City Hall wants to tackle the city’s homeless problem and while a specific plan has yet to be unveiled, the recent Downtown Santa Monica Inc. meeting provided an opportunity for civic leaders to preview their thinking.
Mayor Ted Winterer and City Manager Rick Cole both spoke at the annual meeting and both issued strong statements regarding the state of homelessness in Santa Monica.
After briefly addressing topics like transportation, tenant protections, climate change, immigration and fiscal responsibility, Winterer issued a call to action on homelessness.
“There nothing more heartbreaking than women, men and families living on the streets of our city, many of who are suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues,” he said.
He said the ultimate goal is easy to identify but economic factors make it difficult to achieve.
“We know permanent housing and jobs are the long-term solutions but our region is in the midst of a housing shortage making ideal solutions a real challenge,” he said.
Winterer said the recent increase in homelessness across the region amounts to a crisis with a 26 percent increase in Santa Monica and a 23 percent increase across the county.
“The homeless epidemic we’re experiencing in LA County is something we can’t solve in City Hall on our own,” he said. “I speak on behalf of my colleagues on the City Council when I share that we are committed to doing everything we can to connect our most vulnerable to services. We’re deeply committed to intensify our efforts with both the public sector and our private sector partners in the region and yet this isn’t enough.”
The Mayor issued a challenge to the attendees to help contribute ideas for local solutions and resources to implement them.
“If we want to make a dent, then let’s tackle this together and let’s do this now,” he said. “So I challenge you. Be informed, get involved and volunteer with and donate to our nonprofit partners who help so much with this generational challenge.”
Winter was followed by Cole who addressed economic vitality Downtown and also talked about the City’s planning efforts in the area but become significantly more animated when he came to the subject of homelessness throughout the city.
“We will not accept that it’s ok for people to be without homes, without jobs, without care and without hope,” he said. “We’re not going to accept that people are going to live on our streets without accountability for their behavior. We will not surrender our streets and public spaces to misery and public behavior.”
Cole described his commitment to finding a solution as “deadly serious.”
“We’re not going to send people away but we can’t allow them to wander our streets dragging everything they own with no place to sleep, no work to do, no care for what ails them and no accountability for their actions,” he said. “It’s not morally sustainable, it’s not economically sustainable, it’s not politically sustainable to allow it to continue.”
Like Mayor Winterer, Cole said the solutions will be developed as a partnership with businesses, civic agencies, nonprofits, faith groups and citizens. He said there will be more information about the City’s efforts soon but the focus will be on “relentless engagement” to make sure that nobody that needs help goes without help, nobody that wants a job goes without a job and that no one in need of mental health care wanders the streets screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs.
Cole’s remarks were part of a theme that encouraged attendees to build on the positives aspects of Downtown Santa Monica and included a warning that complacency was the enemy.
“Never take success for granted,” he said.