of the bond, citing the lack of a specific department responsible for countywide decisions about how funds should be appropriated.
Housing thousands of people is arguably more difficult than predicting those who will need housing in the coming years, and HHH has an undeniably tough job to fulfill. But despite the struggles to keep up, it is imperative that the county’s management of the current crisis is not overshadowed by preventative measures.
Another potential source of concern is how the county will choose to implement the proposed algorithm. A recent LA Times article reported that the program would allow for a more cost-effective approach to preventive services – but considering the potentially biased and sometimes detrimental nature of algorithms, it seems undeniably necessary to proceed with caution.
And while cutting costs is surely a win for the county, it raises questions about how the county will determine need and how individuals who are considered to be at little to no risk by the algorithm will access services.
Granted, the purpose of a pilot program is to test the waters of predictive social services. Preventative measures and contemporary solutions can, and should, coexist to address the scale of LA’s homelessness crisis. But between the high funding costs and the lack of immediate progress, it’s increasingly important that the county maintain its priorities to serve the community currently in need while paving the way for the next.
LA needs all the tools it can get to address homelessness in the coming years.
More than anything, though, it needs to know when to use them.