Bathroom: The service information includes bathroom locations. Clara Harter

The City may be investing millions into homeless services, but it can be difficult for residents to see where those dollars are going, which was part of the impetus for a comprehensive report on Santa Monica’s response to homelessness.

This information was pulled together at the behest of City Councilmembers, who wished to ensure accountability in funding, create a centralized source of information on homeless resources and identify any gaps in services.

Readers hoping to find a simple overview of homeless services will be disappointed. The clearest thing the report demonstrates is the inherent complexity of responding to homelessness, which requires a multifaceted web of services.

In Santa Monica these include street outreach teams, mental health support, legal aid against evictions, substance use treatment, street medicine, interim shelters, affordable housing, assistance matching federal housing vouchers to placements, job training, food aid, childcare, street sanitation services, public restroom maintenance, bus transportation home and more.

These services are made available through a network of partnerships with local emergency service providers, non-profit organizations and resources from the County of LA.

The report provided a detailed breakdown of each service provider and their coverage area, but did not go into depth on gaps in current resources. However, recommendations for new investments will be included in staff’s annual update on homelessness following the 2022 Santa Monica Homeless Count.

The last homeless count in 2020 identified 907 people experiencing homelessness of which 601 were identified as unsheltered. Across Los Angeles County these numbers were 66,000 and 48,041.

The 2021 count was canceled due to COVID and the 2022 count was recently pushed from Jan. 26 to Feb. 23 due to the Omicron surge.

Findings from this count will help guide strategies and budget for addressing homelessness in the next fiscal year.

The report did indicate a need for investment into housing resources at both a City and County level to ensure that outreach efforts can be matched with interim and permanent housing placements.

“Without adequate places to move from the streets into housing, unbalanced investments in street-based engagement, however well-intentioned, will reach a saturation point, where downline services can no longer accept outreach referrals. This leads to decreased efficacy of outreach, fewer housing placements, and a re-traumatization of people who will then lose trust in anyone offering to assist them in the future,” said Margaret Willis, Housing and Human Services Administrator.

Santa Monica has put significant investment into street outreach and currently has a variety of teams with different expertises working across the city. The report breaks them down into generalist teams, multidisciplinary teams and first responder teams.

The generalist teams make contact with people experiencing homelessness and provide basic resources such as food, water and hygiene supplies as well as referrals to other services available in the community. Generalist teams include the Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. ambassadors, who work in Downtown, Tongva Park and Palisades Park; and nonprofit organization West Coast Care, which operates on the Pier and beaches.

Multidisciplinary teams include trained specialists that can provide both the traditional homeless services of generalist teams as well as housing-related case management and medical and behavioral health treatment directly on the street.

City Hall funds a Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team, operated by The People Concern and composed of mental health professionals, housing case managers, substance use specialists, medical providers, a psychiatrist and a peer with lived experience of homelessness. The HMST focuses on the 25 chronically homeless individuals who have been identified as the highest utilizers of 911 services in Santa Monica.

There are two C3 multidisciplinary teams that proactively outreach to homeless individuals in the Downtown area and adjacent parks. This team is operated in partnership with The People Concern and the LA. County Department of Mental Health.

There are also several multidisciplinary outreach teams that operate in Santa Monica without City funding. These include LA. County E6 Multidisciplinary Teams, LA. County Department of Mental Health Field-Based Teams and Venice Family Clinic Street Medicine Teams.

When it comes to first responder teams, both the Santa Monica Police Department and Fire Department have specialized units dedicated to addressing homelessness.

SMPD staffs a Homeless Liaison Program, where officers respond to 911 calls related to homelessness with a team that can connect the individual at hand to resources. This team includes SMPD officers and mental health clinicians from the County Department of Mental Health.

SMFD launched a Community Response Unit pilot program last year. This team is deployed to less urgent incidents with a focus on serving people experiencing homelessness, seniors and other vulnerable populations. Instead of rushing back to the station, this unit is able to remain on scene and connect individuals to services that can ideally address the underlying issue at hand and break the cycle of repeat 911 calling.

In addition to all the above outreach programs, the City is launching a new partnership with the Department of Mental Health in early 2022 to operate a 24/7 therapeutic transport van. This van will be staffed by behavioral health professionals and deployed to 911 calls for individuals that are better suited for connection to mental health services than entrance into the criminal justice system.

More information can be accessed at https://www.smgov.net/departments/council/infoitems.aspx

Clara@smdp.com