Andy Bales could shake up the LA homeless advocacy facility


After her first nominee from a famous doctor meets with fierce moral outrage, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger again tries to make a voice against the grain of the Los Angeles 10-member commission. Homeless Service Authority.

This time it might actually work.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Directors will vote on Barger’s LAHSA nominee Reverend Andy Bales, president and CEO of the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row, who has for years denounced the policy of Los Angeles on homelessness. Bales criticizes the dominant strategy known as ‘Housing First’, which aims to remove barriers such as sobriety requirements and move homeless people from the streets to single-family homes directly or after short stays in the city. shelter.

Barger said that while she supports the ‘housing first’ approach, she cannot address ‘everything that afflicts people on the streets’, and she believes Bales will bring a street-level perspective. to commission.

“The more people you have to provide solutions and thoughts, the better the system we will have to solve this problem,” said Barger, the only Republican on the supervisory board. “And I think having someone who disagrees isn’t a bad thing.”

Barger initially recommended Dr. David Drew Pinsky, more commonly known as “Dr. Drew”, to the LAHSA commission in April, but withdrew the nomination after massive opposition from homeless advocates.

Bales’s relationship with Barger dates back to 2007 when, as then assistant supervisor Mike Antonovich, she helped pave the way for the mission development of a women and children’s center in Sylmar. He calls him “a real hero in my eyes”.

Originally from Des Moines, Bales, 63, was teaching at a Christian school there in 1985 when he dedicated his life to serving people living on the streets. He was ordained a priest in Des Moines First Federated Church in 1989. Now living in Pasadena, he and his wife Bonnie, a nurse, have raised six children and fostered 25 children in foster care. Bales, who has type 1 diabetes, lost his lower right leg to carnivorous infections he contracted on the streets of Skid Row and later had to have his lower left leg amputated.

He led other nonprofits in Des Moines and his current home, Pasadena, before taking over as director of the Union Rescue Mission in 2005.

Union Rescue Mission, founded in 1891 to distribute food and clothing from gospel wagons, is a private homeless service provider that today occupies a five-story building in the 500 block of South San Pedro Street , in the heart of Skid Row. He practices a faith-based “recovery model” providing immediate shelter, health care and life skills training for up to 1,000 clients.

According to his tax return, he offers an intensive 12-month program that includes 2,000 hours of 12-step Bible study, recovery classes, work therapy, counseling and fitness classes, followed by a 6 to 24 month transition program.

Under Bales’ leadership since 2005, Union Rescue Mission opened the Hope Gardens Family Center, the satellite in Sylmar for older women and mothers with children, and expanded its fundraising and strengthening mission of recovery in a Christian context. .

In 2011, Bales won his board of directors award endorsing the Gateway program to “instill a greater sense of responsibility and dignity” by charging a nominal fee for long-term shelter.

Bales criticizes the permanent housing strategy of leaving people on the streets for years because there is not enough housing and allowing what he sees as chaotic conditions when residents of those houses continue to live. consuming alcohol or drugs.

In an interview, he said he lovingly refers to the mission’s long-term housing “as our permanent supportive housing – the sober version – because we believe in creating environments where people can stay sober and recover in safe environments. And that’s one thing I want to point out, is that there is a missing link in the housing continuum that LAHSA currently has.

While this posture has made Bales an outsider in the secular nonprofit milieu of current homelessness policy, his undisputed passion and commitment to serving the homeless has isolated him from the wave of opposition that derailed Barger’s first pick from Pinsky.

In recent years Pinsky has argued that the homelessness crisis is not due to lack of housing but to mental illness and addiction.

Barger withdrew Pinsky’s nomination amid outcry – and rumors that his fellow supervisors would not support the nomination if passed.

Rarely are the appointments of supervisors to local councils controversial, and even rarer they do not receive unanimous approval.

The LAHSA Commission, which has the power to develop financial, planning and program policies, has 10 members, five appointed by county supervisors and the remaining five by the mayor of LA and city council.

It’s unclear how much power Bales might have as a single member, and even those who publicly differ from him on strategy have declined to criticize his appointment, at least publicly.

Nan Roman, chief executive of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, did not criticize Bales’ appointment but suggested in an interview that it would not be helpful to have a commissioner arguing for a model special recovery.

She said it can be helpful for religious leaders ‘voices to be heard, but they need to be open to hearing data that shows their ideas, such as Bales’ support for transitional housing, might not not work for everyone. Research has shown that transitional housing is expensive and not as efficient as permanent housing.

Bales said he had no intention of disrupting.

“So the first step is to listen,” he said. “And second, for you know, gently and humbly share my ideas so that they are welcome and at least heard.”

“I hope,” he added, “there is room for a person of faith who believes in recovery and believes in immediate housing or shelter above everyone’s heads in LA, not just a few, like it’s currently practiced in, you know, sometimes an opposing voice is needed to think things differently.

Bales backed Pinsky’s appointment and, when it was withdrawn, blamed the “culture cancellation” and “echo chamber” of Housing First and harm reduction advocates.

“It kind of told me that I wouldn’t be welcome either because I believe in recovery and in homeless people with addictions – whether the addiction developed because of it or led to it – the addiction still needs to be addressed in order for them to live a full, healthy life ”, Bales told Newsweek in April.

His appointment is expected to be approved at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting.


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