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Santa Monica Homeless Count Shows Modest Decline

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

February 25, 2015 -- Despite years of investments in tackling the problem, homelessness in Santa Monica decreased by less than 1 percent this year from 2014, according to results of Santa Monica’s 2015 Homeless Count released this week.

And while the annual count found slightly fewer people who are homeless in the City, more homeless people are living in vehicles or in makeshift encampments, the figures show.

The numbers also show that, despite the millions of dollars Santa Monica has invested over the years to cut its homeless population, “we’re still struggling uphill,” said Margaret Willis, human services administrator.

“We would love to see that needle move deeper,” said Willis. “But we also recognize that we are a very small city within a larger region that has the largest population of homeless people in the nation.”

About 250 volunteers scoured every block of the city during the one-night tally on January 28, counting 738 homeless people in Santa Monica.

That was a light decrease – 0.5 percent – from last year, when volunteer surveyors counted 742 homeless people in the City, the figures show.

Volunteers counted 402 people living on the streets, a 16 percent increase from last year’s count of 346. That number included 73 people found living in vehicles or in encampments – up from 57 in the 2014 count.

The slight overall decrease in Santa Monica’s homeless population was attributed to fewer homeless people found living in emergency shelters, said Margaret Willis, human services administrator.

There were 336 people living in homeless shelters in January, down from 396 in 2014, a 15 percent decrease.

In the long-range view, however, homelessness in the City is down by 16 percent from 2009, when Santa Monica first counted its homeless population and found 480 “unsheltered individuals,” a City Human Services report said.

Homelessness in Santa Monica dropped 5 percent in 2014 from the previous year, from 780 in 2013 to 742 in 2014, city records show.

The report released Monday at the Social Services Commission’s meeting also noted a significant change in the City’s homeless population.

Although the homeless people who were counted last month were not individually identified, “anecdotal reports” from local nonprofit agencies and from police suggests that the City’s homeless population is “shifting from individuals that are long-term homeless in Santa Monica to a much more transitory population, newly arrived and quick to move on,” the report said.

“City staff will be working to develop new strategies to respond to this change,” the report said.

“We know that, for the most part, people don’t become homeless in Santa Monica,” Willis said Tuesday. “They are becoming homeless elsewhere and are gravitating here.”

An increasingly transitory homeless population highlights the need for a comprehensive, countywide strategy to fight homelessness, Willis said.

“People are trying to do that now. The United Way’s Home for Good program is a good initiative. It looks at the problem on a countywide basis. But it’s a pretty overwhelming situation,” she said.

Santa Monica was among the first cities in the county to invest heavily in homeless services, including emergency and transitional housing and supportive services, Willis said. And the City continues to emphasis “housing first” as a major thrust of its Action Plan to Address Homelessness, adopted in 2008.

But a lack of affordable housing locally remains a major obstacle, Willis said.

“While other cities have seen successes in housing their homeless populations, we don’t have the affordable housing stock available,” she said. “We don’t have that permanent, affordable housing piece that would allow us to scale it up to make a difference.

“It takes a very long time to scale up affordable housing. We would’ve had to have started 20 years ago. We’re playing catch-up,” said Willis.

Results from this year’s local homeless count will play a critical role when the City does its annual review of the action plan later this year, Willis said.

The local results also are incorporated into the county Homeless Services Authority’s 2015 Homeless Count, which is used to help determine how much L.A. County receives in future federal Community Block Grant funding that can be used for homeless services.

A larger pool of money available to cities comes from the federal Continuum of Care program, which provides homeless services funding to Los Angeles and other counties and regions. Cities within L.A. County must then compete for a share of the Continuum of Care funding pie.

Because the City and its nonprofit organization have created an infrastructure of services for homeless people, including emergency shelters, transitional housing, drug and alcohol rehab, mental health and other services, Santa Monica has been successful in the past in securing Continuum of Care money to pay for a variety of programs and initiatives, Willis said.

“We’ve been investing in homeless solutions for a very long time,” she said. “We have a really robust service delivery system. We invested in developing that over the years.”


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