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Santa Monica Homeless Count Mirrors Los Angeles County Increase, Officials Say

 

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 1, 2017 -- Badly rattled last month after learning Santa Monica’s homeless population had jumped 26 percent in one year, City officials on Wednesday received some significant data they believe explains the sudden increase:

Countywide, a "staggering" jump in the homeless population mirrored the one Santa Monica experienced from the previous year ("Santa Monica's Homeless Population Highest in a Decade," May 10, 2017).

From the San Fernando Valley to the San Gabriel Valley, homeless counts rose. In all, the 2017 count for the entire county increased by 23 percent, from 46,874 in 2016 to 57,794 homeless people this year, the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority reported on Wednesday.

As Santa Monica officials suspected, the seaside enclave is part of a larger problem, one that mushroomed from the county’s core -- the City of Los Angeles -- to its sprawl of 87 other cities and beyond.

Not all the increases were as big as the one Santa Monica is experiencing. But, experts pointed out, not all of the communities included are surrounded on three sides by L.A. -- already tagged as the nation’s homeless capitol.

“These substantial increases in homelessness across the county and in Santa Monica are staggering and heartbreaking,” said Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer. “The county results underscore the need for regional collaboration.”

Three out of every four people in the county count were living in encampments or otherwise on the streets, the results showed. Only about 15,000 were sheltered.

And the bad news from the county hit many key demographics.

Chronic homelessness (generally those on the streets a year and suffering debilitating levels of mental illness, addiction of physical problems) grew by 20 percent, outpacing an increase in housing for that population.

There were also increases in homeless families (although the good news was more of them were sheltered now), young people and military veterans.

(Pasadena, Glendale and Long Beach are excluded. They conduct independent counts, as does Santa Monica)

Authorities on the issue link the rise in homelessness to the financial vulnerability of those receiving public assistance who are unable to compete during a critical housing shortage that is spiking market-rate rents.

An estimated 13,000 people on public benefits fall into homelessness monthly in the county, officials said.

Winterer noted that new voter-approved increases in public funding can be used now to create more affordable housing and “supportive services.”

In November, Santa Monica voters approved two measures, GS and GSH, which together raise the sales tax a half cent. Half of the $16 million generated reserved for local affordable housing ("Higher Sales Taxes Start Kicking in for Santa Monica," April 6, 2017).

This March, voters countywide approved Measure H, which provides an estimated $3.5 billion for rent subsidies and services over 10 years ("Santa Monica Voters Among Strongest Supporters of Measure H," March 10, 2017).

The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote June 13 on budgets allocating the new bounty for the first three years.

Measure H will also boost Proposition HHH, a City of Los Angeles ballot measure approved by voters there in November to use $1.2 billion in bond proceeds over the decade to construct permanent housing.

Together, the funding will help create or subsidize 15,000 housing units and pay for services to support those residing in them.

LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whose 3rd district includes Santa Monica, said the new county homeless total “makes it very clear that our continuing homeless crisis is being driven by a housing crisis.”

“Even though the County found housing for 14,000 people last year, thus ending homelessness for them, we just can't keep up,” she said.

“We can agree that there are men and women on the streets who suffer from mental illness,” she said, “but those numbers have been declining such that the root of our homeless crisis now lies in an economic imbalance linked to our housing market.”

Santa Monica City officials, though, spoke less of the need to build more shelter for its homeless population in the city itself and more of the need to intensify services for the existing population.

Margaret Willis, the administrator for the City's Human Services Division, said “there are other places with a much higher need” for new shelter or housing for those living in streets, encampments and parks.

Of the City’s new total homeless population of 921 people, only five percent originally called Santa Monica home, according to a survey of during the count of 188 individuals.

The rest were mostly from elsewhere in the county or out of state.

The City’s 2017 count showed 341 homeless people were sheltered. The unsheltered homeless were concentrated on the beach and downtown.

Willis said one effort the City favors is the use of specialized teams who work closely with homeless individuals to help them with the complex issues associated with living on the streets, like struggles with mental health, addiction and physical impairments.

Becoming homeless, and being homeless, are “traumatic,” situations, she said, and require intense intervention by specialists.

 


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