|Report on Homelessness in Santa Monica Celebrates Success and Warns of Shrinking Funds
By Jason Islas
October 25, 2011 -- Despite the bleak economic climate, Santa Monica has seen a decrease in homeless people living on the streets since 2007, according to the City's annual review of the city's plan for homeless services.
But the report, which will be heard by the City Council Tuesday night, also warns that the gains made in reducing homelessness stand to be lost if funding for successful programs dries up.
According to a Federally-mandated “point-in-time” street count done last January, there were “740 individuals sleeping on the streets or in shelters within the boundaries of the City,” the report said. The count shows that there has not been a rise in on-street homelessness since the last count was done in 2009.
“Success is measured by reducing street homelessness,” said the City's Action Plan to Address Homelessness.
Santa Monica uses a “Housing First” approach to combating homelessness, which emphasizes getting individuals into stable housing as the first step toward helping them recover.
The report cites the effectiveness of the City's safety net – the various organizations and programs available for people facing homelessness – as the main reason for no increase in homeless people sleeping on the streets, despite hard times.
However, those programs – especially housing programs – could be in trouble as state funding becomes increasingly scarce, according to the report.
Getting homeless people into housing is one of the most effective and cheapest ways to deal with chronic homelessness, Human Resources Senior Administrative Analyst Natasha Guest told The Lookout Monday.
But these programs require support to make sure that people don’t end up back on the streets, and their funding must be continually addressed, said Guest.
“Without new resources, agencies will soon reach their capacity to serve clients, which will either lead to no new clients being housed or a need to divert services away from those in permanent housing,” the report reads.
“Both of these scenarios could deter or turn back local progress in reducing street homelessness in Santa Monica,” it says.
A major concern in Santa Monica is the “fair share” principle, which maintains that resources should be spread throughout the county and each community should contribute to the well-being of its own residents.
The report points out that though the theory is a good one, the reality is that some communities in Los Angeles county simply don't have the infrastructure to take care of their residents who are struggling with homelessness.
As a result, communities such as Santa Monica, which has a robust safety net system, end up taking care of those people.
Guest said that Santa Monica has been successfully working with its neighbors to help them develop better services.
However, the city has drawn up a definition for a “priority population” to assure that resources go to help Santa Monicans in need first.
“We cannot serve all the homeless people in West Los Angeles,” Guest said.
The priority population are primarily Santa Monicans. For example, people who have been homeless in Santa Monica for five years or more, individuals or families whose last permanent address was in Santa Monica and “vulnerable members of Santa Monica's workforce” are considered part of the priority population.
Project Homecoming is a low-cost program that many non-local homeless people are referred to. It is designed to help reconnect homeless people with services or relatives in their hometowns – the idea being to free up resources for the priority population.
“It is clear that the local infrastructure is predominantly used to serve homeless people who are not part of the City’s priority population as defined in the Action Plan,” the report says.
Looking at the financial year 2010-2011, agencies in Santa Monica served 7,551 homeless people in some way or another. Of those 7,551 people, 31 percent originated from the City of Los Angeles while 34 percent came from other cities in L.A. County, other counties within the state or even outside of California.
City staff will be soliciting public comment as well as comments from the Council at Tuesday's meeting.
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