By Kate Cagle
City leaders will be carefully watching the numbers from 2017’s upcoming homeless count to see how the new Expo Line is changing Santa Monica’s homeless landscape.
The past few years, the City has been able to reduce the number of people living on the streets while the homeless population in Los Angeles County increased. The City has added beds, reuniting homeless people with their families and gotten them into mental health and rehab facilities.
But with the Expo Line bringing thousands of people into Santa Monica every day, both police and fire departments report an uptick in calls concerning the homeless.
“There’s new people every day,” said Sergeant Jeff Glaser with Santa Monica Police Department’s homeless unit. “People come to Union Station from all over the country and then they come to Santa Monica. A lot of the time they’ve heard about the homeless services we provide. We’re a victim of our own success sometimes.
Sergeant Glaser says officers have made an effort to connect people from out of town with homeless services where they are from.
“We cant’ take care of everyone. I wish we could but we can’t”
Sgt. Glaser will be one of the 250 volunteers who fan out across the city Wednesday, January 25th at 10:30 p.m. to count the homeless sleeping on streets and on the shore.
The 2016 numbers after the annual count found homelessness in Santa Monica was down 20 percent since 2009. No children or families were found unsheltered. Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer hopes to see the trend continue.
“Our numbers have actually gone down the last few years, but we’ll have to see,” Winterer said. “It does seem anecdotally that there has been an uptick. We have to get a handle on what’s going on. The best way to do that is through metrics.”
The City is now dealing with the challenges of helping an increasingly mobile homeless population. Last year, half of the homeless people surveyed said they came from elsewhere in Los Angeles. Nearly 30 percent came from out of state.
Mayor Winterer says the numbers show homelessness is clearly a regional issue. Neighboring Los Angeles has the largest number of chronically homeless people in the United States. A November report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found nearly 13,000 people living on the streets or in their cars in Los Angeles.
“Santa Monica has really done a good job with various services,” Winterer said. “We need to get our neighboring agencies on board with similar services.”
More help is on the way. In November, Los Angeles voters approved Proposition HHH, allowing the City to borrow up to $1.2 billion over ten years for affordable housing. In March, Los Angeles County voters will decide whether to pass a quarter-cent sales tax to fund homeless programs. Experts predict the tax will raise an additional $355 million a year.
Organizers say they have about half the volunteers they need for this year’s homeless tally. Interested volunteers have until Wednesday, Jan. 18 to sign up.
It typically takes a few hours to complete the overnight count, with some counters working until 3 a.m. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and able to walk up to 2.5 miles unassisted. Parents may bring children ages 16 to 17 to participate on their team but no one younger.
For more information about the count, visit www.smgov.net/Portals/Homelessness.