Santa Monica Lookout
|Record Turnout for Santa Monica’s Annual Homeless Count|
By Jason Islas
February 3, 2014 -- A record number of volunteers from all corners of the community turned out Wednesday night for Santa Monica’s annual homeless count.
More than 250 people, including City staff, public officials, local businesses and Chamber of Commerce officials, met at Saint Monica's Church and worked into the early hours of the morning to tally the wealthy bayside city’s homeless people.
"This year, the largest number of volunteers came out to help with the annual homeless count," said Mayor Pam O'Connor. "Residents from throughout our community were joined by social service partners, police, fire and city staff to collect this data."
At the annual homeless count, volunteers are divided into teams and split the city into quadrants. Over the course of the night, the volunteers scan their area and count homeless people and encampments from afar.
“That data helps the City understand current needs and seek funding and services as we work with the region in addressing homelessness and giving people a helping hand up,” O’Connor said.
The count helps the the City keep track of the number of people who need access to social services, but it is also an emotional experience for the volunteers.
"It's kind of eye-opening," said Karim Gowani with Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering (i-CERV). Since 2008, i-CERV has gathered volunteers to participate in the count.
It's an opportunity for the volunteers to "see how fortunate they are," said Gowani.
While Santa Monica’s homeless population has been dramatically reduced since the City began counting in 2008, when volunteers counted 915 people, a recently the number of people sleeping on the streets, in cars or in shelters has slowly been climbing.
Last year, through the night of January 30, volunteers counted 780 homeless people in Santa Monica, which was a one percent increase over 2012 numbers.
From 2012 to 2013, Santa Monica saw a bump in the number of people sleeping on the street, in their cars and in shelters.
With the economy slow to recover and federal funding for affordable housing and other services for low-income people drying up, the small increase in Santa Monica’s homeless population could well have been the beginning of a trend, officials said.
It will be a few weeks before the final 2014 tally is in and officials will be able to see if the upward trend has continued.
While Santa Monica has a well-funded nonprofit network, much of which focuses on helping homeless or vulnerable people, the bayside city is situated in a county that is home to America’s largest homeless population.
In 2011, L.A. County officials estimated 51,340 people are homeless in the region, so even as Santa Monica maintains a high level of services, the relatively small bayside city can’t care for all of the County’s homeless people.
Over the years, Santa Monica has made efforts to goad neighboring cities and agencies to help.
Former Santa Monica mayor Bobby Shriver was a key player in a 2005 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the Veterans Administration (VA) that claimed the federal agency had failed to honor its deed by not building housing for veterans at its 387-acre Westwood Campus.
While estimates vary, it is believed that about 6,000 homeless vets live in L.A. County.
Since the lawsuit was filed, the VA has begun a $20 million renovation of one of three buildings officials say will provide therapeutic supportive housing for vets.
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