A homeless man rests on the Third Street Promenade in this photo from 2008. City staff said Tuesday that the number of homeless people in Santa Monica is down, but the need for services is still great. (photo by Alexis Hawkins)

CITYWIDE — Homeless service providers are dealing with stagnant resources in the face of continued need with additional challenges on the horizon.

That was the message given to City Council members Tuesday night by Human Services Administrator Setareh Yavari in the annual review of the Santa Monica Homeless Plan.

The team of service providers and city staff that spearhead homeless outreach have seen signs of success in recent years, starting with a 19 percent decline in homeless seen between the 2009 and 2011 homeless counts.

Those successes were also reflected in a community survey released in April that demonstrated that homelessness had dropped behind the economy and traffic congestion as a “top of mind” concern for Santa Monica residents.

Still, Yavari told council members, the need for the services offered by city programs and private providers remains in high demand.

According to counts, there are approximately 7,551 homeless on the streets of Santa Monica. Of those, 1,200 fall into the “priority population” category, meaning they are either Santa Monica residents who fell into homelessness, or they have lived on Santa Monica streets for several years.

That population gets the most intensive services provided by City Hall.

Eighty percent of the homeless come from outside city limits, Yavari reported.

Approximately 36 percent come from Los Angeles and the remaining 44 percent are either from elsewhere in the county or from another state.

“Homelessness is a regional issue, and these efforts have to extend outside of our city’s borders,” Yavari said.

That “regional issue” puts a significant strain on municipal coffers because most homeless do not have access to normal medical care, and rely on expensive emergency services for their needs.

One chronically homeless man, referred to as “Daniel,” cost Santa Monica roughly $50,000 for the 17 times the Santa Monica Fire Department deployed to assist him when he was found drunk on the streets.

Since, “Daniel” has gone through several months of rehabilitation and is now permanently housed and thriving, Yavari said.

Keeping chronically homeless like “Daniel” off the streets can save service providers around $27,504 each year by ensuring consistent access rather than providing help in a piecemeal way, according to a 2009 report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

The resources needed to help these individuals is sorely lacking.

Santa Monica and its local providers bear a disproportionate amount of the burden for caring for the homeless, but don’t have enough money to get the work done.

City staff contemplated breaking from LAHSA, which receives and then distributes the federal money and other support throughout the 85 cities in its “continuum of care,” over this issue earlier in the year.

That tension has dissipated, but the underlying problem has not — too many needs chasing too few dollars.

Advocacy at the federal level is necessary but it’s a “long, slow, frustrating process,” Yavari said.

That spoke to council members, particularly Bobby Shriver, who have spent the last seven years trying to get the Veteran’s Administration to rehabilitate a building for therapeutic housing on its West Los Angeles campus.

Los Angeles is the veteran’s “homeless capital” of the nation, according to homeless advocate New Directions, which is based at the West L.A. VA campus. Veterans comprise 31 percent of the county’s “chronically homeless” population, according to LAHSA.

Advocates succeeded in pressuring Congress to release $20 million to pay for the rehabilitation of one of three buildings on the campus, referred to as building 209, but the effort “falls far short” of the VA’s commitment, Yavari said.

Pressures on service providers for homeless veterans will only increase in coming years as over 100,000 male and female soldiers return from the warfront in Iraq, advocates said.

Service providers are gearing up for the challenge, but with little idea of when it will emerge or how severe it will be.

“I don’t expect that on Jan. 1, we’ll see 100,000 more people on the streets,” said John Maceri, executive director of OPCC, Wednesday. “The challenge is going forward, how quickly will those folks be able to reintegrate, find jobs and get back to their lives.”

Many returning soldiers manifest symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their return, which can cause them to cycle into homelessness, Maceri said.

Another potential problem, and even more difficult to predict, will be the impact of the state’s “realignment” program on the Los Angeles region’s homeless population.

Through the realignment program, state prisoners are being bumped to the county jail system, which in turn is filling up local jails. Some offenders will end up on the streets before their sentences are served, and how that will impact local communities is entirely unknown.

Unlike the situation with the veterans, it’s impossible for organizations to be proactive on realignment, Maceri said.

“They’re like apples and oranges,” he said.

Santa Monica’s action plan concentrates on the “Housing First” model, which means getting clients into housing before applying conditions like sobriety.

The struggle, according to the staff report, will be finding the resources to not only help the current population, but enroll new clients each year, and the failure to do so is costly.

“Without new resources, agencies will soon reach their capacity to serve clients, which will either lead to no new clients being housed, or divert services away from those in permanent housing,” the staff report reads. “Both of these scenarios could deter or turn back local progress in reducing street homelessness in Santa Monica.”


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