CITY HALL — Santa Monica’s homeless population remained steady between 2011 and 2012 despite the sluggish economy some service providers feel is pushing people closer to the brink of homelessness.

Over 200 volunteers combed the city on Jan. 25 tallying every homeless individual encountered on the street, in cars, RVs, tents or other forms of temporary shelter.

Homeless who had found shelter that night in temporary housing, jail or a hospital were also counted.

Volunteers found 264 homeless on the streets, 53 in cars or encampments and an additional 453 in temporary shelters for a point-in-time total of 769 individuals.

No families were found outside.

That’s a slight uptick from the 740 volunteers counted in 2011, although most of the increase was explained by a new program run by service provider Upward Bound House that housed an additional 19 individuals in a local motel.

In 2011, volunteers found 263 people on the streets, 51 in cars and encampments and 426 in shelters and institutions.

The results were encouraging considering the economic pressures on individuals and families, the closure of the Venice Boardwalk to homeless and the end of an eviction prevention program administered by City Hall, said Natasha Guest, a senior administrative analyst with the Human Services Division.

“Our street count essentially did not change,” Guest said referring to the combined total of people on the streets and in encampments or cars. “That’s one of the ways we measure the policies and work our service providers are doing. We were able to sustain and reduce the number of people staying on our streets at night.”

Homeless counts take place across the nation on the same day in odd-numbered years. That information is then compiled to get a concept of how many people in the United States are homeless.

Santa Monica officials choose to conduct the count every year to take the temperature of the various initiatives it runs or partners on with outside agencies that care for the chronically homeless, the recently homeless and those on the verge of becoming homeless.

“We think that our agencies have done a great job holding the line on reductions that we’ve experienced in the last few years,” Guest said.

In fact, Santa Monica beat the reductions seen in Los Angeles County and in the United States between 2009 and 2011 by a large margin.

According to statistics released by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nonprofit that analyzes homeless counts, the national homeless population dropped 1 percent from 643,067 in 2009 to 636,017 between 2009 and 2011.

Los Angeles County fared better with a 3 percent drop, but didn’t come close to the 19 percent cut Santa Monica achieved.

Nearly all of that came between 2009 and 2010. In 2011, the homeless count dropped only two individuals from 742 to 740.

Under the circumstances, flat is good, said Tod Lipka, president and CEO of Step Up on Second, an organization that works with mentally disabled homeless.

“Essentially, the city of Santa Monica, despite the economy and homelessness that is pervasive, has held on and in a lot of ways I see that as progress,” Lipka said.

He attributes some of the success to ongoing efforts to reach the most difficult homeless that his organization serves and provide them not only a roof but case management services to keep them housed.

The down economy hasn’t impacted Step Up on Second’s target audience, which largely didn’t benefit when the economy was good either. Decreased dollars at the state and federal level for homeless initiatives could make things more difficult, Lipka said.

St. Joseph Center, which focuses on individuals and families that have recently fallen into homelessness or those trying to stay housed, is pleased with the current count, but worries about the future if the economy doesn’t improve.

The “housing first” model and the rigor with which City Hall is approaching homelessness created and maintained the large decrease seen between 2009 and 2011, said Va Lecia Adams, executive director of St. Joseph Center.

“It’s not increasing even though the economy has been a real challenge for individuals and families,” she said. “One might think we would see an increase.”

Some of that has to do with a federally-funded program called Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing, which provided money that City Hall’s Human Services staff used to pay rent for those on the verge of being evicted.

The program helped 77 heads of households make rent and find ways to ensure their rent would be paid in the future, said Julie DeRose, director of programs at St. Joseph Center.

It was one-time money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus bill, and the program won’t be continued into the next year.

“We’re trying our best with projects ongoing to support families in every way we can, to help them manage their money and grow access to employment resources,” Adams said. “Without new dollars, it’s hard to meet the increased need.”

Families in need of relief can turn to the Salvation Army, which is providing payments to help with specific services like utility payments, said Capt. Mario Ruiz.

His organization continues to see new faces as more and more people that tried to wait out the economic downturn reach the end of their savings.

“Even though some people have lost their jobs, they have savings and are able to survive for some time,” Ruiz said. “If the economy continues to be this way, it might grow.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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