Friday, May 11, 2012

"Tons of Homeless Services"

Recently an NPR Reporter asked OccupySA to comment upon a remark by Supervisor John Moorlach, who alleged that the homeless enjoyed "Tons of Services."

I thought it only fair to call Moorlach out:

I once worked for the phone company as a QC programmer, and there I learned a tremendous lesson about service delivery:  We used to map the results of driving around in a van with test instruments, measuring the quality of the signal available.  The results showed we were almost 100% successful at delivering cellular telephone service when and where we carefully measured that service.  But when I pointed out that our van drivers, being intelligent radio technicians, avoided traffic jams and rush hour commutes at all costs, I thereby revealed why all our data was useless:  80% of all customer calls were generated from just those locations at just those times. 

No one from OC Social Services spends enough time inside of "homeless rush hours and traffic jams" to know anything about how these programs are actually "delivered" to the homeless.  In fact, because every dollar spent upon staff is a dollar needed by the homeless, and yet is counted as a successful program expense; they are "in effect" in competition for the same scarce resources.

In the interest of full disclosure, we have the same problem.  We call it "serving concrete."  The most important number, a number we seldom collect, is the weight of the garbage left after a meal.  Obviously, to be 100% successful, all the food should go into someone's belly and all the plates and cups and such should be collected and recycled.  If any food ends up in the garbage, it's called "serving concrete."  Leaving serving stuff behind is just called littering.  Just because we loaded the food into the van doesn't mean they ate it!  Measuring success by totaling payroll budget for the kitchen staff is even less relevant, but Social Services, unlike the ingredients for soup, don't weigh anything.  As a result, the "tons of services" must be measured using only the labor expense.  No wonder we're so successful - no supervisor wants to go on record as hiring incompetents or letting good people twiddle their thumbs - therefore every dollar thus spent is 100% successful, always!

When I took a reporter to the Shelter Providers' Forum to watch ten people exited from the Armory Program get no shelter at all from every program in Orange County, I pointed out the problem: the room was filled with $10,000,000 of Social Workers in a year when the total budget was just under $13,000,000.  Together, the twelve of us watched as these Social Workers argued with Mercy House over credit for leads in the Rapid ReHousing Program.  Apparently they were all retailers and Mercy House was the wholesaler.  The credit they were arguing about determined their share of funds from the Rapid ReHousing budget.

I stood up and asked, "What's Rapid ReHousing?
"Rental Assistance," they replied.  
"It should be simple enough to calculate as a percentage of the funds disbursed," I said, 
"Can anyone tell me just how much money they've handed out for rental assistance?"

No one could.  $10,000,000 worth of Social Workers had argued for two hours in front of a Register reporter and not one of them could recount for the record a single instance in which they'd actually offered any OC resident one penny of rental assistance!  

Now, I understand one part of the problem:  We still get two or three angry "rental assistance" calls every hour we're open, more at the end of the month, and we haven't offered rental assistance in two decades!  If any one of those Social Workers had actually been offering rental Assistance, I could have spotted them from the podium by their bleeding cauliflower ear.  Anyone who gives out "free money" is going to be mobbed.  And it doesn't help to place meticulous restrictions upon the disbursement - that only makes the calls take longer.  Everyone still calls, and almost no one qualifies.  

A final illustration to show why our current homeless programs don't work and cost a fortune:

At that same fateful meeting, a poised, together middle-aged Social Worker mounted the stage and gushed with gratitude.  She had finally been re-hired half-time as a Social Worker for a well known Rapid ReHousing Retailer.  She had spent the better part of a month, and had successfully negotiated the application process for two of her clients.  And what great clients they were:  Each was a full-time nursing student with full-custody; each was finished, finally, with her abusive boyfriend.  Each needed only half a month's rental, and both seemed capable and willing to repay the program within one year of graduation from their nursing program.  To sum up the numbers, one part-time MSW @ $4000/month to loan two applicants each half a month's rental assistance @ $900, the program maximum.  It was important that these loans were definitively analyzed because each put the client beyond the reach of further help.  It was an all or nothing situation.  

It should now be clear why it takes $10,000,000 worth of Social Work to deliver $3,000,000 worth of services to the homeless.

And with that ratio, I can absolutely promise you there will be a great deal of talent and human capital invested in proving, by any available means (except, of course, direct observation or economic competition) that the work these Social Workers do is done quite well, indeed, Thank you.  And that is why each year a larger and larger Civil Service workforce takes longer and longer to underserve a shrinking percentage of a homeless population that is not only growing, but growing increasingly younger and older and more frail, and therefore more vulnerable.  Exactly the kind of people least able to stand up for themselves and demand an analysis of why it costs so much to help so few to so little.  Take a look at the last OC Partnership Annual Report and underline every instance of the word "un-duplicated."

Consider the possibility that, almost two decades after the State Mental Hospitals were emptied unto the streets, we still have no idea how to serve even an ounce of program to the homeless, much less Moorlachs's ton.

And this is hardly the forum for examining why a politician would offer a heartfelt opinion in the utter absence of the facts.  That question hasn't had a good answer for centuries.


  1. I was at a forum for Fullerton City Council candidates last night (they of the Kelly Thomas scandal), and one panel of candidates was asked "How would you solve the homeless problem?" No one had an answer, of course. If anyone asked me such a question, I'd probably say "I'd ask Dwight."

    No one defined "the homeless problem", of course.

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