Santa Monica’s homeless population is stabilizing, according to the results of the most recent citywide count of homeless individuals.
The city’s homeless population hovered around 700 for several years before jumping 26 percent in 2017 to 921. However, the 2018 count only showed a four percent increase and the 2019 count, which was conducted in January, recorded a three percent bump to 985 people. City Council will be taking the data into account as it considers new funding for homeless outreach teams and replacing the Samoshel shelter at its meeting Tuesday.
The 2019 data shows a slight reduction in the number of people living on the streets and an increase in people living in their vehicles or in encampments. More people were staying in shelters and hospitals, and fewer were in jail.
About half of homeless individuals in Santa Monica live at the beach or downtown, but there were 19 percent fewer people living downtown than last year.
“There was a reduction in people living in the downtown core, which we feel is a reflection of our place-based engagement strategies,” said Margaret Willis, a human services administrator with the City of Santa Monica. “Different City agencies meet weekly to share data on hotspots and we have really focused our energy on the downtown area this year.”
City staff will be recommending that Council adopt and fund four strategies to reduce homelessness, most of which build on actions the City has taken over the past year, said Alisa Orduña, the City’s senior advisor on homelessness. Council identified reducing homelessness as one of its six funding priorities for the 2019-2021 budget cycle in January.
The first is to fund programs that prevent low-income residents from becoming homeless and develop more affordable housing. Orduña said staff is looking to expand the Preserving Our Diversity (POD) pilot program, which provided rent-burdened seniors with cash for housing.
The second is to address mental health and substance abuse issues among the homeless population by expanding the city’s outreach teams, noting that meth and untreated mental illness are the greatest barriers to connecting homeless individuals to housing and services. The C3 and HMST teams were funded over the last two years with a mix of local and Los Angeles County funding and staff is asking Council to expand the teams with additional funding, as well as $300,000 from the County for the HMST team to continue work through 2019.
Staff is also recommending Council fund the C3 team as part of the third strategy, which seeks to address homelessness in Santa Monica’s parks, beach and open spaces. That strategy also includes assigning 10 Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) officers to the HLP team, which connects individuals who are particularly entrenched on the city’s streets with services, said Captain Derek Jacobs.
The fourth strategy entails pursuing more collaboration with agencies across the county to reduce homelessness in Santa Monica. Replacing Samoshel, a homeless shelter at 5th Street and Olympic Boulevard, falls into that category. Council will be looking at different sites for the new shelter and soliciting community input on the plan.
“Samoshel is a tent that was never meant to be permanent,” Willis said at a press conference Thursday.
At the press conference, Willis also shared data from surveys distributed to 116 homeless individuals in 2018 that showed most of the city’s homeless population originates from elsewhere in the county or from out of the state. Only seven percent of respondents to the survey said they are from Santa Monica, although 35 percent said they had spent more than five years on its streets and 37 percent had lived here for one to five years.
77 percent of survey respondents were male, 46 percent were connected with services, and almost two-thirds struggled with mental illness, substance abuse or a combination of the two.
Jacobs also said that the increase in aggravated assaults SMPD observed last year were mostly committed by homeless individuals against other homeless individuals. He also noted that the homeless population is using more drugs, particularly meth, which he said often leads to theft as a way to support an addiction.