[guest post by JVW]
Of course I refer to California, and especially to a huge dysfunctional city/county like Los Angeles. From CalMatters with bolded emphasis added by me:
Jesus Mares got a lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to rental support from one of Los Angeles’ leading homelessness agencies, he had a roof over his head.
He had been bouncing between sleeping in his car and hotel rooms. The taxpayer-subsidized room in a South L.A. duplex provided stability until he could get back on his feet, he’d hoped.
It went well for a while, he said. Then Mares quickly noticed things were amiss with the nonprofit, known as HOPICS. He went through several case managers who Mares said didn’t come to see him.
Then came the eviction notice. HOPICS, which has received about $140 million in Los Angeles city, county, state and federal funding over the last three years for a program known as rapid re-housing, was months behind on paying his rent, according to Mares and his former landlord.
Altogether, 306 residents of Los Angeles County lost their homes thanks to HOPICS failing to keep up on the rent subsidies. While the CalMatters piece assures us that “more than half were then placed in permanent housing or sent to temporary sites,” there are apparently 119 formerly-housed souls who are unaccounted for, though in interviews with former program participants CalMatters has ascertained that at least some of them are on the streets or are living in their automobiles. Perhaps others are incarcerated or even dead. Where did it all go wrong? According to documents reviewed by CalMatters, it was the usual mix of ineptitude such as a failure to properly vet middlemen who connected homeless residents with housing, utter and complete laziness like ignoring repeated warnings from landlords that the rent was in arrears, and that annoying sort of progressive grandiosity which in this case was taking on far too many clients than the program could properly manage.
Naturally, HOPICS (which stands for Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System) blames their problems on an embarrassment of riches, i.e. the piles and piles of COVID money that the government was happy to shovel into the economic furnace over the past three years. The program hired the aforementioned middlemen, many of them from fly-by-night nonprofits that suddenly sprung up when the government started making it rain with all of the Jacksons, Grants, and Benjamins that they were feverishly printing late at night. You won’t be surprised to hear that HOPICS found some “questionable charges” on the invoices submitted by these middlemen, and investigating them started clogging up the whole payment process. And, of course, the eviction moratoriums being extended well beyond the point when the pandemic had started to subside ensured that there was no real urgency for HOPICS to act in a timely manner.
HOPICS itself is a division of Special Service for Groups (SSG), which is an outfit so well-managed and tightly run that their homepage still loads a pop-up window which decries the Atlanta massage parlor shootings of March 2021. So apparently none of their $149.1 million budget in 2022 (up from $84 million in 2018; the pandemic sure was a boon to some organizations) went to updating the website.
There’s more, much more, about the nexus between private nonprofits and taxpayer money, about the history of HOPICS from its founding in the early 1980s to today, about why the organization turned so readily to middlemen to place people in homes (spoiler: it was partially about fooling landlords), and about how the organization’s alleged due diligence in checking and double-checking these invoices has led to some landlords being owed upwards of $200,000 for the past two years and has put much of this in our county court system. It’s the usual story about a program operating under the premise of good intentions going awry through the randomness of the human element, and how undertaking charitable works can be fairly big business these days in a county like Los Angeles and a state like California (SSG has at least eight executives making somewhere between $200,000 and $320,639, and overall a healthy $66.4 million out of 2022’s total expenses of $147 million went to wages and benefits for employees). What’s the old joke about the missionary who ended up owning a diamond mine in Rhodesia? He went there to do good, and he ended up doing very well.
But the best coda to this story is that there is a quote from our dear old friend, former U.S. Representative Katie Hill, who is now a deputy director at HOPICS and who has spent a good portion of her non-Congressional career in the social services racket. She is still immersed in the contemporary psychobabble by which the the Millennials explain their foibles: “This is a lot of money that has gone towards a program that has shown that it can house a lot of people. It’s not perfect in any way, shape, or form, and it’s evolving, and we’re learning as we go.”