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PART III -- Successfully Housing Chronically Homeless Will Take Political Will, Countywide Effort, Officials Warn

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

Last in a series

May 14 -- Like Judy Warren staring through the doorway of her first apartment in seven years, and, ultimately, into her future, City officials are also confronting what happens next for Santa Monica’s Chronic Homeless Program nearly three years after its launch.

The largely Federally funded, million-dollar-plus program is proving a success, placing roughly half of 110 of the hardest to reach "chronically homeless" into housing, officials and Council members agree.

Doing so not only saves a life, it also could save taxpayers and institutions millions through fewer hospital visits and emergency responses by police and paramedics, they agree.

"It's a small scale program that demonstrates you can effectively place the most chronic of our homeless population," said Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom. "I'm in favor of dramatically expanding the program, as well as housing throughout the region."

Yet policy makers agree the pilot program in Santa Monica -- where 2,800 homeless are estimated to live in shelters and on the streets -- can only expand if changes are instituted across the County, which has the nation’s largest homeless population, numbering 85,000.

"The council has to keep monitoring the programs to make sure they are working," said Council member Bobby Shriver, who has been a driving force behind the City’s homeless policies. "We may not be seeing results on our streets, because some people are relocating here from Skid Row, which again points to the regional nature of the problem."

In an interview with The Lookout last week, Shriver called for "stronger political will in cities across LA County to end homelessness.

"It is being done in New York, San Francisco, San Diego, and many other cities," he said of the Chronic Housing Program. "But it will only happen here when LA area voters demand work -- not just words -- from their city, county, state and federal representatives.”

In addition to backing a call by State Senator Gil Cedillo for fair-share housing and services laws for homeless people, Shriver suggested he may also support making the City of Los Angeles its own county.

"Until regional cooperation for real solutions to these problems becomes an important issue with the voters, elected officials will not make it a priority," Shriver said.

Until that day comes, at least one council member questioned whether Santa Monica’s Chronic Homeless Program will reduce the number of homeless, or chronically homeless, on Santa Monica streets.

"The thing about helping the chronic homeless that is great is because so many of them have been out there for so long, and it's just sad. It's no way to live," said Council member Bob Holbrook.

"I think (the program is) doing really well,” Holbrook said, “but I feel if we keep giving services today the way we are, and nothing changes on the regional level, then it will just keep going and going and going."

Amy Turk, Project Director for OPCC's communal living Day Break program, who everyday grapples with helping the homeless, agreed that no significant dent in Santa Monica's homeless population will be made without regional changes.

"Until we create more affordable housing units for people living at or below the poverty level, combined with appropriate supportive services, we will continue to have homeless people who need help from service providers," she said.

"If we fill the unmet need," she said, "the services will stop."

In the meantime, the next step for the City will be refocusing the program by targeting certain geographic areas, such as the Third Street Promenade, where some of the homeless who have been on the streets the longest are having a visible impact on area businesses.

Five days a week, between 7 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., outreach teams of between six and eight workers are fanning out across the popular retail strip looking for specific individuals to approach for services.

"We want to be sensitive to the business community, and we are asking them and the community at large who they want us to focus on," said Dorothy Berndt, who coordinates the City’s Chronic Homeless Subcommittee.

"Sometimes they'll see the same person, day after day, at the same spot impacting perhaps ten different businesses," Berndt said.

In addition to greater outreach, City officials intend to outline future funding proposals for homeless programs by next week.

When they do, council members will have heard about some of those whose lives have been turned around by the Chronic Homeless Program, people such as Judy Warren.

After seven years of doing drugs and living on the streets, Warren sat clear-headed in her Santa Monica apartment, in her well-kept living room, speaking as she eyed a picture of her niece, who reminds her of her own daughter.

"A lot of people don't know I have a daughter," she said quietly. "When I had her, I was into drugs, and I couldn't really care for her and I was diagnosed bi-polar…. She was adopted, but I don't know where she is today."

While she has lost and given up much in life, Warren said she still considers herself lucky to have been free of drugs and alcohol for more than a year and seemingly on her way to resuming her dreams, including receiving the undergraduate degree in communications she was one year shy of finishing.

When her family visits from New Orleans, it will be the first time in seven years she has seen them.

To this, she credits Santa Monica's Chronic Homeless Program.

"I'm paying rent and gas, and living my life like a normal person," Warren said.

While celebrating her success, City officials acknowledge that Warren may be the exception, rather than the rule.


“If we keep giving services today the way we are, and nothing changes on the regional level, then it will just keep going and going and going." Bob Holbrook



"Until regional cooperation for real solutions to these problems becomes an important issue with the voters, elected officials will not make it a priority." Bobby Shriver


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