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Less Housing, Fewer Jobs for Homeless , Report Finds

By Olin Ericksen and Jorge Casuso

January 7 -- Hamstrung by federal cuts and with no increase in City funding to bridge the gap, the number of homeless participating in Santa Monica service agencies significantly dropped in the past fiscal year, according to a City report released Wednesday.

And the trend may worsen as the federal government continues to cut funding for housing and social services, City officials warn.

"We're a microcosm of what's going on around the country," said Julie Rusk, the City’s Human Services manager.

While City officials estimate Santa Monica's homeless population has remained constant over the past few years, the number of clients participating at the nine City funded agencies dropped by nearly 600, from 2,773 in the 2002-03 fiscal year to 2,188 in the last fiscal year, according to the annual review of the City's Coordinated Plan for Homeless Services.

The agencies -- which received $1,823,391 in City funds, $7,331 less than was budgeted the previous year -- placed fewer homeless clients in permanent and transitional housing and in permanent and temporary jobs in 2003-04 than during the previous fiscal year, the report found.

The largest decrease, 22 percent, came in the number of homeless placed in permanent housing, which dropped from 433 in the 2002-03 fiscal year to 339 in the past fiscal year.

That drop, the report said, "coincided with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's funding cut" last spring to federally assisted housing, known as Section 8, with vouchers paying nearly 70 percent of a participant's rent.

Similar cuts to Los Angeles' Housing Authority have "compounded" the impact of those cuts, according to the report.

It is "ironic," Rusk said, that the federal government is seeking to end homelessness in ten years, yet cutting funding, which has "decimated" Section 8 housing.

In comparison, there was only a minor drop in the number of homeless placed in transitional housing, from 413 in 2002-03 to 405 in the last fiscal year, the report found.

On the jobs front, 397 homeless were placed in permanent employment, down from 437 the previous year, while 210 were placed in temporary jobs, down from 245.

The only category that saw a marked increase was the number of homeless placed in emergency shelters, which jumped to 626 in the last fiscal year, up from 474 the previous year.

The increase mirrored a trend chronicled in a United States Conference of Mayors Report that found that more than two-thirds of the 27 cities surveyed registered an increase in requests for emergency shelter.

The Santa Monica Report, which will be the subject of a City Council hearing later this month, calls for other municipalities to step up and do their share.

“If every city in the region adopted and funded a continuum of care model and prioritized creation of affordable housing, Santa Monica’s burden would be more equitably shared,” the report stated.

Strategies to combat problem that are underway include regional planning to develop solutions to homelessness, a review of City ordinances, a pilot program to assist the chronically homeless and proposals to create a sobering center and a year-round shelter, the report said. Other proposals in the works are to increase supportive housing and improve a major access center.

The amount budgeted by the City for homeless services “has not increased substantially over” the past decade, and in fact decreased by $7,331 in the past fiscal year, according to the report.

For every City dollar allocated, the social service organizations leveraged an additional $2.69 in non-City funding to support the “continuum of care,” the report noted.

The report assessing the effectiveness of the City’s continuum of care -- which has served some 14,000 homeless since 1999 -- is mandated by a 1994 voter referendum that sought to address a vagrancy problem many residents at the time believed was spiraling out of control.

The problem, the report said, is still a top concern.

“In spite of significant achievements made by homeless persons availing themselves of Santa Monica’s network of services, the impact of homelessness in Santa Monica remains a top community concern,” the report said.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the annual review of the City’s Coordinated Plan for Homeless Services on January 11. (more information)

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