Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Rick Cole
City Manager 

City Manager Rick Cole: How Santa Monica Can Do More for its Homeless Population.

No one pretends we can solve homelessness in 8.3 square miles, but Santa Monica is determined to do everything we can


September 22, 2017

Observer file photo

Homeless man weeps by the statute of St. Monica at Wilshire and Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.

We already do a lot in Santa Monica, but obviously the explosion in the regional homeless population (up 23% in one year in LA County) is hitting us with a 26% increase in our annual count here in Santa Monica.

No one pretends we can solve homelessness in 8.3 square miles, but Santa Monica is determined to do everything we can within our borders. As to what's new, we are doing several new things and are working on more:

· In July we completed a pilot joint effort between Police Patrol and Human Services to conduct weekly 3 am operations in Palisades Park. Overnight camping there is illegal. But rather than just issuing citations, Police used the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data used by local non-profit homeless service agencies during the interaction to connect homeless individuals to resources that correspond to their needs (housing, employment, mental health services etc.)

· We are working together with the County and 87 other cities in our County on shared strategies for expanded services and housing paid for by the passage of new taxes for homeless services and affordable housing by LA County, LA City and Santa Monica. Regionally, the City participates in a range of planning meetings hosted by LA County's Chief Executive Office, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the United Way of Greater LA, and represents the Westside Cities Council of Governments on the Regional Homeless Advisory Council. The City also meets regularly with other Westside jurisdictions and state and county elected offices to coordinate regional efforts and leverage local resources.

· Community and Cultural Services Department (CCS) convenes the Chronic Homeless Project (CHP) which brings local and County services together to share resources and collaborate on case plans for homeless individuals. In addition, the Santa Monica Police Department's Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) team hosts an interdepartmental meeting to track progress and coordinate efforts to house chronic offenders. CCS also leads the Senior Housing Task Force, which brings together city departments and non-profit providers to identify and support low-income seniors at risk of homelessness, and partners with the City Attorney's Office to administer the Homeless Community Court. The Housing and Economic Development Department is dedicated to preserving existing affordable housing in Santa Monica and creating new housing opportunities for residents with low and moderate incomes. The Housing Division administers federal Continuum of Care, Section 8 housing vouchers, and Housing Trust funds for this purpose.

· The City is also pursuing a range of responses to safety in public spaces – funding the expansion of the Downtown Santa Monica Ambassadors into Tongva and Palisades Park, heavily programming Reed Park with activities and focusing law enforcement on Chess Park. All have had some success, but all require a level of resources that are currently difficult to scale and sustain citywide.

· In June 2017, CCS and the City Manager initiated a community homelessness steering committee comprised of representatives from the business community, City commissions, faith partners, non-profit agencies, LA County services as well as state and county elected offices. Local organizations such as the Westside Coalition, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and Santa Monica Travel and Tourism frequently invite CCS staff to provide updates on local and regional homeless issues. They are working on a four-pronged community-wide effort:

1) To address the increase in homeless individuals in our community, we will relentlessly, humanely, compassionately, constitutionally and effectively engage people in distress. This effort will encompass not only our front-line emergency response staff in Police and Fire. We will also provide scalable training and information that can be used by other City staff, non-profit service providers, Downtown Santa Monica Ambassadors and volunteer community members and businesspeople, as appropriate.

2) To maximize the City's resources, we will coordinate planning, communication and collaborative action across numerous city departments, community-based organizations, the business community and regional partners, working with a new Homeless Steering Committee that is being organized by these stakeholders.,

3) To leverage available data, we will share useful information to provide the appropriate assistance and to make allocation of resources and evaluation of interventions more accurate, timely and effective.

4) Recognizing the regional nature of this challenge, we will actively work in support of the evolution and funding of the regional homeless services system that provides critical outreach, mental health, housing, health care and other services we can make a difference in the lives of vulnerable people and support health, safety and equity in our local community.

Observer file photo

Brandon collects recyclable material in Santa Monica. "I'm not homeless! I live right here," he says.

In addition, the City will deal firmly and effectively with criminal and anti-social behavior that is often mistakenly conflated with the problem of homelessness. Homeless people are more likely to be the victims of crime than perpetrators, but in our society, there has grown an increasingly estranged and alienated element of transient individuals whose drug and alcohol dependence, symptoms of mental illness and/or criminal records have made them menaces to public safety by their chronic anti-social behaviors. This is a particularly difficult challenge to which law enforcement alone is an insufficient answer. We will work creatively and consistently to ensure the safety and enjoyment of Santa Monica's public spaces are not threatened by this small, but deeply troubled segment of our population. We will continue to treat people as individuals, not stigmatize all homeless people with the behaviors of a small fraction who constitute a threat to others.


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