Taking a load off: A homeless man rests on the Third Street Promenade, a popular hangout. (File photo)

The number of homeless individuals sleeping on Santa Monica streets has increased 11 percent to 646 people, according to the 2018 Homeless Count numbers released by the City Tuesday. In addition, the annual count found 311 homeless people in shelters and other institutions, a decrease of nine percent from the 2017 count. Overall, the count found a four percent increase in the homeless population.

The city has 386 shelter beds, but some sat empty on the night of the count, according to Margaret Willis, Human Services Administrator for the city. Willis said sometimes beds are assigned to people choose to sleep elsewhere for various reasons, including curfews and weather conditions.

The city has been counting the number of homeless sleeping on the streets and in shelters during one night every January since 2009 to have a constant metric to measure the crisis. More individuals are sleeping on the streets than at any other time over the past nine years.

“The homeless count is a single moment in time. It is a few hours on one night in January,” Willis said at a press conference Monday. “It is not the whole story. It doesn’t tell us people’s stories, it doesn’t capture people who move in and out of homelessness throughout the year and it doesn’t capture what people experience during the day.”

This year’s count signals a tapering off of last year’s sudden influx of homeless people across the region. In Santa Monica alone, the number of people sleeping unhoused and outside shelters leaped 39 percent in 2017 and the overall number that included those in shelters increased 26 percent.

Those numbers reflected a countywide trend, where homelessness increased 23 percent, with about 58,000 homeless people in the region. The County will provide context for Santa Monica’s 2018 numbers when they release their own count information later this spring.

So far, the City has focused on alleviating the crisis by connecting individuals with existing services for housing, healthcare, food benefits or even bus tickets to get home to their families. Police, fire and library personnel have received additional training on how to deal with homeless individuals in public spaces and those who suffer from mental illness.

“We will engage every single person on the street in the city,” City Manager Rick Cole told the Daily Press. Under Cole, the City has implemented SaMoStat, a monthly meeting between departments to compare notes and address citywide issues. Those meetings address public areas and individuals impacted by homelessness. The City has worked to build profiles of individual homeless residents and share information between departments (Cole says the departments do not share medical information or other data restricted by Federal and State laws).

“We’re dealing with 650 folks on this list. We should know their names. We should know which ones are meth addicts, which ones are folks who are down on their luck and those kinds of things are within our ability,” Cole said.

 

Next week, the city will expand its outreach program downtown with a new “C3 team” with a substance disorder clinician, a psychiatrist, and a part-time physician to focus on helping individuals in parks and the downtown area.

“They’ll be getting to know who’s out there in the community, introduce themselves to the population and start to be a familiar face,” Willis said.

The additional police officer training has freed up Santa Monica Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Program to focus on the chronically homeless in the city, said the program’s leader Sgt. Erika Aklufi. Aklufi shared a recent success story where her team was finally able to convince a 66-year-old homeless veteran to get medical help from the Veterans Administration.

“We found him very early one morning in one of our parks during park closure hours,” Aklufi said. “It was extremely cold and we convinced him that now was the time he should try the VA again. He agreed and we were able to give him a ride over to the VA and fast-track his intake into the VA and get him the medical services he needed.”

While the city’s outreach teams celebrate success stories, tackling the homeless crisis remains a daunting task without enough beds to get people into temporary or permanent housing. Through Los Angeles’s Measure HHH, 460 new beds have been approved in that city, with about 1,100 likely to follow, according to Santa Monica’s new Senior Advisor on Homelessness, Alisa Orduna.

A new public/private partnership to brainstorm new ways to tackle the homeless crisis also gets off the ground this week. The City’s new Homeless Steering Committee (SMHSC) will meet for the first time Wednesday, March 7 at 6 p.m. at Roosevelt Elementary Auditorium at 801 Montana Avenue. The committee is a gathering of more than 50 public and private partners from local businesses, churches, service providers and elected officials to develop strategies to address homelessness.

The SMHSC will focus on advocacy for housing, mental health and employment opportunities for the homeless, public safety, preserving public and open spaces and volunteerism. The meeting is open to the public and those interested in joining can contact humanservices.mailbox@smgov.net.

kate@www.smdp.com

 

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press