By Olin Ericksen
March 21 -- City officials continued to look outside
Santa Monica for solutions to homelessness, eyeing programs
as nearby as San Diego and as far away as London at a national
summit in Washington D.C. this month.
Held March 8 by the United States Interagency Council on
Homelessness, the conference focused on best practices used
in other cities as a way to help the nation’s estimated
750,000 people who live on the streets each night.
With roughly 12 percent, or nearly 90,000, of the country’s
homeless living in and around Los Angeles County, the region’s
representatives made their presence felt in the nation’s
By examining what is working elsewhere, City officials said
they hope to improve on policies to help the nearly 2,800
homeless estimated to live in Santa Monica and coordinate
local efforts with those of the surrounding region, officials
"Santa Monica is not the only community productively
rethinking expanded approaches to homelessness," said
Council member Kevin McKeown who attended the conference with
Mayor Richard Bloom.
"Again we heard positive results from new programs,
mostly focused on providing real housing rather than ongoing
supportive services for people remaining on the street,"
Nearly three years ago, Santa Monica began implementing a
strategy known as Housing First, which provides permanent
housing in supportive settings for those who have been on
the street the longest and suffer from mental illness or addiction,
While continuing traditional services, proponents argue that
targeting the "chronic homeless" may be more cost-effective
for municipalities whose emergency services and hospitals
are inundated by homeless individuals and families.
Nationally, the strategy has been working for a handful of
cities, such as Denver and New York, Santa Monica officials
present at the meeting noted.
Summit participants also heard how Great Britain is making
strides in addressing the chronic homeless, known there as
"They've done a strategic outreach to rough sleepers,"
said Julie Rusk, the City’s Human Services manager,
who also attended the conference. "The extent of the
problem is certainly smaller, but they've made significant
strides, well over 50 percent."
Rusk said Britian's homeless czar, Louis Casey, has taken
an aggressive approach to reaching out to the chronic homeless,
which Santa Monica officials and local non-profits are looking
"It's quite focused and caring, but tough, and it really
takes the approach of 'whatever it takes' to get them help,"
Other speakers at the summit included Dr. James Dunford,
a physician who heads San Diego 's serial inebriate program,
a model that offers repeat offenders the choice to sober up
and receive services or face jail.
Santa Monica, which has a similar program, may look to San
Diego to improve the local model, said Rusk.
In addition, public outreach and alternative giving strategies
to address panhandling in downtown Denver could be imported
to Santa Monica, Rusk said.
"Part of what they’re doing is looking into the
results of their program to compare the levels of panhandling
to last year when the program started," Rusk said.
Santa Monica's Downtown business community and the Bayside
District Corporation, the nonprofit that manages the Downtown,
have long complained that panhandling is rampant and have
advocated a change in strategy.
In addition to looking at programs in other cities, strategies
in other states may give regional leaders a better model,
given the vast and disparate communities in the Los Angeles
area, Rusk said.
"Los Angeles is more akin to some of these states in
terms of the kind of coordination that is needed than some
cities, so it was good to get that feedback," she said.
In addition to new service strategies and coordinating governments’
efforts, housing remained a key concern for many at the conference,
especially those coming from the Los Angeles region.
"Where we all struggle is with finding funding and appropriate
siting for housing production, and then making sure the newly
housed people continue to have access to crucial medical and
counseling support for the problems that made them chronically
homeless in the first place," said McKeown.
City officials plan to continue pursuing Santa Monica’s
new homeless strategies, Rusk said.
The City will begin applying for its second round of federal
money for the local Housing First initiative and continue
holding a pilot community homeless court that offers services
to petty offenders. Held at City Hall, the court held its
second session March 2, giving 13 defendants the chance to
trade jail time for help in addressing their problems.
City officials are also taking action on several recommendations
made by consultants from the Washington-based Urban Institute,
including forming a community round-table where stakeholders
can permanently discuss homeless issues, according to Rusk.
The City also has started sending out requests for proposals
for a new data system to help accurately track the homeless
who tap into Santa Monica’s extensive network of social
service providers, Rusk said.
All of these efforts, she said, will be underway simultaneously
in the next few months.