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Santa Monica on Right Track Tackling Homelessness, City Officials Say

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica

Santa Monica Apartments

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By Jorge Casuso

February 22, 2021 -- Staff is recommending that the City Council on Tuesday "affirm" ongoing strategies that led to a decrease in Santa Monica's homeless population before the coronavirus shutdown.

The strategies include deploying multi-disciplinary street teams and park ambassadors to "address behavioral health needs" and providing $1.9 million in funding to local homeless service agencies, staff said.

The City should also continue to push for a regional approach to addressing homelessness and fund programs to prevent "housed Santa Monicans from becoming homeless," according to staff.

"COVID-19 has presented unprecedented challenges in our response and enhanced the visibility of this human crisis on our streets," said Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta.

"Many of these conditions will improve in the coming months as vaccination rates increase and civic and economic life resume, but challenges will remain," Gupta said.

The Council is also being asked to direct staff to "return with cost estimates for additional projects should these become feasible and further resources become available" for consideration in the upcoming biennial budget process, City officials said.

In addition to the strategies implemented or expanded two years ago,
staff is currently working to develop "an alternative crisis response model to divert behavioral health calls from dispatch," Gupta said.

In Fiscal year 2019-20, the Santa Monica Fire Department responded to 2,946 homeless-related calls, representing more than 18 percent of total Fire Department responses.

According to the January 2020 homeless count, there were 907 homeless individuals in the City of some 93,000. This year, the City did not conduct a homeless count due to the coronavirus emergency.

Both residents and business owners have complained that the homeless problem has grown over the past year.

A recent poll of some 200 Santa Monica residents active in local issues found that the perception of the state of homelessness in Santa Monica has worsened.

Only 2 percent said homelessness has gotten "better," while 80 percent said it had gotten "worse" ("Poll Finds Residents Waiting for New Council to Act on Crime and Homelessness," February 17, 2021).

One Downtown property owner has sued the City for failing to stop homeless individuals from sleeping in parking structure stairwells and elevators, a complaint echoed by others.

Gupta said the City has responded by hiring security guards "to ensure safety and presence via overnight patrols 7 nights per week."

The City Attorney's Office is also helping curb criminal behavior at a time when court operations have been limited by the pandemic, Gupta said.

Its Criminal Division "has launched new diversion models that adapt to the changing criminal justice system in LA County and focus on connecting people experiencing homelessness to services."

According to 2020 crime data released by the City last week, homeless individuals accounted for most of the arrests for aggravated assault and robbery during the shutdown ("Crime Dips During COVID-19 Shutdown," February 19, 2021).

The City beefed up its efforts to tackle homelessness in 2019 by expanding the Downtown ambassador program and deploying a team of homeless outreach workers to the beach ("Council Approves Nearly $713 Million Belt-Tightening Budget for Upcoming Fiscal Year," June 26, 2019).

Under a six-month pilot program that has been continued, Downtown ambassadors were also stationed at Reed Park, which neighboring residents complained had been taken over by the homeless.

And it earmarked $400,000 in one-time funds to deploy a team of "cross-functional homeless outreach workers" to cover the beach.

Santa Monica officials said the efforts led to an 8 percent drop in Santa Monica's homeless population -- from 985 individuals in January 2019 to 907 in January of last year.

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