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Edelman Leaves Lasting Legacy, Officials Say

By Jorge Casuso

December 19 -- After two years as Santa Monica’s “homeless czar,” Ed Edelman will leave his $200,000-a-year post this month after initiating programs and policies that should long outlive his tenure.

The former Los Angeles County Supervisor leaves behind a legacy that includes initiating a separate court for the homeless, negotiating an agreement to move free meal programs indoors and helping to find a new executive director for the County’s homeless agency.

In addition, Edelman -- who is widely viewed as a skillful ambassador -- helped launch a regional approach to tackling a persistent problem that has made Los Angeles County the nation’s largest homeless center.

“I think he did an unbelievable job in the short time he was there,” said Council member Bobby Shriver, who pushed to create the post and helped recruit Edelman. “Having a person who has respect all over the city and the county was a great gesture for Santa Monica and it reverberated.”

“He had authority and dignity,” Shriver said. “He’s a peacemaker. Ed is a genuinely sincere person. It’s a very great quality.”

Council member Richard Bloom, who was a member of the County task force that forged a 10-year plan to tackle homelessness, praised Edelman's ability to reach out and expand Santa Monica’s base of support.

“Nobody thought Ed would come in and wave a magic wand and end homelessness, and no one will be able to do that,” Bloom said. "His greatest contribution has been to focus the attention on all the various stakeholders around the table who want to improve the lives of the homeless.

“He really helped us focus not just Santa Monica’s attention, but the county’s attention, on homelessness,” Bloom said. “So he’s really done an invaluable service to the community that will result in broad changes in policies and approach in all the communities in LA County.”

One of Edelman’s biggest accomplishments, City officials said, was his creation of a $1.7 million pilot program in September 2006 known as the “Santa Monica Homeless Community Court” that gives hardcore homeless who run afoul of the law not just punishment, but rehabilitation.

Based on a successful model in New York City, the court -- which works together with mental health experts and service providers -- offers drug and psychiatric assistance, rather than jail time, to those arrested for petty offenses.

“Community courts was key,” said Kate Vernez, a senior analyst for the City Manager’s office. “It brought interest from throughout the state.

“It brings the courts into the mix to combine them with services and housing to break the revolving-door nature that happens between the courts, jail and the street,” Vernez said.

Edelman is also widely credited with negotiating with food providers to bring free meal programs from the parks indoors. Currently, the two largest operators are working out of the new OPCC homeless drop-in center behind the bus yards.

In addition to discouraging large gatherings and enhancing sanitation -- the discarded food, officials said, was helping the ground squirrel population thrive -- the indoor program now hooks up the homeless who seek a handout with services to help get them off the streets.

Edelman also was involved in the search for a new Executive Director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) he had created as a Los Angeles County Supervisor years earlier, along with former Mayor Tom Bradley.

Edelman said the agency’s choice, Rebecca Isaacs, has made LAHSA “a stronger voice in Los Angeles and has begun offering local service providers access to best practices and technical assistance, along with funding for programs and services.”

Edelman acknowledges he has had to accomplish his work without the political clout he once wielded as a powerful County Supervisor.

“While my role has been called everything from a ‘liaison’ position to even Santa Monica's ‘czar’ on homeless, I essentially have had no formal political power,” Edelman said. “I haven’t had the power of a public office, but I had my power of persuasion.”

It is unclear what the future will hold for Edelman, who came out of semi-retirement to accept the post, or to the position created by the City Council.

“I’m confident he’ll keep his hand in homelessness,” Bloom said.

“If we found someone with integrity and authority, I’d be glad to keep (the post) alive,” Shriver said.

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“Having a person who has respect all over the city and the county was a great gesture for Santa Monica and it reverberated.” Bobby Shriver

 

“He really helped us focus not just Santa Monica’s attention, but the county’s attention, on homelessness.” Richard Bloom

 

“I haven’t had the power of a public office, but I had my power of persuasion.” Ed Edelman

 

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