DOWNTOWN — OPCC, a leading provider of homeless services in Santa Monica and the Westside, will be able to help 25 more chronically homeless individuals thanks to an increase in funding from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The board voted Tuesday to spend $335,000 to expand OPCC’s chronic homeless pilot program, which over the last two years has targeted and assisted 70 people living on the streets of Santa Monica and neighboring communities. Of those, 54 have found permanent housing and are receiving supportive services such as mental health and drug/alcohol counseling, said OPCC Director John Maceri.

With the funding, Maceri said OPCC will be able to assist 25 more individuals who have been identified by City Hall as being the most vulnerable. These are individuals who have been living on the streets the longest and have complex medical conditions that result in the high utilization of costly hospital emergency rooms, acute inpatient units and other services.

Maceri said those who have been helped are now living in apartments in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and are receiving “wrap-around” services. Finding housing for the remainder of those in the program has been difficult, Maceri said, but with more funding, OPCC can continue working with them to find a solution.

“This is exciting,” Maceri said. “It’s better for these individuals to be in stable housing with services rather than continuing to utilize expensive jail and hospital or paramedic services. … These are people who have been on the streets the longest and are most likely to die without intervention.”

The county’s homeless population is estimated to be 48,000, and a recent study by United Way of Los Angeles’ Business Leaders Task Force found that it was 40 percent cheaper to house the homeless, rather than to leave them on the streets, where they often become ill, unstable and get arrested or abused.

The housing-first model used by OPCC and other agencies has garnered support from city and county officials who believe it is more cost effective and produces better results. In 2008, city officials embarked on a project to identify the city’s most vulnerable and have since focused their efforts on housing these individuals. A year later, city officials said more than half of the 131 homeless individuals identified in 2008 as being the most vulnerable were taken off the streets and placed in either temporary or permanent housing.

Maceri praised Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky for his leadership on the homeless issue. Funding for the chronic homeless program comes from Yaroslavsky’s Third District office as well as the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The funding is intended to cover expenses for two years.

“Permanent supportive housing is the state of the art as far as ending homelessness in this country,” the supervisor said. “As I like to say, to end homelessness you have to give people a home.”

An additional $250,000 will be used to expand the services offered under a similar program in Hollywood, targeting 40 people on the Hollywood Homeless Service Register.

Those 40 will be housed in a 24-unit motel and eight-unit apartment building, both near Sunset Boulevard and Formosa Avenue. The board offered another $400,000 to help renovate the properties purchased by Santa Monica-based Step Up on Second, which focuses on helping homeless individuals struggling with mental illness. Some of the funding Step Up received will also be used to pay for an outreach team to make contact with those on the streets.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this without this funding,” said Tod Lipka, president and CEO of Step Up. “We are indebted to the county and Supervisor Yaroslavsky. He’s really done a great job in leading in this area.”

The board also unanimously approved Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s proposal to declare Jan. 25-27 Homeless Count Week 2011 and encourage county employees to assist as volunteers in the federally-mandated biannual street census.

Santa Monica’s City Hall will conduct its own homeless count on Jan. 26. City Hall is looking for volunteers. Over 200 are needed. Those interested in helping with the count can learn more by contacting Dina Aubrey at (310) 458-8701 or dina.aubrey@smgov.net.

According to City Hall, the number of homeless individuals in Santa Monica dropped by 25 percent from 2007 to 2010. That conclusion was based on the results of the 2010 homeless count.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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