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 Samoshel, the city’s largest homeless shelter, at its meeting Tuesday.

Communities across Los Angeles County count the number of homeless individuals during one night every January and Santa Monica has been conducting a count since 2009. The county recorded a four percent decrease in homelessness between 2017 and 2018 following a 23 percent increase between 2016 and 2017.

Santa Monica’s 2019 data shows a slight reduction compared to 2018 in the number of people living on the streets and an increase in people living in their vehicles or in encampments. That marks a significant decrease in people living on the streets compared to the past few years – the 2018 count recorded an 11 percent increase in that population.

More people were staying in shelters and hospitals and fewer were in jail at the time of the count. The increased number of hospital patients is because of a new state law that regulates how hospitals discharge homeless patients, said Alisa Orduña, the City’s senior advisor on homelessness.

About half of homeless individuals in Santa Monica stay at the beach or downtown, but there were 19 percent fewer people counted 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.”

At a press conference Thursday, Willis 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.

SMPD Captain Derek Jacobs 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.

madeleine@smdp.com

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