Local service providers are changing to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Sammy Neustadt.

Santa Monica’s largest homeless services provider is adapting to challenges created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but officials said the region’s homeless crisis is likely to get worse as the disease ripples through the local economy.

The People Concern operates Santa Monica’s three largest shelters and CEO John Maceri said services have had to adapt as coronavirus has shuttered in person services while endangering housing for some of the area’s most vulnerable residents.

He said the homeless crisis is exacerbated by the pandemic, which has led to food shortages, health risks, economic challenges, and loss of access to public facilities that the homeless previously used for electricity, water, showers, and shelter. With LA’s eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of September and no sign of imminent economic recovery from the impacts of coronavirus, he said more people are likely to become unhoused.

Los Angeles County was already experiencing an increase in homelessness before the virus hit with officials recording a 13 percent rise in the homeless population last year and there are new costs associated with providing service during a health care emergency.

The People Concern is currently spending $30,000 a month providing personal protective equipment to their staff and the homeless population they support, which is a significant expense they had not budgeted for. They have also had to shut down many of their in-person services and shift to more pertinent COVID-related concerns.

During the pandemic, The People Concern has been able to maintain all of its “mission-essential services” including multidisciplinary street outreach, the Access Center in Santa Monica, Interim Housing, domestic violence shelters, money management, and public toilets, showers and laundromat in the heart Skid Row as well as supportive services for people in permanent housing.

However, Maceri said this is only a band aid solution as affordable housing is a county-wide crisis. According to the Los Angeles Housing Authority, renters in L.A. County need to earn 2.8 times the minimum wage to afford the average monthly asking rent of $2,182 and 59 percent of the newly homeless cite economic hardship as the main reason for their homelessness. L.A needs 509,000 new affordable housing units to meet the current demand, according to the Housing Partnership 2020 Report.

This need will likely grow when evictions resume, stimulus checks expire, and when it is time to move the thousands of Project Roomkey participants into more permanent housing.

“We are very concerned about the thousands of people that are going to need to be rehoused,” said Maceri. “In the short term we do have rapid rehousing and prevention dollars that are available largely due to Measure H funding. Individuals who need to get caught up on rent can get short term subsidies to keep their current housing or people who have recently fallen into homelessness can get subsidies to be rehoused quickly. The idea is to keep people from remaining homeless for a long period of time and to also prevent evictions, because when someone has an eviction on their record that is a huge barrier to being rehoused.”

The People Concern operates three interim housing facilities in Santa Monica, Cloverfield Services Center, SAMOSHEL, and Turning Point. These shelters provide food, semi-private sleeping cubicles, and intensive case management to help participants stabilize their health and move towards permanent housing. Their Santa Monica Access provides 200+ lunches daily to homeless individuals, and are currently experiencing much higher demand due to the closing of other agencies.

For information visit thepeopleconcern.org/covid-19.