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Annual Homeless Count to Begin Soon

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 23, 2014--Santa Monica officials are gearing up again for the annual count of the city’s homeless population, looking for at least 250 volunteers to search every block of the city during the wee hours of Jan. 28.

Equipped with flashlights, clipboards, pencils and a map – and sometimes with a police escort – teams of three to four volunteers will be deployed to 70 different zones to walk the streets, search bushes, encampments and other locations as part of the tally.

“It’s a lot of hard work but it’s also fun,” said,” said Margaret Willis, human services administrator for the city. “It’s a good way for people to see what it’s like out there. It’s a great way to get involved in the community.”

Registration forms are available at

The count starts Jan. 28 at 10:30 p.m. and run until about 2:30 a.m. The staging area is at the St. Monica Catholic Church Grand Pavilion, 725 California Ave., Santa Monica. The event begins with a brief training session, Willis said.

Volunteers hit the streets at about midnight, either by foot or in vehicles. Police escort volunteers when their counts involve such places as parks or the Santa Monica Pier. Police officers count the homeless population at freeway embankments.

Santa Monica Councilmember Sue Himmelrich had high praise for the program, which she participated in this year,  and will help with again this coming year.

“I think it’s one those things in your community that you can do that is meaningful for everybody, and it makes a difference,” Himmelrich said.

Willis said last year’s count drew about 250 volunteers – a record they hope to match this year.  A mix of elected officials, city and county commissioners, those involved in homeless or related services and college students tend to end up as volunteers, as was the case this year.

According to the count at the beginning of 2014, total homelessness in Santa Monica dropped five percent from the previous year, or from 780 in 2013 to 742 now. That included a street count of 346, a decrease from 380, 9 percent, the previous year; and 57 homeless sleeping in vehicles and encampments, compared to 64 the previous year, or an 11 percent drop.

Those living in institutions and shelters totaled 396, down by four from 2013, the count determined.

Officials said the tallies are used to help the city advocate for federal and other monies to provide services for the homeless population.

This year’s count coincides with down throughout all of Los Angeles County every two years, required by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.
The countywide count, however, includes only selected census tracts.

“Santa Monica takes it a step further,” Willis said, both counting every year and every census tract in the city.

Santa Monica’s efforts to find permanent housing for those living on the street is, in fact,  paying off, according to a recent report, although the report noted that more progress is needed to reach the goals of the city’s 2008 “Action Plan to Address Homelessness.”

Santa Monica defines individuals included in the report sa those who have been homeless in the city for five or more years, are excessive users of public safety services, whose last permanent address was Santa Monica or those who are vulnerable members of the city’s local workforce.
Preliminary numbers show 124 Santa Monica individuals from the streets into permanent housing in the past year and a half, including 32 of the most vulnerable individuals from the City’s Service Registry, the report found.

In addition, 147 individuals were housed through Project Homecoming, a city program that reunites individuals with family and friends who provide permanent housing and support.

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