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Council Candidates Tackle Homeless Policies

By Danielle L. Coviello
Special to The Lookout

November 3 – With nearly 2,000 transients calling Santa Monica’s streets home during the course of the year, how the City tackles its homeless problem is one of the key issues in Tuesday’s race for City Council.

A forum being aired on CityTV and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica Education Fund gave the council candidates a chance to weigh in on an issue that consistently ranks as the top concern in resident polls.

Some of the candidates called for stronger programs, while others want the City to determine if the current programs have created a crutch for the homeless, who have become too dependent on Santa Monica’s vast network of social services.

Still others think the City must crack down harder on the transients who, they claim, are making life in the beachside town less pleasant.

One of the programs directly addressed during the forum was Housing First, which aims to house those who have been on the streets the longest. Another key topic of discussion was the City’s efforts to tackle the homeless problem on a regional basis.

Here are some of the things the candidates, who are listed in random order, had to say.

Bob Holbrook: During his 16 years on the council, Mayor Bob Holbrook has pushed for laws that crack down on the problem homeless, while holding the City accountable for the social service programs it helps fund. “Homelessness is a huge problem,” he said.

Currently, Holbrook has been working on four new projects aimed at reducing the number of homeless in the streets, including Housing First, which he says “has been having lots of success.”

“Lipstick Mary” -- an elderly woman who is known for her glaring red makeup and the train of shopping carts she pushes around Wilshire Boulevard -- is one of the chronically homeless the program has helped, Holbrook said.

“You don’t she her anymore, because she found housing through the city’s help,” said Holbrook, who is backed by the Chamber of Commerce.

Other programs Holbrook supports include Homeward Bound, which will provide the homeless, who have established supportive housing, with a bus ticket to their hometown.

He also backs the Community Courts, which allows a judge to sentence the homeless to rehabilitation programs rather than jail, and has been working with food providers to move the largest outdoor meal service to indoor sites where Social Services will be available.

Kevin McKeown: During his eight years on the council, McKeown has been known for taking a “compassionate” stance when it comes to the homeless. He voted against a law barring people from sleeping on the bluffs beneath Palisades Park, because it targeted the homeless, without providing an alternative place for them to sleep.

He has also supported efforts to address the homeless problem on a regional basis. Homelessness is a national disgrace and regional challenge,” said McKeown, “but we feel the worst impact is here in Santa Monica.”

McKeown said he wants to “take back the parks” and move the free meal programs indoors, so that the homeless can get “real help.”

The two-term council member said he represented Santa Monica at a national summit and that thanks to Federal grants the City is now able to get the homeless off the streets.

The City is “finally making real progress,” said McKeown, who is backed by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), the city’s powerful tenants group.

Still, there is much that needs to be done, McKeown said, and for this to happen, Santa Monica needs help from outside the city.

Terry O’Day: Planning Commissioner Terry O’Day believes the homeless problem needs to be addressed in order to restore Santa Monica’s quality of life and give the streets and parks “back to our families.”

To do this, the City must tackle the symptoms of homelessness, having zero tolerance for abusive behavior, eliminating programs that hand out free meals in public spaces and stopping other cities from dumping their homeless in Santa Monica.

But if the City needs to be tough, it also must lend a helping hand with programs such as Housing First, which gives the homeless “a better chance of becoming self-sufficient,” said O’Day, an environmental director who along with Holbrook, is backed by the Chamber of Commerce.

“We need a compassionate and realistic approach, because there is no shortage of need in our community when it comes to the homeless, and the reality is, targeting some of these chronic homeless is actually a good model,” O’Day said.

Gleam Davis: A longtime education activist, Gleam Davis takes a compassionate approach to the homeless, who, she says, could be members of anyone’s family.

“In prosperous Santa Monica it truly is sad to see so many homeless people,” said Davis, who received the SMRR endorsement.

Davis, too, believes Housing First is making a dent on homelessness, but the City must tackle the problem using different strategies that address the concerns of residents and businesses alike.

“I know many businesses are frustrated by the lack of responsiveness to their complaints about the non-violent activities of homeless persons,” Davis said.

To handle this, Davis wants to “see the city create a well-trained homeless response team that can answer these calls in a timely matter.” She also wants to move the homeless who occupy storefronts, parks and yards, into service centers and shelters.

Pam O’Connor: During her 12 years on the council, O’Connor has taken part in helping chart policies to address the homeless problem. In 2002, she co-sponsored the ordinance to curb programs that hand out free meals in public spaces.

O’Connor, who is in line to become chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority if she is reelected to the council, feels that homelessness, like traffic, must be addressed on a regional level.

“There is no doubt homelessness is one of the most challenging issues we face as a city and region,” O’Connor said, adding that she believes “progress is being made.”

One of the key challenges is moving the homeless off the city’s streets, said O’Connor, who along with McKeown and Davis makes up the SMRR slate.

But homelessness, O’Connor added, “cannot be solved by one city,” because it requires “regional attention and commitment.”

Terence Later: A Santa Monica native, Terence Later wants to hold the city more accountable for its homeless services.

To reduce homelessness, “we need to start with the services available in our city,” Later said, adding that the Santa Monica officials must “be more accountable for those they serve.”

The homeless who truly need help, such as the mentally challenged, should be a top priority, because they need proper care to get better, Later said.

Later would also like to see the City deal with homeless-on-homeless crime, which he called a “major problem” that needs to be “weeded out.”

Mark C McLellan: A real estate agent, McLellan would also like to see the City held more accountable for its homeless policies.

“The current approach to homelessness is not working, and we must do better,” McLellan said

The City, he said, cannot solve the problem until there is "an accurate understanding of who is accessing our programs, what services they are receiving, and the outcomes of these services.

“I support the evaluation of Santa Monica homeless services,” because until the city knows “how” the programs are working, “then we don’t know how to tackle the issue,” McLellan said.

Jonathan Mann: A flight attendant and teacher, Jonathan Mann has made four unsuccessful bids for council as a champion of the Internet and its potential create an “electronic village” or “virtual town hall” that would give citizens unprecedented access to government.

“The worst thing about Santa Monica is that we have created a haven for the homeless and not for the people who live here,” said Mann, whose views differed from those of the other candidates.

Homelessness is an issue that has been discussed to “absurdity” during the election campaign, Mann said.

The City, he said, should help make the homeless self-reliant, instead of fostering dependency.

“Santa Monica throws enormous funds to solve the problem, and yet it gets worse every year,” Mann said.

Instead of spending its resources and money on getting the homeless off the streets, the City should put the money into employment opportunities for the homeless, Mann said.

Jenna Linnekens: An event planner, Jenna Linnekens has made the homeless one of the key issues of her campaign. She wants the City to crack down on the problem homeless who, she says, are diminishing Santa Monica’s quality of life.

“Residents in our city should not fear aggressive panhandling, public intoxication and those who defile our parks and streets,” Linnekens said. “We can do better.”

Linnekens, however, does want to develop programs that will help children get off the streets, but she did not address how she wants to handle the homeless crisis, other than wanting them out of the public’s eye.





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