Homelessness in Santa Monica increased by 15 percent last year according to newly released numbers from the annual Homeless Count.
Volunteers found an additional 73 individuals on local streets and 46 inside (in shelters, motels, or jail) during the January count bringing the total to 926 this year. The results are a reversal from the 2022 count that reported an 11 percent decline from the year prior.
Municipalities conduct the volunteer driven count each year to tally the number of people who appear to be living outside, in cars, and in shelters. Similar efforts play out simultaneously across the region as part of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, organized by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).
The goal of the point-in-time count is to get a snapshot of the homeless population. By doing it across the region at the same time, officials hope to make it less likely to double count or miss individuals who move around. The number of people in shelters is also calculated on the same night for the same reason.
While the count is mandated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, it also helps officials to gain a better idea of the number of people living in homelessness, demographic trends among the population, and locations of concentration. This data is used to inform local and regional efforts to address homelessness and can affect how resources are allocated.
This year was the first count since January 2020 not impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. The 2021 count was canceled and the 2022 count was delayed and modified to reduce interaction. Last year’s count was also criticized for obvious undercounts and officials implemented several improvements this year to account for technological failures or outlying results.
Regional results will not be available until later this year (sometime between June and September) but Santa Monica officials said the COVID-19 pandemic impacted both the reduction last year and this year’s increase.
City Manager David White said the 2022 count had a very minor change in the unsheltered population, just 1 percent, and the decrease was fueled by a reduction in shelter capacity due to spacing requirements. With the expiration of those restrictions, shelter capacity has increased and been filled by more individuals. At the same time, some temporary shelter options in nearby areas have ended forcing more people into the streets.
“While local shelter capacity has increased since 2020 the regional motel shelter capacity that was implemented during the pandemic continues to wind down including the 50 room project Roomkey site in Venice,” said White. “This regional demobilization may have contributed to an increase in demand on local shelters which increased by 22% and an increase in unsheltered homelessness which rose by 12%.”
White said the city is gearing up to address the crisis. He cited additional voter approved funding (from Measure CS and GS) that will expand field services and create new homelessness prevention programs. The City will also create a new department to focus on homelessness.
He said the city is also working on specific actions like a redesign of the city’s largest shelter to allow for 24/7 intakes, launch of a therapeutic transport van that can deploy calls regarding a mental health crisis, expanded prohibitions on sleeping in doorways and the eventual construction of a behavioral health center.
City Hall also declared a state of emergency over homelessness recently.
“The local emergency is enabling us to fast track and scale up our response is helping us cut red tape and get things done faster, like deploying field-based teams and resources for people in mental health crisis,” said White.
The count is just a count and does not include analysis of demographics such as mental health status, place of origin, cause of homelessness or length of time in the city. Some of that information may be released with the County results and local officials said what demographics they do have are limited to self-reporting from individuals who accept services.
Council will hear a presentation on the report this Tuesday, May 9. Council meets at 5:30 p.m. for closed session and open session will start upon completion of the closed session items.