The regional push to treat homelessness as an official state of emergency will reach Santa Monica City Council at their Feb. 14 meeting.

Several agencies including Culver City, County of Los Angeles, City of Los Angeles, and Long Beach have taken similar actions recently in an effort to free up funds and cut red-tape associated with the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

In asking for the declaration, city staff cite seven examples of the crisis in Santa Monica including an increase in calls to the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) attributed to homelessness (19,946 in 2022 compared to 18,564 in 2021), increased calls to Santa Monica Fire Department (from 2,672 to 3,017), an increase in encampments (from 1,630 to 1,879), 20 public deaths of homeless people last year, a 26 percent increase in arson calls to SMFD, a cost of about $4 million a year to clean up to 40 homeless related areas a week and more homeless people hitting the streets every day than are finding housing (County estimates report 207 people a day finding housing while 227 are made homeless).

” … declaring a state of emergency, would facilitate regional cooperation with other government agencies, allow the City to apply for and accept grant funds, allow the City to take expedited actions to address imminent health and safety impacts caused by the homelessness crisis, and enable the City to more quickly deploy resources and take actions to address homelessness,” said the staff report.

Additional funding could be used to expand current outreach teams, enhance assistance programs for at-risk renters, increase the local housing supply, enhance the public works response, expand public safety resources and find more solutions related to mental health or other medical concerns.

Declaring an emergency could streamline and expedite any and all City processes and approvals necessary, including addressing staffing shortages citywide that are impeding some responses.

“The City is experiencing elevated levels of vacancy throughout the organization and when combined with the staffing shortages that are experienced throughout the County, and inflexible civil service rules, the City struggles to fill positions expeditiously,” said the staff report. “This hampers the City’s ability to create the necessary organizational capacity to effectively and efficiently implement the programs and services that are needed to address homelessness.”

If declared, the emergency status would also help the city work with agencies like Metro and Caltrans who have jurisdiction over parcels of land inside Santa Monica’s city limits that have significantly contributed to the local homelessness problem.

Metro is currently exploring ways to address their “end of line” policy that forces individuals to exit trains when a trains go out of service at the end of a route. That policy results in individuals being stranded in cities like Santa Monica without any kind of resources available.

Caltrans has responsibility for the embankments adjacent to freeways and those locations have become perennial problems sites for camping, trash accumulation and fires.

“The Director has found that it is vitally important to cooperate with other regional agencies to address threats to public health and safety in the City of Santa Monica (“City”) due to the homelessness crisis in the region, which continues to grow, leading to deplorable living conditions and illness and deaths of unhoused and unsheltered persons in the region,” said the report.

Councilmembers have expressed mixed opinions about an emergency declaration in recent weeks. While everyone acknowledges the scope of the crisis, some officials have said a declaration would need to have real, measurable impact and be more than just a cosmetic measure.

According to the report, the emergency would last 180 days unless ended sooner by council.

Council will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at City Hall, 1685 Main Street. Closed session begins at 5:30 p.m. and open session begins no earlier than 6:30 p.m.

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Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...