CITY HALL — There were more than 400 homeless people who found permanent supportive housing and nearly 500 who landed and maintained stable jobs last year, getting off the streets of Santa Monica and taking the first steps toward achieving self sufficiency.
Those were just a couple of figures presented at the City Council meeting on Tuesday during an annual review of City Hall’s plan for homeless services, highlighting the progress made in addressing the issue but recognizing, as always, that there is more work to be done.
In fiscal 2008-09, nearly 3,000 people received case management, temporary and permanent housing, addiction recovery, mental health and other services through various homeless programs funded by City Hall. Approximately 14 percent of those individuals were placed in permanent housing, while 20 percent received emergency and transitional housing and 17 percent found jobs.
City Hall over the past several years has taken the approach of focusing on the most chronically homeless individuals who face the greatest risk. Approximately 386 people were surveyed by City Hall between January 2008 and June 2009, about 219 of which were identified as vulnerable.
Nearly 40 of those deemed to be the most vulnerable have since been permanently housed.
“Those currently still on our streets are individuals who have the most significant mental health, substance abuse and medical conditions and who present as the most challenging,” Setareh Yavari, a senior administrative analyst for homeless services, said.
Several other City Hall affiliated programs have also found success in securing housing for homeless individuals, including West Coast Care, which partners with the Santa Monica Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Program Team and helped 283 people find alternatives to living on the street last year. Project Homecoming, a transportation program, helped 266 people relocate last year at an average cost of $170. Approximately 70 percent of people remained housed for four months after reaching their destination.
But crime committed by the homeless continues. The SMPD made more than 1,700 arrests last year for individuals who listed their residences as transient, homeless or none. That figure is up from 1,598 the previous year.
The City Attorney’s Office last year filed 2,451 cases involving arrests and citations in which the subjects involved were homeless. The offenses were related to camping, abusive solicitation, shopping cart possession, taking recyclables and sleeping in doorways.
There has been continued success at the Santa Monica Homeless Community Court, which has served 155 individuals since it was founded in 2007 to give individuals a chance to clear their records of petty crimes in exchange for entering treatment programs and receiving case management.
After facing funding issues earlier this year, the program moved from City Council Chambers where it was held one half-day each month to the Airport Courthouse where it’s been in session twice a month.
“As the new court launched in July we redirected focus to support the most chronic and vulnerable people on the service registry,” Yavari said. “One of the key benefits of launching the new court at Airport Courthouse has been working with Commissioner Jane Godfrey, the judge who presides over Santa Monica Criminal Court as well as the drug court.”
Yavari said that while the program continues to show promise, it has also experienced procedural and clerical growing pains due to the demands put on an already overburdened judicial system.
“Court staff expanded their work by taking on [homeless] court two days a month,” she said. “At the same time they are furloughed one day per month.
“While staff embraced the goals of the court and certainly see its merit, they are struggling with inadequate resources.”
She added that the future of the court is dependent on identification of a stable funding source. The court is funded by a one-time grant of $540,000 that will end on June 30, 2010.
Councilman Bob Holbrook said officials need to look at homelessness as a federal problem.
“I don’t know how Southern California cities and regions can bail out this horrible social problem that we get from all across the country coming to us,” Holbrook said.
He added that there are cities in L.A. County that want to help address the problem but are financially strapped, making serious cuts in their budgets. Holbrook noted that Santa Monica is the third wealthiest city in the county.
“I think we need an infusion of money from the federal level,” he said. “If they really want us to help this problem, we are going to need help from all the cities and we are going to need money we don’t have.
“Santa Monica has done its fair share and more because we have been able to afford it but we are looking at reducing our budget, too.”
Update from Veterans Affairs
Ralph Tillman of the West L.A. VA said that administrators are currently in negotiations with New York-based Common Ground and McCormack Baron Salazar, a national developer of mixed-income urban neighborhoods, to transform Building 209 on the VA campus and operate therapeutic, supportive homeless housing services.
The VA received a business development plan earlier this month and will have to evaluate it within 30 days. Providing that the review is favorable, the VA will then have 30 days to negotiate and award an enhanced sharing agreement for the project.
Tillman said the plan is to see if the VA can reach a successful conclusion with Common Ground and the developer on Building 209 before moving forward on Building 205 and 208, which were also designated to house homeless veterans.
Councilman Bobby Shriver, who has been advocating for the buildings to be transformed for homeless veterans for years, said that he finds it outrageous that there are no veterans sleeping in the beds at the three buildings.
“Those buildings can certainly be filled by people who are severely mentally ill, have PTSD from the current wars and are coming home on a regular basis,” he said. “This needs to be expedited.”