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Santa Monica Spends Some $5 Million a Year in Homeless Outreach, Report Says  

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By Jorge Casuso

January 20, 2022 -- The City of Santa Monica is currently spending nearly $5 million a year to directly connect with the homeless individuals who live on the streets, according to a report City officials released this month.

The current budget for the fiscal year ending on June 30 allocates $4,839,489 to fund three street teams, a Police Department liaison team, a Fire Department response unit and a "therapeutic transport van."

They are part of an intensifying effort to convince homeless individuals -- who numbered 907 in the latest count conducted two years ago -- to accept shelter and help.

The report requested by the City Council does not provide data showing the outcome of the outreach efforts, which are only part of the City's multi-million-dollar strategy to tackle homelessness.

"The City currently does not have a methodology for tracking all expenditures related to homelessness," the report from the City Manager's office said.

"While there are some defined costs related to addressing homelessness within the Community Services Department and the Santa Monica Police Department, these costs do not represent the whole of the City’s investment of staff or resources.

"There are also indirect costs incurred by the impacts of homelessness, such as impacts on park and facility maintenance, public transit, and first responders," according to the report.

Released on January 6, the report outlines the City's efforts to reach a transient population that is mostly concentrated in the Downtown area and the beach.

The strategy includes deploying the following resources:

  • Two teams from The People Concern deployed to Downtown and the beach composed of a project director, program manager, two clinical case managers, a substance use specialist and four case managers, all full-time. The annual cost is $800,000.

  • One "multidisciplinary street team" from The People Concern, all full-time, composed of a project director, program manager, clinical case manager, substance use specialist and case manager. It also includes a physician, psychiatrist and a peer "with lived homeless experience." The total cost is $600,000.

  • The Police Department's Homeless Liaison Program (HLP Team) composed of eight officers, one sergeant and one mental health clinician at a total cost of $2.24 million. The cost does not include two LA County clinicians costing $200,000 provided free to City.

  • The Fire Department's Community Response Unit (CRU) composed of one emergency medical technician and one paramedic. The total cost is $589,489, including vehicle and equipment.

  • An LA County Department of Mental health Therapeutic Transport Van with one peer support specialist, one licensed psychiatric technician and one clinical driver. The cost to the City is $400,000 a year; the amount of funding from other sources is not available, and

  • One outreach team from West Coast Care with a budget of $210,000 a year.

The nearly $5 million cost does not include the outreach conducted by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.'s 18 hospitality ambassadors, 14 parks ambassadors and five quality of life ambassadors, whose work is "primarily proactive."

The large, and costly, deployment effort is aimed at a homeless population that numbered 907, according to a count conducted by some 300 volunteers on the night of January 22, 2020.

Of those counted, 601 -- or two-thirds -- were living on the streets, in tents and in vehicles, while 306 were in shelters, hospitals, motels and jail ("Santa Monica's Homeless Population Sees 8 Percent Drop," June 12, 2020).

Councilmember Phil Brock, who called for the report, believes Santa Monica's homeless population is bigger than the numbers indicate and that the City must do a better job of reaching individuals living on the streets.

"I'm not satisfied with what we're doing," Brock said. "We're spending millions of dollars, and we're not seeing the results.

"We've been doing this over and over for so many years" and not looking at alternatives, he said.

Brock noted that many homeless individuals are addicted to Fentanyl and Methamphetamine. (County surveys indicate that 75 percent of homeless individuals have "substance abuse conditions," according to the report.)

"By leaving them on the street, we're enabling their habit," Brock said.

According to the report, the City plans to "quantify the scope" of its expenditures on homeless services after its Audit Subcommittee last November recommended a study be conducted.

Funding for the audit of homelessness programs and costs will be included in mid-year budget requests the Council will consider February 8.

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