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Santa Monica Considering “Tiny House Village” and other New Shelter for Homeless City Manager Says

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 7, 2018 -- Although the City has already done “more than its fair share,” Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole says concepts such as erecting a “Tiny House Village” for the rising homeless population are being discussed.

Cole said the City would consider creating a community of micro dwellings only as part of a region-wide effort to place such small homeless neighborhoods in other areas as well.

It is important any such community be replicated throughout the county for Santa Monica to avoid becoming a magnet -- or raising a red flag -- for a huge crush of homeless people, he said.

He said officials addressing the county’s mushrooming homeless population, which as of 2017 totaled almost 58,000 people, are already discussing the building of “Tiny House”-like developments as one of several options.

Typically, “tiny houses” are inexpensive and rarely larger than 500 square feet. Focus on them started as an option for downsizers, or those looking for a home in highly dense cities.

But the idea started spreading in recent years to cities struggling to provide shelter to burgeoning homeless populations and sometimes very low-income earners.

Although a smattering of cities nationwide, from Dallas to Detroit, are already home to variations of Tiny House communities, the concept hits big impediments in California, where appropriate space is hard to find and real estate costs are among the nation’s highest.

Officials in Santa Monica rarely talk about adding more shelter for homeless people, saying the City already offers as much as should be expected.

Cole’s comments on “Tiny House” villages were made as part of a larger news conference on Monday about the City’s newest homeless count, which was formally unveiled at the City Council meeting Tuesday night.

Santa Monica’s homeless count reached 957 people this year, up from 921 in 2017 ("Santa Monica’s Homeless Population Continued to Rise in 2018 but at Slower Pace," March 7, 2018).

Of this year’s homeless total, 646 individuals were without shelter, living in streets (mostly downtown), on the beach or vehicles or encampments.

City officials said that over the years, Santa Monica has funded 263 apartments for special needs populations, including 238 of them specifically designed as supportive housing for homeless households.

In December, the City Council approved using $500,000 of its federal community block grant funds to help rehabilitate an apartment building in Venice for 13 homeless households, three units of which will be set aside for Santa Monica homeless people ("City of Santa Monica Considers Using Grant Funds for Homeless Apartments in Venice," October 17, 2017).

Additionally, the has City funded a motel conversion in Culver City for 20 homeless families, a City spokesperson said.

Late last year, the City also started a pilot-project providing about $200,000 to subsidize costs for basis necessities for 22 long-term tenants in rent-controlled units unable to make their rent and could face eviction.

In addition, the City administers 220 vouchers for persons who are homeless and disabled, said Constance Farrell, a City spokesperson.

“Before the current homelessness crisis took hold, we were very effective in getting our homeless residents connected to services and housing,” she said, “but our safety network has been overwhelmed."

Rather than adding housing space within Santa Monica’s borders, the City is rolling out street teams of specialists who can help individuals and, ultimately, get them the services needed for them to handle to supportive housing.

In reaction to 2017’s spike in homelessness, the City allocated $1.4 million in new funding for outreach workers, additional police support, and resources to keep our public spaces, such as the City’s libraries, “accessible to all,” Farrell said ("Santa Monica City Council Awards Contract for Homeless Street Team," August 15, 2017).

In January, a new hire, Alisa Orduna, started as Senior Advisor on Homelessness, having held a similar post in the City of Los Angeles. Her salary is $10,937 a month ("Santa Monica Hires LA's Top Advisior on Homelessness to Fill New Post," January 26, 2018).

Today marks the first open meeting of the 50-member Homeless Steering Committee, which among other goals is tasked with getting input on the problem from the community.


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