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Rise in Homelessness Could Be Future Trend, Officials Say

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

February 26, 2013 -- Volunteers counted 780 homeless people sleeping in Santa Monica during the City's 2013 homeless count, a one percent increase from last year, officials said.

According to the count, done on the night of January 30, the biggest increases were among people sleeping on the streets -- up from 264 last year to 316 this year -- and people sleeping in vehicles -- up from 45 last year to 57 this year -- a fact which has officials wondering if this increase may be a result of a bad economic climate catching up with people.

“We've been anticipating an increase,” said Maggie Willis, a senior administrative analyst with the City, in a report to the Social Services Commission Monday.

She added that homelessness is a lagging indicator of bad economic times, since people can sometimes take years after losing their jobs to go through the safety nets that keep them off the street.

“The people seen in their cars three weeks ago may very well have lost their jobs three years ago,” she said.

Va Lecia Adams, executive director of St. Joseph Center, said that since 2008, they have seen a 30 percent increase in people accessing the nonprofit's food pantry.

“It's an indicator of people on the brink,” she said, adding that some of the people who had been going to the food pantry may be among the homeless counted on January 30.

Santa Monica has counted its homeless population annually since 2008, even though the Federal Housing Administration requires counts only every odd year.

The rise in street homelessness was offset by a 12 percent decrease in people in shelters or motels, down from 426 in 2012 to 392 this year.

Willis explained that, since the beds in shelters were nearly all full on the night of the count, the decrease was mostly due to the fact that families using motel vouchers were housed outside of Santa Monica this year.

“Those beds are still available,” she said. “They are just available outside of Santa Monica.”

Volunteers counted no families sleeping on the streets January 30, “a unique feature of the homeless population in Santa Monica,” according to officials. Officials also took this to mean that moving the motel voucher program out of the city did not have an impact on street homelessness levels.

Despite a slight increase, homelessness rates are still significantly below 2008 levels, when the City counted 915 individuals sleeping in shelters or on the streets.

Even so, Willis warned that trouble could lie ahead.

“People are staying in shelters longer, so bedding is scarce,” she said. “Rents are increasing while Federal rent subsidies are not.”

And the end of Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs) throughout California last February meant that municipalities throughout the state lost money to build affordable housing.

Of the $15 million Santa Monica spent annually on affordable housing developments and vouchers for seniors and low-income residents, 90 percent came from RDA money.

Still, Willis and others are optimistic, noting Santa Monica's success in getting people off the streets and into housing.

Officials will continue to work with regional partners, she said, to assure that neighboring cities are doing their fair share to help the County's homeless population, which, at 51,340 people in 2011, was the highest in the nation.

The City will also continue to advocate for the Department of Veteran Affairs to continue with planned rennovations of buildings 208, 205 and 209 on their Westwood campus in order to house homeless vets.

John Maceri, executive director of OPCC, said that it was important to remember that the 2013 count is just a snapshot of one night in Santa Monica and that the City, along with nonprofits will continue to work to figure out trends and how best to address them.

Whether or not this small increase in homelessness is indicative of a larger trend remains to be seen. The numbers for Los Angeles County will likely come out this summer, giving Santa Monica's numbers better context.

“It's important to see how Santa Monica compares,” he said.

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