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

By Alyssa Erdley
Observer Staff Writer 

We Can't House All the Homeless, But At Least we can Count Them

Santa Monica Conducts Annual homeless count; 300 volunteers participate

 

January 29, 2019

Santa Monica Police confront a homeless man in Downtown Santa Monica

On Wednesday night, volunteers in Santa Monica and across Los Angeles County conducted the annual Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. From 10:30 pm until 2:30 am, volunteers in teams canvassed the streets to count the people they could see sleeping in public spaces.

While the 300-plus volunteers went through the city by foot or by car, area shelters, transitional programs, and hospitals also counted the homeless in their facilities.

Joining as volunteers for the count were the Santa Monica City Council, City Manager Rick Cole, Assembly member Richard Bloom, and Police Chief Cynthia Renaud. Volunteers met at St. Monica Catholic Community Grand Pavilion for training before sallying forth to count the homeless.

The data from the homeless count is used by both federal and local governments. The numbers aid the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in disbursing money for homelessness programs. Meanwhile, the City of Santa Monica claims the homeless count helps them measure the effectiveness of existing policies and plan new strategies for the future.

Last year, 957 homeless individuals were counted in Santa Monica. This was a 4 percent increase over the previous year even though homeless dropped 4 percent countywide. A 4 percent increase in homeless in Santa Monica was actually a welcome drop from the 26 percent increase in homeless that occurred in 2017. The number of people sleeping on the streets in 2017 was a 39 percent increase over the previous year.

A homeless man sleeping on a West Los Angeles street.

It is probably not a coincidence that Proposition 57 went into effect in 2017, the same year as the increase in homelessness. Approved by voters in November, 2016, Proposition 57 allows 'nonviolent' offenders to be released from prison early based on good-behavior credits and other criteria. Billed as feel-good prison reform, the Proposition was promoted by Governor Jerry Brown, who was under pressure from the federal government regarding prison overcrowding and inhumane healthcare. Numbers are unavailable regarding how many people have been released early under Proposition 57, but estimates at the time were that as many as 25,000 prisoners could be released early. Since the stated objective of the law was to reduce prison overcrowding, it is certain that thousands have been released. It is highly probable that many of these are homeless today. Prisons are in large part overcrowded because they act as de facto mental hospitals.

With these mentally ill now on Santa Monica streets, the city budgeted $1.4 million to deal with the crisis and last April sent out an outreach team to city parks consisting of a substance disorder clinician, a psychiatrist, and a doctor. A social worker now visits the Santa Monica public libraries, which have become informal daytime homeless shelters.

Unless and until the people of California are willing to establish thresholds for social behavior in public places, and develop the means and methods to remove and help those individuals who are unable to meet those thresholds, our streets will continue to be inhabited by the addicted and mentally ill.

 

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