By Olin Ericksen
Last in a series
May 14 -- Like Judy Warren staring through the doorway
of her first apartment in seven years, and, ultimately, into
her future, City officials are also confronting what happens
next for Santa Monica’s Chronic Homeless Program nearly
three years after its launch.
The largely Federally funded, million-dollar-plus program
is proving a success, placing roughly half of 110 of the hardest
to reach "chronically homeless" into housing, officials
and Council members agree.
Doing so not only saves a life, it also could save taxpayers
and institutions millions through fewer hospital visits and
emergency responses by police and paramedics, they agree.
"It's a small scale program that demonstrates you can
effectively place the most chronic of our homeless population,"
said Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom. "I'm in favor
of dramatically expanding the program, as well as housing
throughout the region."
Yet policy makers agree the pilot program in Santa Monica
-- where 2,800 homeless are estimated to live in shelters
and on the streets -- can only expand if changes are instituted
across the County, which has the nation’s largest homeless
population, numbering 85,000.
"The council has to keep monitoring the programs to
make sure they are working," said Council member Bobby
Shriver, who has been a driving force behind the City’s
homeless policies. "We may not be seeing results on our
streets, because some people are relocating here from Skid
Row, which again points to the regional nature of the problem."
In an interview with The Lookout last week, Shriver called
for "stronger political will in cities across LA County
to end homelessness.
"It is being done in New York, San Francisco, San Diego,
and many other cities," he said of the Chronic Housing
Program. "But it will only happen here when LA area voters
demand work -- not just words -- from their city, county,
state and federal representatives.”
In addition to backing a call by State Senator Gil Cedillo
for fair-share housing and services laws for homeless people,
Shriver suggested he may also support making the City of Los
Angeles its own county.
"Until regional cooperation for real solutions to these
problems becomes an important issue with the voters, elected
officials will not make it a priority," Shriver said.
Until that day comes, at least one council member questioned
whether Santa Monica’s Chronic Homeless Program will
reduce the number of homeless, or chronically homeless, on
Santa Monica streets.
"The thing about helping the chronic homeless that is
great is because so many of them have been out there for so
long, and it's just sad. It's no way to live," said Council
member Bob Holbrook.
"I think (the program is) doing really well,”
Holbrook said, “but I feel if we keep giving services
today the way we are, and nothing changes on the regional
level, then it will just keep going and going and going."
Amy Turk, Project Director for OPCC's communal living Day
Break program, who everyday grapples with helping the homeless,
agreed that no significant dent in Santa Monica's homeless
population will be made without regional changes.
"Until we create more affordable housing units for people
living at or below the poverty level, combined with appropriate
supportive services, we will continue to have homeless people
who need help from service providers," she said.
"If we fill the unmet need," she said, "the
services will stop."
In the meantime, the next step for the City will be refocusing
the program by targeting certain geographic areas, such as
the Third Street Promenade, where some of the homeless who
have been on the streets the longest are having a visible
impact on area businesses.
Five days a week, between 7 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., outreach
teams of between six and eight workers are fanning out across
the popular retail strip looking for specific individuals
to approach for services.
"We want to be sensitive to the business community,
and we are asking them and the community at large who they
want us to focus on," said Dorothy Berndt, who coordinates
the City’s Chronic Homeless Subcommittee.
"Sometimes they'll see the same person, day after day,
at the same spot impacting perhaps ten different businesses,"
In addition to greater outreach, City officials intend to
outline future funding proposals for homeless programs by
When they do, council members will have heard about some
of those whose lives have been turned around by the Chronic
Homeless Program, people such as Judy Warren.
After seven years of doing drugs and living on the streets,
Warren sat clear-headed in her Santa Monica apartment, in
her well-kept living room, speaking as she eyed a picture
of her niece, who reminds her of her own daughter.
"A lot of people don't know I have a daughter,"
she said quietly. "When I had her, I was into drugs,
and I couldn't really care for her and I was diagnosed bi-polar….
She was adopted, but I don't know where she is today."
While she has lost and given up much in life, Warren said
she still considers herself lucky to have been free of drugs
and alcohol for more than a year and seemingly on her way
to resuming her dreams, including receiving the undergraduate
degree in communications she was one year shy of finishing.
When her family visits from New Orleans, it will be the first
time in seven years she has seen them.
To this, she credits Santa Monica's Chronic Homeless Program.
"I'm paying rent and gas, and living my life like a
normal person," Warren said.
While celebrating her success, City officials acknowledge
that Warren may be the exception, rather than the rule.