Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger participates in the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. Barger’s appointment of Dr. Drew Pinsky to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority was scuttled this week after public outcry from advocates for those experiencing homelessness. Photo: Office of County Supervisor Kathryn Barger

By Jeremy D. Thompson and Daniel Rios

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger was forced to withdraw her nomination of a controversial television personality to a commission on homelessness after public outcry and criticism from community advocates this week.

Barger had recommended author and celebrity David “Dr. Drew” Pinsky for a board position with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which “coordinates and manages over $800 million annually in federal, state, county, and city funds for programs that provide shelter, housing, and services to people experiencing homelessness,” according to the agency’s website.

Pinsky, a medical doctor and addiction specialist, rose to prominence hosting the long-running radio and television show “Loveline,” becoming a frequent television commentator on issues of substance abuse and mental health; experience Barger cited when defending her nominee.

“I recommended Dr. Drew Pinsky — a respected physician with decades of experience in mental health and substance abuse treatment — to serve as my Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority commissioner, knowing that he would address these issues as driving factors in the homelessness crisis,” Barger wrote in a letter to the editor published in the Los Angeles Times, which had editorialized against Pinsky’s confirmation.

The appointment of Pinsky elicited immediate condemnation from grassroots advocates dedicated to giving voice to the unhoused.

“My biggest concern about Dr. Drew is that he pushes harmful beliefs that are not true,” said Mark Horvath, founder of the organization Invisible People, which uses first-hand stories from those living on the street to educate the public on the individual, human effects of homelessness.

“Drew believes forced treatment is the solution, yet after seven to 28 days of treatment, which is NOT enough time to heal, addicts are then exited back to homelessness.”

Pinsky was also called out in dozens of written public comments to the Board of Supervisors for lack of relevant policy experience, the content of his television programs, positions on California ballot measures and comments downplaying the dangers of COVID-19 in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Before a vote of the full Board of Supervisors could be held on the nomination, Barger rescinded the proposed appointment, calling the furor surrounding Pinsky a distraction from the issue at hand.

“‘This is a distraction’ is politician code for ‘everyone hated my idea,’” tweeted Mike Dickerson, co-founder of advocacy group Ktown for All. “If Dr. Drew’s nomination created a distracting conflict, then it’s clear Kathryn Barger shouldn’t have nominated him in the first place. The supervisor created the distraction, not the people opposing her.”

After rescinding her nomination of Dr. Drew Pinsky to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a statement lambasting activists who had organized against his confirmation. Photo: Office of Supervisor Kathryn Barger

Despite the flame-out of his nomination, Barger pledged to continue to seek Pinsky’s counsel in other capacities and called the efforts that halted the confirmation “petty.”

That label again rose the hackles of activists like Naomi Goldman.

“The fact that she characterizes the concerns shared not just from local stakeholders but leading national homelessness organizations who rarely weigh in at this level as ‘petty’ and doubles down on her choice,” she said, “while again dismissing the massive housing crisis as the leading factor to inflow into homelessness is all you need to know.”

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