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Santa Monica Set to Declare Homelessness Emergency

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By Jorge Casuso

February 9, 2023 -- The City Council on Tuesday is expected to declare a state of emergency on homelessness that will make it easier to address a crisis that has persisted for decades and is worsening.

The move comes amid a rising number of Police and Fire department calls for service, encampments, public deaths, arson and vandalism tied to the homeless, according to City staff's report to the Council.

The state of emergency would make it easier to work with other government agencies, seek grants and "take expedited actions to address imminent health and safety impacts" caused by homelessness, staff said.

It also would allow the City to "expedite staffing essential to respond to urgent situations" and "more quickly deploy resources and take actions to address homelessness."

The City Manager, as the Director of Emergency Services, "has found that it is vitally important to cooperate with other regional agencies to address threats to public health and safety in the City of Santa Monica due to the homelessness crisis in the region," staff wrote in its report to the Council.

The crisis, City staff wrote, "continues to grow, leading to deplorable living conditions and illness and deaths of unhoused and unsheltered persons in the region."

The emergency powers -- which would last 180 days unless repealed or extended by the Council -- would protect the homeless, as well as local residents, workers, businesses and visitors.

Santa Monica would become the fifth jurisdiction in the region to declare a homelessness emergency, following the City and County of Los Angeles and the cities of Long Beach and Culver City.

In recommending the declaration, staff listed evidence the local crisis is worsening. They include an increasing number of:

  • Police Department calls-for-service (from 18,564 in 2021 to 19,946 last year) and Fire Department calls (from 2,672 to 3,017);

  • Encampments in the 8.3 square-mile city, with police responding to 1,630 encampments in 2021 and 1,879 last year;

  • Public death cases, with the City responding to 20 such deaths last year ("Two Homeless Persons a Month Die in Santa Monica," May 4, 2022);

  • Outdoor fires and incidents of arson resulting in the Fire Department responding to 393 incidents in 2022, a 26 percent increase, and

  • Clean-ups of general debris, encampments and vandalism, which amounted to an estimated $4 million spent to maintain public facilities and amenities that included 20 to 40 "concentrated areas of congregation" serviced weekly.

Countywide, the crisis is worsening despite record spending by local agencies and jurisdictions, with "approximately 207 people a day rehoused at the same time as 227 become homeless," according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a record $609.7 million budget to tackle the growing crisis and allocated an additional $76.9 million, some of which will be distributed to local jurisdictions ("County Approves Record Budget to Fight Homelessness," February 7, 2023).

Santa Monica -- which has implemented numerous strategies to tackle the problem -- spends an estimated $42.5 million a year on homeless programs and services ("City Spends More than $40 Million on Homelessness But Lacks Way to Gauge Progress," December 1, 2022).

The City's plan, staff said, is "to identify the most vulnerable on our streets, repeatedly engage them to establish trust and address their needs, connect them with appropriate medical and behavioral health services, and move them into housing."

In her State of the City Address Tuesday, Mayor Gleam Davis emphasized the City's belief that providing housing is the key to addressing the homelessness crisis.

"We will never solve the mental health, addiction, and other medical issues we see every day, if we condemn homeless persons to a nomadic lifestyle on our streets or if we simply dump them in a criminal justice system that is not equipped and not intended to deal with this complex issue," Davis said.

If approved, the State of Emergency would take effect immediately, two weeks before the coronavirus emergency decared nearly three years ago is set to end on February 28 ("Santa Monica To End COVID Emergency," January 11, 2023).

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