Tony Vazquez

Two members of City Council grilled city officials last week about programs intended to help Santa Monica’s most vulnerable populations.

Council gave the officials go-ahead to seek applicants for City Hall’s Human Services Grants Program, but not before asking questions. The grants, totaling $7.6 million annually, support 24 nonprofit organizations and more than 45 programs “to meet the needs of infants, children, youth and families, people with disabilities, seniors, victims of domestic violence and low-income people, including those who are homeless,” city officials said in a report to council.

Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez asked the city officials if the programs — particularly the Cradle to Career Initiative, which focuses on vulnerable youths and their families — were taking the correct approach.

He questioned the recommendation to continue with a four-year funding model.

“I guess my question is still, if we’re going to four-year model, I’m a little reluctant to give somebody a grant for four years and we’re still getting kids falling through the cracks year after year,” Vazquez said, “because it’s been going on for the last 30 years.”

“We’ll continue to assess as we work with our nonprofits and look annually at the progress that we’re making,” Human Services Manager Setareh Yavari responded. “It’s very similar to homelessness.”

Julie Rusk, assistant director of the Community and Cultural Services Department, noted that they do not currently have a data system for struggling youths but that they are looking to create one.

“This was one of the changes that we made at homelessness,” she said. “Some of you may recall, at one point we were doing this work and we were helping people here and there. Now this is really all about a practice where you can have a service registry that really tracks progress. We look at how long it takes to reach somebody and what the outcomes are. That does not exist right now.”

Yavari said it could take six to eight months to get a data system up and running.

Introduced in mid-2013, Cradle to Career brings together several groups — the schools, police, city officials, mental health workers — to identify youth in need of intervention.

So far, 27 youth, ages 16 to 24, have been identified by the program. Seven were placed or relocated in housing. Nine were engaged in employment services. Twelve were reconnected with the schools. More than half received mental health or substance abuse counseling.

“I guess what bothers me about these numbers is, so we have only 27 kids here and the results don’t appear very encouraging for what we’re doing now,” said Councilmember Sue Himmelrich.

“The results were for the pilot year of the program and it really took us six months to even get the program up and running,” Yavari responded, “so in a lot of ways the results reflect a six- to seven-, maybe eight-month program.”

She acknowledged that she, too, would like to move faster but made clear that there are extra barriers when trying to help these vulnerable youths.

“What we try to do is not work with the youth in isolation but rather as part of a much larger family system,” Yavari said, “and sometimes to even get to the youth we have to get a parent to agree to allow us to work with the youth. So we have multiple barriers that sometimes prevent us from moving the dial as fast as we would all like.”

Councilmember Terry O’Day made a motion to move forward with the solicitation of grant applications, noting that the proposal “reflects a lot of great learning as a result of this work.”

The motion passed unanimously.

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