The Daily Press will publish a series of stories, editorials and columns in the coming weeks focused on homelessness. These stories will include news, features, editorials and columns about the subject and while the focus will be on Santa Monica’s response to the problem, the content will acknowledge this is more than just a local or even regional issue. This is a cultural problem with a multitude of causes and far reaching implications.
We’re starting this week with the factual motivation for the series: the number of people living on local streets is increasing regionally, Santa Monica itself has seen a significant increase this year and residents countywide are making homelessness a priority.
According to the most recent homeless count, Los Angeles County saw a 23 percent increase in its homeless population last year and no matter how you split the local geography, the Santa Monica area also saw its numbers rise. Homelessness increased in the County service area covering Santa Monica, it increased in the Supervisorial district, it increased in the City of Los Angeles council district that surrounds Santa Monica and the City’s own count recorded a 26 percent increase in homeless individuals within city borders.
The percentage increase comes even as the county continued to increase the number of people that found housing. In 2016, the county found permanent homes for 14,214 people, a 30 percent increase over the prior year.
“The scale and scope suggest a crisis, and I think that’s been reflected as well in the way residents see it, the way voters see it,” said Tom Waldman Director of Communications for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).
The numbers are no less sobering in Santa Monica.
The City’s homeless count was the highest since counts began in 2009. Santa Monica reported 921 homeless individuals this year, an increase from the record low of 728 (26%) in 2016. The unexpected spike actually put the city on par with numbers from the first count, effectively undoing years of decline in the figures.
Waldman said the county is gearing up with the support of residents who have recently passed two measures increasing resources to fight homelessness. He said Measure HHH in Los Angeles and Measure H countywide are an acknowledgment of the problem by local voters.
Measure HHH will generate $1.2 billion in bonds to fund 10,000 permanent housing units. Measure H is a sales tax estimated to generate $355 million per year for homeless prevention services and housing programs.
“In terms of the two votes, there is a sense countywide that more resources must be made available to deal with the issue of homelessness,” he said. “It’s an act of altruism that people are willing to tax themselves to provide these resources at the same time there clearly has be a frustration. We sense it, we sense it at public meetings that more has not been done.”
He said the specifics of homelessness differ region to region but there’s a rising level of awareness throughout the county. His agency is currently touring the county with a workshop that discusses the current state of homelessness, solutions and how to get involved. The event will pass through Santa Monica on Sept. 28 from 7 – 8:30 p.m. at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church.
Waldman said the topic might be gaining more attention today, but the reality is, homelessness has long been a problem in Los Angeles.
“We use the word ‘crisis’, but is not as if the issue of homelessness was invented yesterday,” he said. “You can go back decades or more, homelessness has always been with us but just as homelessness has always been with us so have volunteer efforts to fight it.”
Santa Monica’s Homeless County Results by Year
2009 — 915
2010 — 742
2011 — 740
2012 — 769
2013 — 780
2014 — 742
2015 — 738
2016 — 728
2017 — 921