When it rains, more homeless people seek cover at Santa Monica shelters. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s space for them.
“It’s not like we have a bunch of empty beds waiting for winter rains,” said John Maceri, executive director of OPCC. “The need always outstrips the availability of beds.”
But where some might find a capacity problem, Maceri and other social service providers see an opportunity. In essence, it’s an extra chance to connect homeless people with a variety of social services in and around Santa Monica. Perhaps they meet with a case manager and pursue substance abuse counseling. Maybe they find out more about transitional shelter options in Los Angeles county.
“It’s more of an incentive for people to come inside,” Maceri said of wet El Niño weather. “When their clothes and socks and shoes get wet, it’s really challenging because it’s hard to dry out. … The people who come indoors have a greater opportunity to be connected to ongoing housing and services.”
Social service groups aren’t the only ones engaged in outreach to homeless people. Volunteers will comb Santa Monica the evening of Jan. 27 for the annual homeless count, which attempts to capture a snapshot of the issue and gather data to help officials plot and analyze trends.
Volunteers are still needed for the upcoming initiative, according to Brian Hardgrave, administrative analyst with the city Human Services Division. Registration can be completed online. No prior experience is necessary.
Volunteers counted 738 homeless people in Santa Monica last year, down slightly from 742 tallied in 2014. The 2015 total across the county was 44,359.
Maceri said earlier this month that he’s curious to see how winter rains impact the local homeless count.
In inclement weather, he said, his organization’s outreach teams try to be proactive in finding people where there are potential hazards.
“We don’t really have any flood zones in Santa Monica, but we still encourage them to come inside,” he said. “The opportunities are greater for people to get connected to longer-term services because they’re already indoors.”
Venice-based St. Joseph Center staffers in recent weeks have also targeted particular spaces in the area, including several homeless encampments. The nonprofit organization serves about 6,000 people each year, providing emergency assistance, vocational training and a variety of other services.
“Our hope is for us to do the outreach to save people who are out there,” executive director Va Lecia Adams Kellum said. “It’s an opportunity to meet people we haven’t met, and it’s an opportunity to translate these relationships into people staying indoors because they don’t want to be out there in the rain. This is that moment where coordination is supreme.”
An example came a couple weeks ago, when St. Joseph Center workers met a youngster at the Venice library who was seeking refuge from the storms.
Wet weather has the potential to decrease the visibility of homelessness on the Westside as people look for shelter, Adams Kellum said, but the issue persists.
“People can die on the streets during this time of year,” she said. “They’re at great risk, and El Niño is putting all of this on our minds. This is a moment for us to respond as a community and help as best we can.”