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Handouts for Change

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

March 29 -- Could the answers to how to help the homeless fit in your pocket? City officials think so.

Two sets of pocket-sized cards -- one for the homeless and one for residents -- are set to go to press soon as part of an outreach effort aimed at getting the community on the same page when dealing with the problem of people living on Santa Monica’s streets.

“I think people want to help and are compassionate about (homelessness)…but don’t know what to do to help,” said Human Services Manager Stacey Rowe, who handles homeless issues for the City.

“The purpose, really, is to help get the word out about services available here in the city,” she said. “It will basically give tools to residents… and the homeless.”

With 5,000 cards planned in the initial batch, City officials hope to encourage people to help, but help in productive ways that are coordinated with City efforts.

“We’re in it together,” reads the back side of the wallet-sized card for residents and business people. Underneath, in tiny type, paragraphs give likely scenarios involving the homeless.

On the front are “good telephone numbers to keep on hand,” and the specific number for emergency services, homeless agencies and the City.

Which number someone dials depends on the situation.

For immediate medical help with a homeless man suffering a heart attack, dialing 9-1-1 is the best option say, City officials say. If a homeless man is assaulting someone, contacting the local Police dispatch might be the best course of action, depending on how serious the attack is.

Either way, the cards urge action and call on everyone to get involved.

“Please don’t ignore it” the card states of emergency situations. “By calling the police/paramedics, you are taking the first step in linking people to much needed services and housing.”

Beyond life threatening situations, City officials hope to use the eyes and ears of the public to better identify and track the homeless.

“If you see a homeless person in the same place regularly and think he or she might benefit from social services, you can leave a detailed message” for the police homeless liaison program and the OPCC homeless agency adult outreach team, according to the back of the community card.

The community-oriented cards will also be used to guide those who want to help without enabling the homeless to stay on the streets.

“We need to be involved, but in very strategic ways," Rowe said. "And by that I don’t mean giving money to panhandlers."

One statement on the card urges the public to “Get involved!” but quickly advises, “Instead of giving handouts, consider donating to a local social service agency or volunteering your time.” It then lists the website for the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition.

There are cards, too, for the people that City Hall is looking to help.

From where to get a shower to where to go for counseling for mental health problems, a fold-out brochure gives those who live on the street a listing of agencies that can help them navigate a complex system of social services.

Phone numbers, addresses and hours of operation are all listed for Santa Monica’s service agencies that partner with the City.

“All of this information is available in a brochure, but we wanted to put it in a more user-friendly format,” Rowe said.

City officials hope those who want to help will hand out the cards instead of spare change.

The information cards have worked well in cities such as West Hollywood and New York, encouraging Santa Monica to launch its effort.

At a couple thousand dollars for the first batch of cards, the project is a “relatively low cost way” to coordinate city and community efforts, Rowe said, as well as give the homeless another small advantage out there on the streets.

Rowe said people interested in obtaining the cards should look for them soon in the City’s newsletter, Seascape, at public counters and service agencies. The Chamber of Commerce also plans an extensive mailing of the cards to area businesses.

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