With El Niño bringing a series of rainstorms through Santa Monica, local social service providers have seen more homeless people coming through their doors for shelter and warmth.
“Especially in the morning, if they’ve been out in the rain at night, they want to come in and get dry,” OPCC executive director John Maceri said.
But exactly where those people will be on Jan. 27 is anybody’s guess. That’s the day of Santa Monica’s annual homeless count, when hundreds of volunteers attempt to capture a snapshot of homelessness in the area.
Count participants will tally people living in local shelters, but their decidedly bigger challenge is sweeping the city’s underpasses, overhangs, alcoves and vehicles to get an idea of how many people are living on the streets.
Last year’s count found that 402 of the city’s 738 identified homeless people were living on the street. But Maceri, whose nonprofit organization operates several shelters while offering case management, counseling and a variety of other services, said inclement weather could impact the numbers this year.
He noted the possible effect of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s winter program, which launched in 1994 to provide temporary shelters during the colder months of the year. The shelters are located across the county from November through March, but none of them are in Santa Monica. (The closest one is at 1300 Federal Ave., east of city limits.)
As part of the winter program, a shuttle picks up homeless people near the intersection of Ocean Front Walk and Market Street in Venice and takes them to temporary shelters.
“One would assume that if the weather is wet and stormy, we would expect to see fewer people on the streets,” Maceri said. “Hopefully that’s because they’re using the winter shelter program. But we won’t know until we get there. If people are on the street, we would expect to see more people in alcoves or places where there’s cover from the elements.”
Maceri said he’s curious to see how Santa Monica’s numbers compare to those of Los Angeles County in this year’s homeless count. Whereas the county figure spiked from 39,463 in 2013 to 44,359 in 2015, the beachside city’s count hasn’t ballooned in that fashion.
Santa Monica tallied 780 homeless people in the 2013 count, 742 in the 2014 event and 738 last year. Maceri said the count is a tool that officials can use to assess the situation.
“It really lets us know year over year how we’re doing locally and compared to the rest of the county,” Maceri said. “Santa Monica’s numbers have gone down or held relatively steady, and that’s not true in other parts of the county. We’ve seen an uptick throughout the county, but I have no idea what that’s going to look like in Santa Monica. Some of that depends on the weather the night of the count.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires communities that receive federal funds for homelessness programs to conduct homeless counts every two years. Santa Monica has organized a count annually since 2010.