In Santa Monica and LA County, homelessness is not a seasonal issue. The 2015 Homeless Count identified 738 homeless individuals in Santa Monica and 44,359 in LA County. As a City, we assist homeless people every day, regardless of the weather. Santa Monica invests over $2.7 million annually in grants to nonprofit agencies that directly assist homeless people with healthcare, employment, supportive services, and housing. The City’s year-round strategy is based on prioritizing local resources for the most acute individuals. Through the Chronic Homeless Project and the Service Registry, the City has prioritized permanent housing and supportive services for homeless individuals experiencing multiple disabling conditions that place them at high risk for dying on the streets. However, there is not enough housing locally for everyone who needs it, and so we also work to reconnect homeless individuals with friends and family in their home communities who will provide a stable living situation and support through Project Homecoming. Since 2006, Project Homecoming has taken more than 1,750 individuals off the streets and reunited them with loved ones.

With homelessness on the rise across the region, and a wet winter predicted, the City is more closely coordinating efforts with LA County through the Winter Shelter Program. In anticipation of El Niño, the West LA Winter Shelter Program extended its operations by two additional months, providing 150 shelter beds from Nov. 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016. Participants can access transportation to the shelter from Market Street and Ocean Front Walk in Venice nightly at 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 7:15 p.m. or until capacity is reached. Local homeless service providers, outreach workers and first responders are engaging homeless individuals living in encampments and open spaces, encouraging them to utilize the Winter Shelter Program and pursue permanent housing through the countywide Coordinated Entry System. In addition, the Westside Coalition’s Faith Committee has purchased heavy-duty ponchos and is distributing them at the Westside Winter Shelter.

Our City works closely with LA City and County during extreme weather events. Depending on the need, heating and cooling stations are established throughout LA County and their locations are disseminated through direct outreach as well as mainstream and social media. If there is a declared emergency, such as an earthquake or other disaster, Santa Monica would provide emergency shelter to as many people in need as possible, regardless of their residential status.

At a regional level, City staff recently participated in countywide Homeless Initiative Policy Summits, sharing insight on local efforts and drafting potential strategy recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors.  An interdepartmental team including Fire, Police, Human Services, Housing, City Attorney’s Office and Rent Control is examining our current approach and developing new strategies in light of the Council’s strategic goal to take a leadership role in regional efforts to address homelessness.  As part of this commitment to invest in innovative solutions, funding has been allocated for a new multi-disciplinary street team, which will provide street-based medical and behavioral health interventions to people where they are – in public spaces, parks and libraries.

People experiencing homelessness, and the agencies that work to provide them housing and services, need community support year-round.  For suggestions on how to get involved, and more information on the City of Santa Monica’s responses to homelessness, please visit www.smgov.net/homelessness.  Additionally, please consider registering to volunteer for the 2016 Santa Monica Homeless Count, which takes place the night of Jan. 27 and helps direct funding for homeless programs. To register, please visit www.santamonicahomelesscount.com

For more information on the Winter Shelter Program, please visit www.lahsa.org/winter_shelter_program

Margaret Willis

Human Services Administrator

City of Santa Monica