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The number of homeless people sleeping on the streets in Santa Monica or in nearby shelters has remained consistent, according to figures released by City Hall Monday. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Santa Monica’s homeless population remained steady from its 2010 level, City Hall’s division of human services announced Monday when it presented the results from this year’s homeless count.

On Jan. 28, volunteers and police officers tallied 740 homeless in the annual Homeless Count.

That’s down slightly from 2010’s count of 742.

The results are encouraging, said Natasha Guest, an administrative analyst for City Hall’s homelessness team.

“We’re actually quite pleased to be able to maintain the reduction of the past year,” Guest said, referencing a 19 percent drop in the homeless figure from the 2009 count.

“It was much colder last year, and very warm during the day of our count,” Guest continued. “We’re happy the numbers were not higher than they were, thinking that last year it was more likely that people accessed winter shelters.”

The numbers could have increased both because the weather was more accommodating and because many people hit hardest by the recession could be running out of resources to tap, forcing them onto the street, Guest said.

Cities take part in the count in order to secure funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The numbers include homeless that were found on the street between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m. on the day of the count, as well as those in shelters and those that live in cars or tents.

This year, volunteers found 263 people on the street, 426 in shelters and 51 living in cars or encampments.

No families were found to be residing on the street, although nearly a quarter of the sheltered population were identified as being members of families.

John Maceri, executive director of the Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC), wasn’t surprised by the results, which he credit to programs targeting critical populations on the street.

“I actually think it points to intensive efforts made over the last several years with chronically homeless individuals,” he said. “It’s the result of real focus, in spite of the economy and economic difficulty, and the efforts look like they’re holding the line, which is a good thing.”

Those efforts include the Community Court, the Service Registry and Project Homecoming. All three target chronically homeless populations in distinct ways.

The Community Court, a collaboration between the City of Santa Monica, Los Angeles Superior Court, the Public Defenders Office and homeless service providers, allows service providers to help craft a comprehensive treatment plan for their homeless clients that get caught in the court system.

The program now serves a smaller number of clients for a longer period of time than when it began in 2007, Guest said, indicating that it’s reaching harder cases, such as those with mental health issues or reoccurring disorders.

Almost 50 people got off the street with help from the Service Registry, which aims to prioritize the delivery of housing vouchers to those most in need.

Finally, Project Homecoming connects homeless with any family they may have that can provide them with housing or help. That program served just under 300 people this year, Guest said.

The emphasis on programs that permanently end homelessness demonstrates a shift in paradigm that is bringing results, said Mayor Richard Bloom.

In the past, City Hall focused on providing services across the board to anyone who was homeless, Bloom said. The new approach represents a more targeted strategy.

“Staying the course right now is really important,” Bloom said. “We’re making sure we’re doing everything we can to house the most vulnerable and connect them to services as soon as they arrive. Those are the most important things we do.”

ashley@smdp.com

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