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Santa Monica Homeless Count Shows Slight Increase

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

March 21, 2019 -- The total number of homeless persons living in Santa Monica increased from 957 in 2018 to 985 this year, but significantly fewer "unsheltered" persons were living Downtown, according to the the results of the 2019 homeless count released by the City Thursday.

The homeless population counted in the census conducted by some 300 volunteers on the night of January 23 showed a total increase of 3 percent, which City officials say was statistically "within the margin of error" since it is "subject to variation by daily weather conditions and other day-to-day fluctuations."

Still, it is the highest number of homeless individuals counted in the beach city since 2007, when 999 persons were counted ("Santa Monica’s Homeless Population Dips Despite Hard Times," February 24, 2009).

It also marks the third straight year the homeless population increases after years of stagnant or declining numbers, although the numbers seem to have stabilized over the past two years.

The latest numbers, staff said, "confirm that the City has made great strides in addressing homelessness in key geographic areas through its targeted interventions, while the overall number of people experiencing homelessness is holding steady citywide."

The latest count indicates that the number of unsheltered homeless people Downtown decreased by 19 percent.

Staff said this suggests "that the City’s investment in a geographic-focused multi-disciplinary street team and additional efforts by SMPD’s Homeless Liaison Program are making an impact."

The census divides the homeless population into those who are sheltered and those who are unsheltered.

According to the count, the total number of homeless people living on the streets increased by 1 percent from 646 last year to 654, "mainly due to an increase in vehicle homelessness," staff said.

Meanwhile, the number of homeless people staying in shelters, hospitals, motels and jail rose from 311 to 331, or 6 percent.

That was due to an increase in the number of people in local hospitals, which more than tripled from 8 to 27, "possibly resulting from the implementation of a new state law (SB1152) that requires stricter discharge planning," staff said.

At a briefing Thursday morning in the City Manager's office, public safety officials said they are seeing an increase in crime among the city's homeless population.

There has been an increase in aggravated assaults in Santa Monica due to "homeless on homeless assaults," said Police Captain Derek Jacobs.

There also has been an increase in "drug use and drug possession" which "leads to theft," Jacobs said.

In addition, the Police Department has expanded its HELP Team, which interacts with the homeless population, to operate seven days a week.

The Fire Department also is increasing its efforts to address the homeless issue, said Fire Department Captain Matt Norris.

Fire personnel responding to residences are trying to identify those at risk of becoming homeless and connecting them to services.

"We try to intervene before someone becomes homeless," Norris said.

Individuals who are homeless account for between 20 and 25 percent of all calls for paramedics, Norris said.

Regionally, 30 percent of homeless persons self-report living with mental illness, another 25 percent self-report addiction disorders and 10 percent self-report co-occurring disorders, staff said.

"When untreated, these diseases lead to anti-social behaviors that negatively impact quality of life for the person and raise public health and safety concerns in the greater community," staff said.

"Locally, untreated mental illness and increased methamphetamine usage create the greatest challenge to the successful implementation of our homelessness strategies.

"The City has responded through coordination and professionalization of local outreach efforts," staff wrote in its report to the City Council for it meeting Tuesday.

Staff said the City has hired an addiction specialist to address the problem.

"While we are committed to reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica, we cannot end homelessness within our City borders alone," staff said.

"The City must continue its role as a regional leader and seek a collaborative and innovative approach to finding short and long-term solutions," staff said.

"Much has been accomplished, yet the latest numbers indicate that community public health, wellbeing and safety concerns remain unresolved."

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