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Where the Homeless Are

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

March 22 -- Where are the homeless in Santa Monica? Turns out most gather in neighborhoods and streets around the beach, with the largest concentration found in and around Downtown.

More than half -- or 645 of Santa Monica’s 1,192 homeless individuals counted in a one night tally last year -- were in shelters and on the streets of four census tracts nearest the ocean, according to a review by The Lookout of a recently published Countywide homeless count.

Of those, 418 were found in and around the Downtown.

The count confirms what many City, business, Downtown officials and service providers already suspected.

“Its not surprising,” said Stacey Rowe, a Human Services administrator with the City who handles homeless issues. “The Downtown is the center of life for many Santa Monicans, and it’s no different for the homeless.”

With easy access to multiple parks where they can tuck themselves in between bushes or get a free meal, and with homeless services, beach showers and plenty of tourists to panhandle close by, beach neighborhoods around the Downtown remain the hub for Santa Monica’s homeless, Rowe said.

“Go out with police at four in the morning, and you’ll see a lot of them sleeping in doorways, in parkways, and in the easment just east of the beach,” she said.

Because the homeless are a transient population, where they were counted may not accurately reflect where they tend to spend the night, Rowe said.

However, the numbers provide a good indication, because the count was conducted between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., when many were headed towards or already at their sleeping spots.

“Those sleeping points are the anchor points for their daily routines,” she said, noting that many don’t own cars or bicycles and, as a result, tend to confine themselves to certain parts of the city.

The new birds-eye view of where the homeless are will not change the course of action City officials embarked on during the past year, which calls for providing housing and offering help to the most hard-core of the homeless, Rowe said.

But the numbers could lead to strategies that, in some instances, may target specific areas of the city.

“We’re concerned about the problem wherever it is,” said Kathryn Dodson, president and CEO of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, many of whose members own businesses in the Downtown area.

Chamber officials, Dodson said, may soon consider weighing in on a proposal to dedicate a Veteran’s Administration facility in Westwood for homeless vets and have plans to convene a Westside Chamber meeting on homelessness.

Most recently, a chamber committee on homelessness met with key City officials to discuss what businesses can do. Proposals include passing out cards to business owners to help them contact the appropriate City service and creating pocket-sized cards to help the homeless know what services are available to them.

“This issue is of critical importance and is ranked as the number one issue for residents and business alike, and I bet it would be the most important priority for tourists if they were polled too,” Dodson said.

Despite the most exhaustive count every conducted in the county, it is still unclear how many homeless call Santa Monica home.

Seven of Santa Monica’s 19 census tracts were not counted at all, and the numbers cited by City officials are based on how many individuals were actually seen by the census takers.

The research firm which crunched the data for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) -- the agency which headed up the historic count in January 2005 -- estimated there may be as many as 1,991 homeless living in Santa Monica. They based the number on the actual count, as well as on statistical estimates.

The areas excluded from any count -- statistical, actual or otherwise -- were significant.

They include two large census tracts north of Montana Avenue and five tracts in the eastern section of the city. In addition, in two tracts between Lincoln Boulevard and 20th Street -- one between Washington Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, the other encompassing the I-10 Freeway between Colorado Avenue and Pico Boulevard -- the homeless were not counted outside of shelters.

In fact, the general snapshot shows far more individuals unsheltered than sheltered in Santa Monica: 243 people were counted in shelters across the city, while 949 were counted on the street.

Five census tracts showed sheltered populations: In tract 7018.02, 58 individuals were counted at the CLARE facility; in tract 7019 (which contains most of Downtown) 62 individuals were counted in three facilities now owned by OPCC -- including Samoshel, Safehaven and the Daybreak Shelter; in tract 7015.01, 68 individuals were counted at the Upward Bound program; in tract 7017.02, the Turning Point transitional housing sheltered 47 people, and tract 7022.01 claimed eight sheltered persons.

Another facility sheltering mostly women in the city from domestic abuse was also counted. However, City officials declined to reveal its location, citing safety concerns.

The Countywide count, which found 88,000 people living on the streets each night, also indicates that homelessness in Santa Monica has been on the rise since a 1999 count by the City pointed to 1,037 people on the streets each night. The county’s current estimate of 1,991 indicates a 28 percent increase in Santa Monica's homeless population.

The fact that the most homeless call the west side of Lincoln Boulevard home is not surprising, according to Dodson and Rowe, nor may it be particularly helpful in putting strategies into play.

But it may help in one respect.

“More than anything, it’s helped raise awareness about the issue far and above what it ever was before,” Rowe said.

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