Accompanied by a police officer, Jennifer Cowan, Suzy Herbert and Lynne Thomas count the homeless in Tongva Park. (Madeleine Pauker)

Lynne Thomas, Jennifer Cowan and Suzy Herbert methodically recorded the location of each person they saw bedding down Wednesday night in Tongva Park.

“If there’s anything I can possibly do to help, it’s this,” said Thomas, a longtime Santa Monica resident who co-runs The Lobster, an upscale restaurant across the street from the park. In the 10 years since she has been participating in the city’s annual homeless count, she has seen the homeless population grow by a third to just under 1,000 individuals.

Thomas, Cowan and Herbert were joined Wednesday by more than 300 volunteers who conducted a point-in-time count of individuals sleeping outside, in encampments and in cars within Santa Monica’s 8.3 square miles as part of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. Officials also counted those spending the night in shelters, hospitals and jails.

The federal department of Housing and Urban Development requires jurisdictions across Los Angeles County to collect the data, which is released each spring, to receive federal funding for homeless services. Locally, officials use the count to decide how to allocate resources, said Alisa Orduña, the city of Santa Monica’s senior advisor on homelessness.

The city launched the C3 Team in spring 2018 to work with homeless individuals downtown because past count data showed that the city’s chronically homeless population was concentrated in the area, Orduña said. The 2019 count recorded a 19% decrease in the number of people sleeping on the street downtown.

The citywide population grew 3% to 985 individuals, which followed a 4% increase in 2018 and a 26% increase in 2017. Last year, the county population grew 12% to 58,986, although experts say the tally is an undercount of the total number of people without stable housing.

Orduña said she hopes the results of the 2020 count reflect the city’s efforts to help different local agencies work together to connect people experiencing homelessness to services and housing.

Last year, the Big Blue Bus trained drivers to advise homeless individuals about services, the library system hired two full-time social workers and the city launched a new C3 Team focused on the beach, Orduña said.

In January 2019, the city partnered with Akido Labs to create Project Connect, an internal app that police officers, firefighters, paramedics and service providers — and soon, library and public works staff — use to share real-time information about homeless individuals.

“A public works employee might see a homeless individual waking up in the park. At 10 a.m., our library services officers might talk to him. At 4 p.m., one of our public service officers in Reed Park might encounter him. At 7 p.m., someone might see him lying down on the sidewalk and call the fire department,” said City Manager Rick Cole. “Until we had this app, none of that was connected.”

Orduña said new resources in the city of Los Angeles may also have impacted Santa Monica’s homeless population. The city has added 500 new shelter beds over the past year through the Bridge Home program, opened its winter shelters earlier in the year, expanded safe parking programs and linked more individuals to case management services, she said.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll see a significant shift in the proportion of people who are sheltered and unsheltered, even if the total numbers don’t change much,” Orduña said. “This year, I think it’s more about looking at the nuances and measuring whether the dollars we’re investing are starting to make an impact in the areas they were intended to, rather than just looking at the overall count.”

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1 Comment

  1. Liberals have created the problem by encouraging unvetted illegal immigration and now sanctuary cities., driving up the cost of low cost housing through supply and demand.

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