A homeless lady sleeps in front of the Senior Center at Palisades Park on Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CIVIC CENTER — During a recession that has seen people losing jobs and homes comes some interesting news that the local homeless population is actually shrinking.

That was the outcome of the 2009 Santa Monica Homeless Count in which more than 250 volunteers last month spent one long night physically tallying individuals living on the streets, finding an 8 percent drop in the final figure from the 2007 survey.

The results were announced during a community meeting at the Civic Center on Monday just a few weeks after the citywide census was conducted to determine the efficacy of City Hall’s year-old Action Plan to Address Homelessness, which seeks to tackle the issue by engaging the Santa Monica’s most vulnerable in the many services that are available to them.

“This is an important event in the evolution of our program to help people in our community,” Mayor Ken Genser said.

Officials attributed the decline to the success of the action plan.

“We are pleased, but not surprised, to see a decline in street homelessness,” Julie Rusk, the Human Services Manager, said. “The city has been working hard for a long time to develop a compassionate and effective plan to address the issues of homelessness in our community.”

Using a more aggressive methodology in which all 19 census tracts were covered and no multipliers were factored in to estimate the number of people living in vehicles, tents and boxes, which was a formula used in the previous survey, the 2009 Homeless Count showed 915 total homeless individuals on the evening of Jan. 27. The figure includes 435 individuals in shelters and other institutions and 480 who were found on the streets.

The census involved a different approach from the count two years ago when only 12 census tracts were counted and projections were made for the remaining seven, leading officials to say they have high confidence in the figures this time around.

City officials concluded that the homeless population dropped by 8 percent over the past two years assuming the two censuses applied the same methodology. Doing so would show a lower final figure for the 2007 census from 1,506 — which is inflated due to the use of multipliers — to an estimate of 999.

“We don’t think we missed many people.” said Danielle Noble, the senior administrative analyst for homeless services.

The count was conducted in conjunction with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) during its own countywide count, which took three days to complete.

In Santa Monica, the volunteers split into 70 teams covering 226 linear miles for several hours in the late evening and early morning hours.

The volunteers included Bryan Adams, a Santa Monica resident who long wanted to fulfill his desire to help out more in the community.

Adams, who has a relative on the East Coast who has at times been homeless in the past, said he has seen first hand how it can affect families.

He was up until 2 a.m. counting individuals last month.

“I’m proud to see the city I live in take a leadership role in homelessness and a humane one at that,” he said.

Some volunteers were formerly homeless themselves, such as Renee Buchanan, who sought services at OPCC seven years ago.

She considers herself one of the lucky few who never had to spend a single night on the streets.

Buchanan said she participated in the count to honor OPCC and all the people who were not as fortunate.

“Because they don’t have a place to call home,” she said.

The count is just one part of a continuing effort by LAHSA to get a better picture of the homeless population in the county. Officials plan to follow up by holding 20-minute in depth interviews with homeless individuals to find out how they ended up on the streets, where they came from and whether they have a mental illness.

Part three will involve counting homeless individuals in the various institutions countywide before concluding with a general population survey to find the hidden homeless who live in garages, carports and other areas unfit for habitation.

In a time when it seems the homeless population would be on the rise, the results came as good news to local officials.

“People count, not simply in a literal way … but people count in a symbolic way in that you say people matter,” Brian Buchner, the chair of the Social Services Commission, told volunteers. “Homelessness (or the risk) of becoming homeless is becoming a reality for far to many people.”


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