With homelessness top of mind for residents across Los Angeles, visitors to the Promenade had mixed opinions about the impact homelessness has on their daily lives.
Homelessness in Los Angeles County increased by 9 percent this year and in Santa Monica, the annual count found 926 people are currently experiencing homelessness, an 15 percent increase from 2022’s homeless count. While Santa Monica is passing new initiatives to address homelessness such as the enforcement of street-based outreach programs and longer-term solutions, the problem remains prevalent.
On Thursday, June 29, SMDP asked visitors on the Promenade about their experience with homelessness and if it deterred them from returning. The overall consensus was mixed. Out of 25 people questioned, 13 people said the homeless population won’t affect their decision to return, while 12 people said that it would deter them from returning.
Bay Area visitor Jessica Chang explained that homeless populations are no surprise to her, and while disturbed, it won’t stop her from returning to Santa Monica.
“Where we are from, it’s more suburban so you don’t see as many homeless people, but we know that whenever we come out to LA the homeless populations are pretty prominent,” she said. “It’s not like they cause us any trouble, but it is disheartening to see people on the street. We haven’t had any negative interactions so far so we will still come here, it’s just hard to see.”
Tony Brazdas, a tourist from the UK felt there is a very evident wealth gap in Santa Monica, and is leaving the Los Angeles and Santa Monica area for cities further south as he deems them to be cleaner and better maintained.
“As tourists coming in from the UK, it’s a lot worse than it is in the UK. It’s in shambles really. It has been a bit scary sometimes,” he said. “Too many people looking through your dustbins for something to eat. You will be walking down the street in a minute, and there is obviously a massive divide between the rich and the poor. You will see a homeless person looking in a bin, and you will see someone pull up in a $100,000 dollar vehicle, and they will just cross paths like it’s nothing. It’s almost like the apartheid in South Africa, with the homeless and the rich. I wouldn’t want to come back. Last year we spent time in Downtown LA but this year we aren’t going there. We are going south because it’s cleaner and nicer and less homeless people around and makes you feel like you’re on an actual holiday.”
Many felt as if Downtown LA was far worse than Santa Monica in terms of cleanliness, safety, and the number of homeless.
“We’ve driven through LA, and it’s just pathetic. You don’t really notice Santa Monica so much, but I’ve seen it in the past. It’s not as bad as LA, but still it doesn’t make you want to come here. I used to come here as a kid when this place was crappy, and every opening was a homeless person that would be sleeping in there. Then they renovated this place and made it really an attraction to come to, but it’s going backwards again,” said Rancho Cucamonga resident Tom Hunsucker.
Most of the out-of-town visitors (11 of 15) felt Santa Monica had larger homeless populations than their area of residence.
“I would say it’s definitely worse here compared to where I live, but I mean it’s everywhere. It’s definitely sad to see and it definitely changes your perspective on the visit. It would help for them to know that they have someplace to go and not just the streets,” said Evan Kim, a visitor from Calabasas.
Santa Monica resident, Diana Shajari, said she supported immediate housing options as a way to fight homelessness even if they were not permanent.
“I don’t know if you know the little sheds they build in really big park areas, I think those are really good for housing for people. If you put someone who has mental health struggles and drug addiction in low income housing, it’s just not going to be the best thing for them at the moment. There are those temporary sheds that have a bed and a kitchen and they have a roof over their head and can get the help they need from the government and those types of services and I think those will be really helpful,” said Shajari.
Several respondents said they’d support more job training as a potential prevention for homelessness alongside housing resources.
“It definitely impacts my visit,” said Los Angeles resident Lindsey Mendoza. “I live more in the downtown area. I think Downtown LA is definitely harsher than here but I have definitely noticed that in the past year that homelessness here in Santa Monica has definitely increased a lot. Just being more weary about taking the train — I’ve noticed a lot of people sleeping in there. I think some kind of funding from the city council to have some type of housing or to try to give them more research to find a job.”
Barbara Tenzer handles leasing for several of the properties on the Promenade and said problems have prompted businesses to leave.
“We do the majority of the leasing on the Third Street Promenade. A lot of people are calling it Skid Row,” she said. “So it’s really a big problem. I mean, we’re losing tenants. We have new tenants coming in, you know, but still, Brandy Melville just left.”
While she said the situation has been allowed to deteriorate, there were hopeful signs including more resources targeting homelessness Downtown, the hiring of private security company Covered Six to patrol, new businesses showing interest in renting spots downtown and a renewed push by stakeholders to work together on revitalizing the area.
“I mean, if we the landlords, the city, the tenants, all of us, the brokers, you know, we need to work together to make this all like it was before,” she said. “You know, we can’t just ignore it, which is what the city does or did in the past.”