Neighbors living on Bay Street and nearby businesses joined forces to tackle a growing encampment of homeless people who they believed were involved in drug dealing operations in the alley behind the Walgreens on Lincoln. By working with an array of local services the community members reduced the number of people living in the alley from 12 to zero during the past two months, without arresting the unhoused or removing their possessions.
“It is good for Santa Monica residents to know that there are resources and how to use them. Most importantly the neighbors were very concerned about how we went around homelessness and not to criminalize homelessness,” said a representative of the community coalition. “Santa Monica’s police don’t go straight to law enforcement, they have a number of ways to address a problem before using enforcement.”
Residents say that there have been homeless people living in the alley behind the Walgreens on Lincoln and adjacent to the 821 Bay St. Condominium Complex for over a year, and that the community was used to living with a couple homeless people. However, this summer they saw an additional influx of homeless people living in the alley that was accompanied by new drug and hygiene problems, according to the community representative.
“I actually was really shocked but there is a whole group of organizations targeting these homeless people and selling them drugs. As the number of homeless people living in our alley increased, we thought that this operation was attracting a wave of people that we had never seen before. It came to a point that we had 12 homeless people sleeping in the alley and many hygiene problems came with that,” said the representative.
Around ten weeks ago community members decided to take action and have held a series of meetings in the Walgreens parking lot where people, wearing masks and abiding by social distancing, openly voiced their opinions and ideas for addressing the problem. This community coalition included people from three units of the 827 Bay St. Complex, five units of the 821 Bay St Condominium Complex and HOA board members, and six commercial businesses.
The coalition got in contact with the City and was assigned a neighborhood resource officer who helped them find solutions for tackling the problem.
The first solution was for Walgreens to hire a security guard to address issues of trespassing, which automatically reduced the number of people living by the Walgreens. Neighbors then began to report sightings of drug dealings to the police and the narcotics hotline in Santa Monica. This led to an increase in police cars and a decrease in visits by dealers, according to the community representative. Officers from the City’s Homeless Liaison Program visited the alley multiple times to connect people with resources.
“Community social workers that take homeless people back to different shelters and help them to re-engage into their life were assigned to the alley. I actually saw three or four different social workers working with individual homeless people so that was very encouraging,” said the representative. “That definitely helped people feel more comfortable to report any incident happening in the alley.”
Intervention teams typically meet with homeless people multiple times to build trust and help direct them to temporary housing facilities. In this case the St. Joseph Center also sent people to speak with those living in the alley and tried to move people into their shelter. As of this week community members reported that the alley was clear of people although they do not have a record of where each person relocated.
“If a problem is tackled at a 365 degree angle, hoping this way you can solve the problem from the root, those services really work,” said the representative. “But if these people are not able to be redirected to shelters then you know they would just be relocating into a different place in the city.”
The Daily Press agreed to withhold the representative’s name due to safety concerns related to the criminal aspect of the situation.