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Santa Monica to Intensify Face-to-Face “Engagement” of Largest Homeless Population in a Decade


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

November 30, 2017 -- Hit with a 26 percent increase in Santa Monica’s homeless population this year, the City unveiled a plan Tuesday to send up to a dozen new workers out to streets, encampments and cars to steer as many people living in them as possible into the region’s evolving system of help.

The Homeless Action -- approved unanimously by the City Council Tuesday night -- also calls for re-deployed and augmented Police Department resources, and a software system with information helping first responders as they arrive on the scene of incidents involving homeless people.

A full-time social worker will be ensconced in the Library system as well, the report on the action plan said.

Two additional “Library Services Officers” will be funded in an 18-month pilot program to ensure “effective, safe and respectful use of the Library,” the report said.

A senior advisor operating out of the City Manager’s Office also will be installed under the plan to oversee all the moving parts of the effort.

The new position is being allocated $320,159 over two years.

Mostly, though, the City is “maximizing the use of existing resources” to tackle its homeless problem, a statement from the City Communications Office said.

Santa Monica’s homeless census, which counted 921 homeless people living in shelters and on the streets on the night of January 25, mostly mirrored similar double-digit increases throughout the region. ("Santa Monica's Homeless Population Highest in a Decade," May 10, 2017).

LA County's homeless tally totaled 57,794 people this year, up 23 percent from last year ("Santa Monica Homeless Count Mirrors Los Angeles County Increase, Officials Say," June 1, 2017).

The tally showed a mostly rising migration from Los Angeles areas such as "Skid Row" to all parts of the county, from the South Bay to the San Fernando Valley and far-flung San Gabriel Valley.

Santa Monica officials say the plan launched a decade ago helped the City put a lid on, and even reverse, increases in its own homelessness.

These days, the spreading crisis is regarded as a regional problem, and local governments are trying to cooperate in a united front to bring in more funding for treatment and -- especially -- shelter, transitional housing (with services onsite or nearby) and then permanent housing.

In its new strategy, the City is trying to wade more deeply into life on the streets and the overwhelming personal struggles there with untreated mental illness (about 30 percent of all) and alcoholism/substance abuse (another 18 percent).

Domestic violence is a growing reason behind homeless as well. Others are crippled by physical health problems or otherwise disabled.

Santa Monica’s sudden jump to 921 people this year -- nearly all without shelter -- spurred re-examination of how to deal with the issue.

“This surge has not only raised the number of homeless individuals in our midst, but included a disturbing change in the incidence and severity of untreated mental illness, substance abuse and anti-social behavior among the homeless population,” a City report on the plan said.

“This has eroded our community's sense of Santa Monica as a safe and desirable place to live, play, and do business,” it said.

“The increased pressure on community open spaces has elevated public concern, impacted quality of life, and made clear that homelessness is a crisis that demands a community-wide response, built on a history of successful policies and programs.”

In part, the City’s response to homelessness is also shifting because of the changing nature of the population itself.

Although it still has a significant number of chronically homeless people, Santa Monica’s 2017 homeless population includes more people who are newer arrivals, with those in the city for less than a month to a year totaling almost 60 percent.

It also started becoming younger, increasing the ranks of those aged 17 to 24, with the largest age group -- people from 25 to 54 -- declining by 10 percent.

The City will also work to “increase availability of housing and services in other communities” so Santa Monica’s homeless people can re-locate elsewhere.

As part of the new plan, the City Council agreed to a $1,106,897 contract for two years, with two additional one-year renewal options, with Los Angeles County for a homeless-outreach team.

The plan also accepts a $70,000 grant from United Way of Greater Los Angeles for the development of a community-wide homelessness training strategy.

Some of the Action Plan’s tools are already in use, the report said.

The Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team, Ambassadors in Tongva and Palisades Park, and homeless outreach in the Main Library.

“To continue making progress, the City is re-tooling its approach to homelessness, expanding efforts that focus on 'where' (highly impacted public spaces) to complement existing strategies focused on 'who' (Santa Monica program eligible individuals),” the report said.

Last month, the council earmarked $1.4 million and year-end new homeless outreach teams to design, as well as increase capacity for the Library to address the effects of homelessness.

The Police Department isn’t increasing its ranks to deal with the issue. But it is enhancing officer training, redeploying existing officers to high-impact areas and expanding the Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) Team.


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