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

As election day approaches, one topic will be beneath a magnifying glass — the city’s ongoing homeless epidemic. While some candidates have radically different views on how to solve the crises, one advocacy organization seeks to discuss their approach to the problem.

The Santa Monica Homelessness Steering Committee will hold its first “Coffee, Conversation and Change” event this Friday, an initiative meant to spark conversation to demystify homelessness and its accompanying challenges and stereotypes.

“This is the first of a series of coffee chats where during brief meetings we cover different topics associated with homelessness,” Tara Barauskas, Executive Director of the Community Corporation of Santa Monica said. “The idea is community members can come together, learn and voice their concerns and opinions.”

The event will also share Community Corporation’s affordable housing efforts in the city, ending with a walk to Step Up on Colorado where Step Up CEO Tod Lipka will discuss how permanent supportive housing has benefitted formerly homeless in Santa Monica.

This month’s topic will focus on affordable housing and services while following months will consist of other topics concerning the homeless.

Barauskas says the steering committee was born late last year due to the public’s frustration with homelessness. The City created committees to help curb the homeless epidemic, including public safety, public spaces and this steering committee’s role, advocacy.

Alisa Orduña, City Senior Advisor on Homeless, will also be present to answer questions and concerns. Before arriving in Santa Monica, Orduña was the Director of Homelessness Policy for the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a role she began in 2015. There, she worked with many community stakeholders to battle homelessness.

This event, she says, is good for the community whether you approve of the City’s efforts towards homelessness or not.

“Don’t come feeling like we’re going to try to change your mind about anything,” she said. “Just come to be aware of the tools we use to help homeless.”

Orduña says City’s efforts to combat homelessness are countless, despite often being blamed for not solving the problem.

She says the City “meets homeless where they are” on a daily basis, sending outreach teams to homeless hot spots such as public parks, with clinicians and a nurse.

There they begin case management, providing services such as helping homeless to connect with family, assisting with physical and mental illnesses, and providing guidance to government help such as Veteran benefits, food stamps, and housing.

Eventually, the hope is homeless will feel empowered to look for work.

“Is it enough to end homelessness? No,” she said. “It takes partnerships with all across jurisdictions and with all community stakeholders — state, county, faith and business communities, it’ll take all of us. It’s a human reaction to point the finger while being surrounded by a problem, but the government can’t do it alone. We need to break bread together. If you just sit back and point a finger, you’re part of the problem.”

The Santa Monica Homelessness Steering Committee’s “Coffee, Conversation and Change” event takes place this Friday 9:30 a.m. – 11 a.m. at the Community Corp’s residential building at 502 Colorado Ave. No RSVP is required and admission is free.



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