Santa Monica Lookout Opinion
Santa Monica's Entrenched Homeless Strategy an 'Abject Failure'
August 11, 2022
Santa Monicans recently received three loud and clear signals the City’s entrenched strategy to “address” homelessness (not “solve” or “reduce” it, mind you, only “address” it) is an abject failure.
First, Starbucks shut down a select 16 of its ubiquitous 15,000 coffee shops nationwide over unsafe conditions due to crime, homelessness, and drug use, including one near the Santa Monica Pier. Quite the exclusive club: one of just 16 locations so unsafe it needed to be shuttered, among a total of 15,000 nationwide ("Starbucks to Close Store Near Pier," July 12, 2022).
Second, a homeless-on-homeless knife homicide occurred in the North Court of Santa Monica’s Main Library ("Man Fatally Stabbed in Library Courtyard," August 1, 2022).
As shocking as this public killing was, it represented only the most recent example of homeless criminal exploits here. According to news reports and public records, crimes committed by homeless individuals in Santa Monica over roughly the past year have included arson, attempted murder, assault to commit rape, strong-arm robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, hate crime, carjacking, assault, battery, sexual battery, elder abuse, commercial and residential burglary, defrauding an innkeeper, shoplifting, battery on a police officer, public intoxication, urinating in public, defecating in public, public nudity, possession of a controlled substance, possession of a concealed dirk/dagger, brandishing, resisting arrest, trespassing, vandalism, and others.
Note that SMPD publicly estimated homeless individuals, many of them repeat offenders, comprise 40 percent of arrests in Santa Monica, an astounding figure considering the latest homeless count revealed about 800 homeless individuals living here, a city with a population over 90,000.
So the 800 homeless represent less than 1 percent of our total residential population, but 40 percent of criminal arrests. And yes, some observers have asserted the official count of 800 doesn’t nearly cover all homeless persons here, yet neither is the 90,000 residential population count all-inclusive.
The City has estimated our expanded daytime/weekend population—including commuting employees, tourists, and local visitors -- “swells” to 250,000. But unless the homeless population simultaneously swells to 100,000 (i.e., 40 percent of that daytime-weekend total), homeless individuals are committing crimes far out of proportion to their population count.
We all understand that being homeless is not a crime and the homeless population includes people who genuinely deserve generous help. But that does not mean crimes committed by homeless lawbreakers are any less perilous, or that such lawbreakers merit benevolence.
The third clear sign the City’s Strategy is a failure stems from the recently released Homelessness Report to the City Council ("Impact of Homeless Programs Measured in Report," August 2, 2022).
Among other findings, the report shows outreach workers made 11,000 “contacts” with homeless individuals in Santa Monica during the past calendar quarter, resulting in a grand total of 24 people receiving and accepting permanent housing.
That pace would require about 170,000 such contacts over 4 years to house half of Santa Monica’s latest 800 count, and 340,000 contacts through the end of the decade to house them all.
And this assumes the homeless population does not expand, as Mayor Himmelrich seemed to encourage in a radio interview, stating she’d be “happy to house” homeless who migrate here, and that attracting more homeless is “a risk that I personally am willing to take.” (Lost in her speechifying was any mention of the risk to the rest us, both from more crime and drained City services.)
Unlike the outgoing Mayor, I doubt many Santa Monicans are prepared to stomach another four to eight (or more) years like the past year. I know I want a safe and livable city, now.
What to do about this?
First, recognize the folly of trying to “address” the needs of every homeless individual from anywhere and everywhere. Change the strategy: Target generous assistance to those who became homeless while living or working in Santa Monica, not to any lawbreaker who drifts across the City line from anywhere in the region, state, and country. Challenge with energetic skepticism all advocates of the failed policies that plague Santa Monica.
Related to this folly, stop enticing more homeless individuals to come here, as Mayor Himmelrich proposed in her radio interview. At 11,000 contacts required per 24 people housed and more than 40-to-1 arrests per population count, Santa Monica is already stretched well beyond its limits.
Next, dispense with any delusion that because homelessness is not a crime, homeless crime is not a crisis. Significantly increase resources for public safety, while demanding the City Attorney's office toughen its efforts to prosecute and convict misdemeanor crimes.
This will be doubly important if, as statistical analyses are suggesting, the Gascon recall fails to qualify for the ballot ("LETTERS --Statistically the Gascon Recall Will Likely Fail to Qualify," July 19, 2022).
This November, support only candidates and ballot initiatives that elevate public safety to the highest-level.
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