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Downtown Santa Monica Sees Major Decline in Overnight Homeless Population, Annual Count Shows

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

February 25, 2014 -- Santa Monica’s annual homeless count showed dramatically fewer people sleeping on the streets of the bayside city’s Downtown district, officials reported Monday.

While the biggest decrease -- from 141 people in 2013 to 86 in 2014 -- was concentrated west of Lincoln Boulevard between Pico and Wilshire boulevards, the count, conducted overnight on January 29, also showed an overall drop in the number of homeless people sleeping throughout the bayside city.

This year, volunteers found 742 individuals -- down from 780 -- sleeping on the streets, in cars or in encampments throughout the bayside city, a reduction that City officials credit partially to targeting Santa Monica’s most vulnerable population.

“After the 2013 Count, we did refocus some of our efforts in order to identify and engage those individuals who have been homeless in the City the longest, and are the most vulnerable,” said Margaret Willis, Human Services administrator.

“We worked with our City-funded agencies to have them focus on providing more intensive services to those individuals already here, while redirecting those individuals who are new to our community back to appropriate resources in their home communities, through programs such as Project Homecoming and through our partnership with the County Department of Mental Health (DMH),” Willis said.

“In addition, Community and Cultural Services, in partnership with the City Attorney’s Office, DMH and local service providers, worked with SMPD to share some of the nationally recognized best-practices of the Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) Team across the police department,” she said.

The 2014 total was the second-lowest number of homeless people volunteers have counted since the City began its annual count four years ago.

The city also saw the number of people sleeping in shelters drop from 400 in 2013 to 396 this year. The number of people sleeping on the street declined from 380 in 2013 to 346. And, the number of people sleeping in cars or in encampments dropped from 64 to 57.

Since 2010, Santa Monica had seen the number of homeless people in sleeping within its borders steadily climb, which staff had said could be an aftereffect of the recent economic downtown.

With sluggish economic recovery and dwindling federal funding for affordable housing, City officials worried in 2013 that the increase in Santa Monica’s homeless population could have been the beginning of a trend. (“Santa Monica's Homeless Population Stable, But Hard Times May Lie Ahead,” February 29)

Despite the upward trend from 2010 to 2013, Santa Monica’s homeless population remained significantly below 2008 levels, when the City counted 915 people sleeping in shelters or on the streets.

While cities that receive federal money to fight homelessness are required to count their homeless populations every two years, Santa Monica switched to an annual count in 2010, “in order to more rapidly identify and respond to homeless population needs,” according to staff.

Santa Monica is situated on the western edge of Los Angeles County, which is home to the country’s largest population of homeless people.

In 2013, County officials estimated the regional homeless population to be 57,737, more than a 7,000 person increase over 2011 estimates.

As a result, Santa Monica’s Action Plan to Address Homelessness, adopted in 2008, contains provisions for regional cooperation to combat homelessness and to get neighboring communities to adopt better practices for handling their homeless populations.

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