More people are living on the streets in Santa Monica than at any time since the City started conducting a yearly count of the homeless in 2009, according to new statistics from the 2017 Homeless Count.
The annual count found 581 people sleeping on the street or on the beach in January, up 39% from 416 the previous year. The number of people living in shelters and institutions rose 9 percent year over year, from 312 to 340 in 2017. The total number of homeless in Santa Monica was 912 when hundreds of volunteers combed the 8-square-mile city on Jan 25.
Local leaders were dismayed, but not surprised by the numbers.
“I think that we knew, all of our guts said the numbers were going to increase,” Margaret Willis, Senior Administrative Analyst for the City’s Human Services Division said, noting that non-profit and public agencies that deal with the homeless population had noticed the increased demand for services.
“We have a real housing crisis,” said John Maceri, Executive Director of OPCC and Lamp Community. “It’s been true for a long time and in a lot of ways these numbers reflect the perfect storm – the convergence of a lot of things that (have) come home to roost.”
The spike comes nearly two years after the City Council made addressing homelessness one of the City’s top five strategic priorities. Voters have made it a priority as well, passing a slew of local and county measures in the past few months to fund housing and services, including Measure GSH (housing). Measure H (programs and services) and HHH (housing and facilities).
“There’s reason to be hopeful but it’s going to take a minute,” Maceri said, who runs the largest social services non-profit on the Westside. “You don’t just replace housing stock overnight. If you build from the ground up, a project takes about 5 years.”
Maceri says the housing crisis and the homeless crisis are intrinsically linked. In 2016, Los Angeles’s population grew by more than 42,000 people to surpass 4 million residents. Maceri says newcomers add pressure to an already squeezed housing supply.
Los Angeles County has not yet released its numbers from the overall count. Stakeholders are waiting to see how Santa Monica’s population fits into the overall regional trend. Nearly half of the homeless surveyed in the city said they were from elsewhere in the County and over 30 percent traveled here from out of state.
Despite the oncoming influx of funding from the voter approved measures, both Willis and Maceri warned the problem might get worse before it improves. The County has not yet determined how funds from Measure H will be distributed. Depending on decisions at the Federal level, the sales tax measure funds may have to stretch further than initially anticipated.
“There talk that if the Federal Government makes drastic cuts to some of our mainstream programs that Measure H may be used to backfill gaps rather than expand services,” Willis said. “So I think there are some real unknowns about what the impact of Measure H will be.”
More stats from the 2017 homeless count survey:
Where they live: 53% of homeless people found were living downtown or near the beach
How they got here: 54% came to Santa Monica by bus
Why they came: 23% said they were looking for work, 19% said they came to Santa Monica for the weather and the beach, 16% were looking for homeless services