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City Fighting Homelessness on Multiple Fronts, Homeless Czar Reports

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 10 -- Barring any second thoughts by homeless advocates, City officials announced Tuesday they have reached an agreement that could move indoors the largest groups that for more than a decade have used public land to pass out food to the homeless.

Local officials also are sitting in on regional discussions on homelessness and will have input on who heads the County’s only homeless agency. In addition, Santa Monica is moving forward with a pilot “Community Courts” program that helps as an alternative to jail, City officials said.

In his scheduled report on homelessness, the City’s homeless czar, Ed Edelmen, said the two largest feeding groups -- Helping Other People Eat and Hand-to-Hand -- have agreed to move to an indoors location, possibly to a facility near the 600 block of Colorado near the Big Blue Bus yard.

“We’ve been successful at getting the food providers, not all of them, but the big ones, to accept the idea that they might better serve the homeless inside, with services available.” Edelmen told the council. “That’s being implemented now.”

While “logistical” issues, such as needed equipment and space, are still being worked out, the former county supervisor said he expects the groups to be indoors in the next 60 days.

“I think (the possible move) will free the Palisades Park and free City Hall from having the homeless being fed on the outside without services which will accompany the food service,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing.”

He credited staff and City Manager Lamont Ewell – who acknowledged some of the historical tensions between the City and the groups – for stepping in at key moments during negotiations.

“It took some time to overcome some of the hostility of the food providers, but we’ve overcome that, and they’re now willing to come inside,” Ewell said.

The public announcement – which comes more than a week after an exclusive report by The Lookout reported on a tentative agreement July 27 – was part of Edelman’s periodic reports to the council.

Edelmen – who was hired in December 2005 to coordinate a regional response to homelessness – also said Santa Monica will lend a hand picking a new executive director for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the County’s only agency servicing the homeless.

Widely criticized for its inability to spearhead a response to the county’s homeless epidemic – with nearly 90,000 homeless countywide – LAHSA will likely charge the new director with overhauling the agency, Edelmen said.

“I’m on the search committee and can tell you that we have narrowed the list of candidates and are making recommendations now,” he said, adding that the committee should settle on a candidate by next month.

Transforming the agency from an ineffective county agency that passes out money to service groups into a group with the vision to coordinate a regional response will be tough and will require the right type of person, Edelman said.

“It will take someone of not only some managerial experience, but some visionary ideas of how we can more effectively deal with the body we have, and how it can be strengthened,” he said.

Edelmen also announced he intends to sit in on foundation-funded, regularly scheduled discussions with leaders on a regional basis.

Few details have been released on the effort funded by The California Endowment, The Weingart Foundation and the Hilton Foundation.

In the meantime, Edelmen is pushing to establish a separate court for the homeless and mentally ill in Santa Moncia. The court, which he said he hopes will serve as a model for other jurisdictions, would offer services to individuals convicted of petty offenses.

A half million dollars was pledged by the County in the beginning of July to support the pilot project, which Edelman said local police, City staff and the City Attorney’s office have spent “significant” time shaping.

“It would be a great shame after getting a commitment of this kind (to) not follow through on it using the resources we have from the County,” he said.

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