Bill Boyarsky
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Galperin's numbers fall short of telling homeless story

bill-300.jpgLarry Mantle, host of KPCC's "AirTalk," expressed the frustration of almost everyone dealing with homelessness when he interviewed City Controller Ron Galperin: "Trying to get one's arm around this thing, very challenging, Ron."

Galperin, the city's elected chief auditor and accountant, was definitely challenged last month when he tried get his arms around the problem with a scathing audit of the city-county agency leading the battle against homelessness, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

As reported by news media, Galperin said the authority failed to meet the goals of the contract it signed with the city of Los Angeles to work with the homeless, link them up with supportive services and find housing for them.

With 800 field workers talking to homeless people, the authority could make but a small dent in the nearly 60,000 homeless in the county. More than 36,000 of them in the city and a quarter live on the streets but in the fiscal year that ended in June, the authority fell substantially below the goal of placing people in housing and linking them up with services. “The goals that were set by the city are not unreasonable,” Galperin told the Los Angeles Times. “Quite frankly, they are [setting a] pretty low bar to begin with. If you can’t meet the low bar, that’s a problem.”

But Mantle, who has followed the homeless issue closely on his influential KPCC radio show, reminded Galperin of the difficult job confronting the field workers, who roam the streets and tent encampments, trying to persuade the homeless, one person at a time, to enter a treatment and housing program. "Anyone who worked with homeless Angelenos and tried to address their problems, they are so multi-faceted," he said. "Working with one individual and trying to help that person meet all the different challenges in his or her life. It is very time consuming work and that's very important to stress."

That's what Los Angeles Times reporter Thomas Curwen and photojournalist Francine Orr found in their extraordinary four- part series on the city and county's efforts to find apartments for seven homeless people. Curwen wrote, "It is important to realize that homelessness is not a monoculture. It can change anyone’s life: those with severe mental illness and those exhibiting no greater disability than sleeplessness and fatigue. Assessing need is like assessing compassion; with so many variables, it cannot always be measured."

Galperin deserves credit on focusing his office's attention on homelessness. But there's much more to the story than his numbers. As Larry Mantle told him, it's a big challenge just "to get one's arm around this thing."

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