Photo by Matthew Hall

Santa Monica’s homeless population fell by 8% this year, officials announced Friday.

The 2020 homeless count, which was conducted in January, found 907 people experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica, down from 985 counted in 2019. About 600 were unsheltered and 300 were living in shelters or institutions. The number of people counted on the beach and in downtown Santa Monica decreased by 14% in 2020 following a 19% decrease the previous year. 

The city’s homeless population grew by 3% in 2019 and 4% in 2018 after jumping 26% in 2017. 

In contrast, the city and county of Los Angeles both recorded a roughly 13% increase in homelessness in the 2020 homeless count. More than 66,000 people were experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County in January, about 41,000 of whom were living in the city of Los Angeles.

Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown attributed the decrease in homelessness to the city’s investment in its C3 and HMST outreach teams, which help people on the streets connect to housing and other services, as well as rental and legal assistance programs that keep people in their homes.

“The local numbers contrast with regional increases, and make clear that Santa Monica’s street-based outreach model for persons experiencing homelessness does work,” McKeown said in a statement. “Santa Monica can be proud of our progress, but there is much hard work yet to be done.” 

The data predates the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore does not measure its impacts on homelessness or reflect efforts such as Project Roomkey or eviction moratoriums that local governments have taken to help the homeless and at-risk renters during the pandemic.

“We’ve yet to see the impacts of COVID-19 and economic challenges, but Santa Monica’s eviction moratorium and ongoing commitment to leverage state and federal funding for housing assistance will keep local residents from being forced onto the streets,” McKeown said.

An estimated 82,955 people throughout the county fell into homelessness in 2019, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) officials said. More than 52,000 “self-resolved” out of homelessness and the county rehousing system placed 22,769 into permanent housing — twice as many placements compared to 2015. More than 700 permanent supportive homes opened in 2019 and 2,360 more are scheduled to open in the next 12 months.

The number of homeless people in the county who had temporary shelter increased by 27% since last year to 18,395. The city of Los Angeles’ “A Bridge Home” program, which aims to build homeless shelters in each City Council district, helped shelter nearly 3,500 more people in Los Angeles alone — including more than 150 in Venice. 

But because median rent in L.A. County is nearly half of median income and continues to rise, county officials said they are unable to keep people from falling into homelessness even as the system becomes better equipped to connect people on the streets with temporary or permanent housing. 

An average of 227 people become homeless in the county every day even as 207 people exit homelessness, according to a county report. L.A. County would need 509,000 affordable homes to meet current demand, according to the county report.

Two-thirds of adults without shelter were homeless for the first time in 2019 and 59% cited economic hardship as the cause, according to 2020 homeless count data. Nearly 7 in 10 unsheltered adults became homeless while living in L.A. County. 

Systemic racism affecting employment, healthcare and housing is reflected in the homeless population, with Black people four times more represented among people experiencing homelessness than in the county population overall.

LAHSA executive director Heidi Marston said the county must dismantle systemic racism, build more affordable housing, and transform its foster care, healthcare and criminal justice systems to stop them from pushing people into homelessness. 

“We can settle for nothing less than ending homelessness for those who experience it and stopping it before it begins for anyone else,” she said.