Homeless shelters in Santa Monica will soon need to adhere to a new set of health and safety standards.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to hold homeless shelters across the County to a universal set of sanitary standards. Four new health inspectors will visit each shelter three times per year to ensure compliance. Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in November 2016 that will raise about $3.5 billion for homeless services over 10 years, will pay for their salaries.
Under the new standards, shelters must keep bathrooms free of filth, provide clean bedding, collect all trash on their premises and remove vermin infestations.
For Santa Monicans who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness, the standards have been a long time coming. Multiple people staying in the city’s shelters have testified before the Board of Supervisors in recent months, alleging serious sanitary issues.
David Morris, a resident at Samoshel, a homeless shelter in downtown Santa Monica operated by The People Concern, said shelter staff have failed to clean up feces in showers and beds. (John Maceri, CEO of The People Concern, maintains the agency operates clean and safe shelters.)
Olga Zurawska, a homelessness advocate and former resident of Turning Point, another The People Concern shelter, wrote to the Board of Supervisors last June asking them to establish operating standards for the County’s shelters.
“This is to request that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors undertake to draft and pass an ordinance spelling out minimum standards or quality assurance standards for homeless shelters, transitional housing and supportive housing receiving County funding,” Zurawska wrote in an email to Board staff.
A month later, she received a reply from a staffer telling her the Board would not be creating the ordinance she requested.
“Program quality is an administrative, not legislative matter,” the staffer wrote. “Your particular issues are with a … shelter provider and we are confident that the existing standards for that program are adequate.”
In the analysis accompanying the ordinance, County Counsel Mary C. Wickham said the new law is an important response to the homelessness crisis and recognizes the need for health and safety requirements for the increasing number of shelters throughout the County.
“It’s long overdue,” Zurawska said. “From what I’ve experienced and seen, there is a very serious need for these standards and for independent oversight to make sure this ordinance is actually enforced.”
Morris said he is also concerned about how the ordinance will be enforced.
“I do not think the standards go far enough, especially in terms of consequences for the violations,” he said. “There seems to be not enough enforcement mechanisms or checks and balances.”
Alisa Orduña, Santa Monica’s senior advisor on homelessness, said it has been difficult for the City to address complaints because many different agencies fund and operate shelters. Now, one agency will be responsible for monitoring health and safety.
A universal set of standards means that individuals experiencing homelessness can expect the quality of shelters around the County to be more consistent, Orduña said.
“You won’t have to leave your community to go to Skid Row or Santa Monica because you’re afraid the quality of shelters in other areas isn’t as good,” she said.