CITY HALL — The number of homeless people living on the streets or in shelters in Santa Monica is down 19 percent from a year ago, City Hall’s division of human services announced Monday.
In revealing the results of Santa Monica’s annual homeless count, which took place in January, officials attributed the lower tally to several factors, including better coordination of services, new housing subsidies and rental assistance programs.
Programs like the Homeless Community Court, which aims to get chronically homeless individuals out of the criminal justice system and into treatment, and Project Homecoming, which seeks to connect homeless people with their families and friends, also helped reduce the homeless population, officials said.
The count took place Jan. 29, with 160 volunteers helping span each block of the city between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m. to count every homeless individual. Homeless people in jail or living in shelters also were counted.
Of 742 homeless people counted, 264 were on the street, 423 were in shelters or other institutions and 55 were in cars or encampments.
Last year 915 homeless people were tallied, which was 8 percent fewer than 2007.
In the latest count, 71 percent of homeless people were single individuals, while 29 percent were members of families. There were 68 percent fewer encampments identified and 59 percent fewer people living in cars compared with 2009.
Julie Rusk, the director of Santa Monica’s human services division, said the city’s homeless population continues to be mainly people who are “mentally ill, drug and alcohol addicted, or both.”
She said a centerpiece of City Hall’s strategy for reducing homelessness in recent years has been to focus on directing services to these most vulnerable people.
The latest count gives “a sense that we’re going in the right direction,” she said.
Though Santa Monica hasn’t been immune from the effects of the worst recession since the Great Depression, City Hall officials who work on homeless issues said they haven’t seen evidence of an increase in homelessness because of economic hardship.
“There are certainly a lot more people in economic distress as a result of the recession, there’s no doubt about that,” said John Maceri, executive director of homeless services provider OPCC. But he said often times those who have recently lost a job and fallen on hard times have some savings and a safety net of family and friends to prevent them from ending up on the streets.
“I think the real test of the long-term impact of the recession is what will happen with the numbers next year and the year after that,” he said.
People who have recently lost their housing, he said, can also be difficult to find.
“That’s a difficult face of homelessness,” Maceri said. “They tend to be more invisible than people who are chronically homeless.”
Santa Monica had previously counted its homeless population every other year but beginning this year has committed to tallying the number of homeless annually.
Maceri said the annual count is an important tool for gauging the effectiveness of programs, but would be more useful if surrounding communities followed suit.
“What we don’t have is an accurate handle on what’s going on in the region,” he said.