The City Council voted unanimously to declare a local emergency on homelessness during the Feb. 14 meeting, which means Santa Monica joins other local jurisdictions including the City of Los Angeles, County of Los Angeles, Culver City, and the City of Long Beach in announcing that more is needed to prevent and address homelessness.

City Manager David White explained to the gathered council members quite how bad the situation has gotten. “This is not exclusively a city of Santa Monica issue, this is a regional, state and nationwide issue,” he said.

White explained that approximately 69,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County and 42,000 people are experiencing homelessness in the City of Los Angeles. Moreover, according to the City’s last point-in-time count, 807 people were experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica, a reduction of 11 percent from the point-in-time count conducted in 2020.

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, approximately 207 people a day are re-housed at the same time as 227 people become homeless. That means that more people are becoming homeless every single day.

“I want to acknowledge that just one person on our street is a tragedy and is worthy of our attention,” he said before rhetorically asking, “So why did we bring this emergency declaration before you this evening?

“The reality is that we cannot address this crisis on our own, and we need our regional, state, and federal partners to support us,” said White. ”By declaring a homelessness state of emergency, Santa Monica is poised to receive more resources.”

White added that it was essential for partners like the California Department of Transportation and Los Angeles Metro Rail to work with the city. He said CalTrans has not taken care of its property within city limits, specifically the freeway embankments and that partners must “come to the table and work collaboratively with us.”

Declaring a state of emergency helps prioritize Santa Monica in requests for resources and funding from these partners.

“If these resources are made available, they can be deployed,” said White. “We can deploy them to expand outreach, provide additional support including rental assistance for individuals that are rent burdened to prevent homelessness, to increase the supply of affordable housing, and enhance our public safety response to take actions that will allow us to expeditiously mobilize resources.”

Mayor Gleam Davis succinctly summarized what everyone watching the meeting or even anyone currently reading this news story is thinking. “What our community wants to know is, are we going to start to see the results of this fairly quickly?”

According to White, much of the immediately obvious results will be seen around affordable housing. “Now that we will have this resource available, we’ll be able to broadcast to the community that there are opportunities to pursue affordable housing projects. There are specific affordable housing projects that are ready for financing.

“You’ll see a comprehensive set of recommendations of how we could deploy Measure CS dollars in particular, to address public safety and homelessness issues. So if that is approved, we’ll be able to go ahead and start executing on those efforts and activities,” White said, adding, “You’re going to see a lot.”

At present, about $25 million is currently in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for deployment, according to White and up to $13 million of that could be made available to support local affordable housing projects by the middle of March.

Davis also asked how Santa Monica is going to work with neighboring communities and alluded to recent actions in Los Angeles and Culver City that have cleared encampments in those places without actually putting those people into housing.

“How do you envision us using this proclamation to address some of those issues where we have jurisdictions that may be on our border or easily accessible by a transit, who may be uprooting people without providing housing for them, and they put us in a situation where we are for lack of a better term, the recipient of the people that they’ve uprooted?” she asked.

White said he has already begun reaching out to neighboring cities and said there will be additional collaboration, including the County, to help address some of those concerns.

Councilwoman Christine Parra said the region could take inspiration from the mutual aid system that exists between police and fire agencies that allows resources to flow across city borders when public safety needs arise.

“And I think that if we were to convene a task force of our mutual aid cities, which we already are working together on for many different other projects, I think it makes perfect sense for us to get together and work on this together.”

This state of local emergency will initially last for 180 days, just like the coronavirus pandemic, but also like that, this can also be extended by the City Council.

Avatar photo

Scott Snowden

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.