L.A. County Spends $1 Billion on Services for Single, Homeless Adults

SP2_ThumbnailResearchers found that just six Los Angeles County agencies spent nearly $1 billion in 2015 on services for single adults experiencing homelessness, according to a report released in January 2016. Despite this staggering figure, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness continues to rise.

Researchers used the Enterprise Linkages Project (ELP), a system that integrates administrative data across multiple L.A. County agencies, in order to determine the rate of services used by this population.

Max Stevens, a researcher with L.A. County’s Chief Executive Office and co-author of The Services Single Adults Use and their Associated Costs: An Examination of Utilization Patterns and Expenditures in Los Angeles County over One Fiscal Year, emphasized the importance of integrating administrative data across county agencies in order to quickly obtain accurate, timely information.

“A study like this would be unthinkable without linked data across departments,” Stevens said. “It’s the bedrock of this kind of work.”

Stevens also said that the annual cost to the county for providing services to individuals experiencing homelessness is likely even higher than $1 billion.

“We were only able to include agencies that record homelessness in their administrative data,” he said. “So, even though $1 billion is a huge number, it’s likely even higher than that.” He pointed out that including administrative data on non-county-provided services, such as state hospitals, would also add to this figure.

The report shows that a mere 5 percent of single adults experiencing homelessness account for 40 cents of every dollar the county spends on services for this population as a whole.

Researchers recommend implementing more targeted interventions that are coordinated across county agencies in order to decrease service costs for the group and free up funding for efforts to end homelessness.

Findings from this study formed the rationale behind the county’s Homelessness Initiative plan released in early January. After a brief public response period, the Board of Supervisors voted to provide an additional $100 million in one-time funding–double the amount they generally allocate to homelessness reduction efforts.

The $100 million targets a handful of strategies, among them prevention as well as rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing–which have repeatedly been proven effective for ending homelessness and reducing the service costs of individuals who are or were previously homeless. This funding will also be used to increase emergency shelter resources and hours as well as to establish more coordinated care across agencies.

While the need for increased funding would still be present without the report findings and use of linked administrative data, it would be much more difficult to depict where funds should be targeted.

“The fact that we were asked to do this study reflects a significantly increased level of appreciation and understanding as to how useful integrating data across agencies is for policymakers,” Stevens said.

TC_BurnettTC Burnett is the associate director of Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP). Her work covers a wide range of topics related to integrated administrative data systems, as well as the administration and management of AISP activities. She is currently a part time student in the MSW program at the University of Pennsylvania where she focuses primarily on homelessness and housing issues.

This story has been published in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2). In the run up to the 2016 Presidential Election, the school launched “SP2 Penn Top 10, a comprehensive multimedia initiative in which renowned SP2 faculty members analyze and address the most pressing social justice and policy issues.”

Part of the project is the creation of stories produced by “SP2 Penn Top 10 Fellows,” graduate students from the school who are trained in solution-based journalism using the Journalism for Social Change curriculum.  

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