In the last two weeks, two cataclysmic changes in the the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority‘s mission have made it, in not just our opinion but in the opinion of any sane observer, impossible for Kerry Morrison to ethically continue to serve as both a LAHSA Commissioner and the executive directrix of the HPOA. Since as of a few years ago she was earning $192,794 per annum1 from the HPOA we’re guessing it’s not that job she’s gonna quit. What happened is this: both the Los Angeles City Council and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are poised to ask LAHSA to (a) decide where across the city to locate service centers for the homeless and (b) to stop breaking up homeless encampments.
Unfortunately, Kerry’s masters on the BID Boards expect her to target the homeless for hyperenforcement even as they scoff at the very idea that homeless human beings have rights and, accordingly, she’s directed her flunkies (we’re talking about you, Steve Seyler) to arrest homeless people in encampments and for any other random thing that pops into their heads. She can’t ethically do both, for, as a wise man once said:2
No one can serve two masters, for either he
will hate the one and love the other; or else
he will be devoted to one and despise the
other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon.
Well, we’re not cynics, not at all, so we’re not going to predict what she’s going to do. We are, however, going to write much more about the choices she’s facing right below the fold!
First let’s talk about the City Council. As anyone who’s following events knows, the Council recently amended the Municipal Code to make it easier for cops and BID patrollies to confiscate homeless people’s stuff from the sidewalks of Los Angeles. Our mayor, not generally known for his willingness to commit himself to anything specific at all, wouldn’t sign the measure but wouldn’t veto it either. In Los Angeles, this means that the law takes effect, but Garcetti also announced that he would direct the LAPD not to enforce the law which, being the executive officer, he has some but not complete say over.
When it became clear in early June 2015 that this measure was going to pass and that Garcetti wouldn’t have the political will to veto it, Councilmembers Cedillo and Bonin made an ameliorative motion, seeking to scale back on the immense harm that this law will clearly cause by establishing city-run homeless service and storage centers which should, among other things, include both showers and bathrooms. Well, on August 26, 2015, Sharon Tso, the Chief Legislative Analyst and Miguel Santana, City Administrative Officer, reported back to the Council, and among their recommendations, they noted that their
…Offices request that the Mayor and Council adopt the location criteria (Finding No. 6) for the expansion of storage and services Citywide, direct the Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) to amend the contract with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to include the management of expanded storage and service facilities Citywide, and request LAHSA, with the assistance of the CAO and CLA, to report with a plan for short- and long-term sites for storage facilities and services that conform to the adopted location criteria, as well as approximate costs to include construct and operate facilities at these sites.
And to understand this, because there’s no such thing as a government document without an appendix or eight, we turn to Finding No. 6, which states, in part,
Data from the most recent Homeless Count conducted by LAHSA will be utilized to determine the census tracts and census tract clusters where the greatest concentrations of homeless individuals and/or encampments are located. These tracts and clusters will be analyzed to identify areas where a single storage facility could function as an accessible storage facility to a cluster of greatest concentrations of homeless individuals.
For areas where fixed sites cannot be found and co-location with non-profit service providers is not an option, LAFISA3 will analyze the options for mobile storage or shuttles to take the homeless to storage facilities. These options would be evaluated based on cost, availability, and the likelihood of utilization by homeless individuals.
So you see what the Council is poised to ask LAHSA to do? Figure out where in the city these service centers should be placed in order to best serve the homeless and, for areas which they determine shouldn’t host a service center, figure out viable ways to bring either the homeless to the services or vice versa.
And maybe now you see Kerry Morrison’s problem as a commissioner of LAHSA. She’s professionally committed by her position in the HPOA to ending VISIBLE homelessness in Hollywood and she’s professionally obligated by her position at LAHSA to overseeing decisions about where to place homeless service centers which will, by their nature, make homelessness MORE visible. Does Hollywood need one or not? We suppose it’s possible that Kerry can resolve this evident conflict sufficiently to allow her to make a dispassionate decision, but it’s transparently, vividly, screamingly obvious that no matter what decision she’s involved in, it won’t seem to be dispassionate. The City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission doesn’t seem to have much to say about the appearance of impartiality and how to maintain it, but the federal Office of Governmental Ethics is quite explicit on the matter:
Actions that an employee must take in situations that raise “appearance” concerns
- Decide whether a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question the employee’s impartiality if the employee participated in the matter.
- If the employee decides that a reasonable person would not question his or her impartiality, the employee may participate in the matter.
- If the employee or the agency designee decides that the employee’s impartiality would be questioned, the employee should not participate in the matter.
NOTE: We were totally wrong about Kerry’s position on bathrooms in Hollywood. Please see our retraction here. We stand by the rest of our argument.
Any person who’s followed Kerry’s work with the HPOA and doesn’t think she’s opposed to homeless people having
bathrooms with showers in Hollywood hasn’t been paying attention. She’s had twenty years as head of the HPOA to organize public bathrooms in Hollywood and she has not taken step one towards this goal, preferring instead to instruct her flying monkeys, the BID Patrol, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars per annum, to arrest homeless people for pissing on the sidewalk when she herself has made good and goddamned sure that they have no other options. The HPOA pays her $200 grand a year to maintain this evil status quo in Hollywood, and now she’s supposed to be impartially involved in the City’s decisions about where and how to locate these centers? After twenty years of taking money to, in part, dehumanize the homeless by means of their inevitable human bodily functions she’s supposed, all of a sudden, to be able to approach the potential location of a homeless service center in Hollywood while bracketing the raging white privilege opposition of her employers to the very existence of homeless people? How can a suppositional “…reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts…” help but “…question [her] impartiality” when her very salary depends on her maintaining her antihomeless stance with respect to Hollywood?
Now, on September 6, 2015, the Los Angeles Times published a story entitled U.S. task force warns cities on efforts against homeless camps. The article is built around the release of a report entitled Ending Homelessness for People Living in Encampments, released recently by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. This report is well worth looking at carefully, but the TL;DR is that the feds think that cities should stop breaking up homeless encampments and arresting everyone. The report doesn’t explicitly mention Los Angeles and its cutting-edge criminalization of homelessness, but there can be no doubt that we are who these feds are talking to implicitly. Here’s a little sample from this bombshell of a report:
The forced dispersal of people from encampment settings is not an appropriate solution or strategy, accomplishes nothing toward the goal of linking people to permanent housing opportunities, and can make it more difficult to provide such lasting solutions to people who have been sleeping and living in the encampment.
And they’re not just talking. According to the LA Times article linked-to above:
By ignoring federal guidance, the city is undermining its position in court battles and jeopardizing future funding for homeless housing and services, experts said.
Of course, as everyone remembers from civics class, the power of the purse is a potent power indeed. The feds can’t generally boss state or local governments about, but they can certainly withhold allowance which, as any parent knows, can beat even the most recalcitrant adolescent into line. The City of Los Angeles is not going to defy this kind of threat. They can’t afford to. This means the end of the breaking up of homeless encampments by the City of Los Angeles for the foreseeable future. As a side note, it almost certainly means the end of the BID patrol’s encampment-breaking too, since the lawsuit against the Central City East Association by Los Angeles Catholic Worker and LACAN makes a claim that BID patrollies act under color of law by permission of the City which is sufficiently plausible that some risk-prevention officer somewhere at 200 Spring Street is almost certainly even now beginning to understand that no one can afford to let the BIDs operate without City oversight as they have hitherto been allowed to do.
The Times also states that
In coming months, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to ask local homeless services officials to educate their communities against criminalization ordinances.
“Local homeless services officials” means LAHSA, and so they asked LAHSA executive director Peter Lynn about this and:
Peter Lynn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said he would defer comment until HUD releases its guidance.
Deferring comment is surely good PR, but at some point LAHSA is going to have to “…educate their communities against criminalization ordinances.” At some point, LAHSA Commish Kerry Morrison is going to have to approve or disapprove of their plans to fulfill this mandate. At that point, the City of Los Angeles, mindful of the potential loss of federal money, is not going to put up with attitudes and activities that endanger that money. What’s Kerry Morrison going to do then? Again, she’s professionally obligated as executive directrix of the HPOA to approve of encampment-breaking, and not just in the abstract, either. She conspires with and gives direct orders to Steve Seyler and the Andrews International BID Patrol to break up homeless encampments when she’s working for the HPOA. When she’s working for LAHSA, the feds have told her, with the threat of defunding looming should she disobey, that she has to be opposed to encampment-breaking. How’s she going to resolve this serious ethical dilemma? We don’t know, but she better do something. Doing nothing is not an option.
- We have a couple of the HPOA’s old tax returns which we’ll be publishing quite soon. This information appears therein, although it’s certainly publicly available elsewhere due to the HPOA’s tax-exempt status.
- No, not Albert Einstein this time, for some reason.
- We’re not sure what “LAFISA” means. It may be an optical character recognition error for “LAHSA.” Google is no help here.
Image of Kerry Morrison counting a homeless man is in the public domain, it being a public record obtained from the HPOA under the California Public Records Act. Image of Evelyn De Morgan‘s painting The Worship of Mammon is in the public domain, we got it from Wikimedia, and you can too if you click on the title back there. You’re welcome! According to Wikimedia, the image of Gil Cedillo is in the public domain. Image of Mike Bonin all smilin’ and everything is available from Wikimedia and all the licensing blither-blather is available there. Picture of bus stop in Sandly Frisco is by Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, who has released it under the CC BY-ND 2.0 and has made it available via Flickr. Badly scanned image of the flying monkeys is in the public domain due to being old. It’s by W.W. Denslow, illustrating The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by famed erstwhile resident of Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood, L. Frank Baum. We got this rather crappy scan of it from Wikimedia. Operation Overkill photo is by JDW, who has released it under the CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 and made it available via Flickr. Image of Peter Lynn is produced by LAHSA and is therefore public domain. We got it here. Image of person sleeping in front of Ivar Theater is public domain because we got it from the HPOA via a Public Records Act request. You can get your own copy from them or just take ours, which is at the exact resolution at which we obtained it.