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Santa Monica's Homeless Population Drops During COVID

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By Jorge Casuso

May 5, 2022 -- Santa Monica's homeless population dropped by 100 --from 907 to 807 -- over the past two years, but the number of those living on the streets has remained flat, according to the results of the 2022 homeless count.

The 11 percent decrease was driven by a dramatic 35 percent drop in the number of homeless persons staying in local shelters, jails, and institutions due to COVID-19 health protocols -- from 306 to 199.

The number of those living in motels and emergency shelters dropped 30 percent, from 280 to 197, while the number of those in hospitals dropped from 14 to 1 and those in jail dropped from 12 to 1.

Meanwhile, the number of homeless people living on the streets inched up 1 percent from 601 to 608, according to the count conducted on the night of February 23.

The increase in the number of homeless persons would have been more dramatic if Los Angeles County had not boosted the number of available beds in the region.

"Although there were fewer local beds available, the overall number of regional interim housing options increased during the pandemic," according to a report from the City Manager's office.

"This added regional capacity had positive local impacts, helping to prevent a spike in the local street count," staff wrote in a report the City Council will take up Wednesday.

While the number of homeless persons living on the streets increased by only seven over the past two years, they have likely become more visible.

The number of homeless persons living Downtown -- which has been the focus of growing complaints from residents, merchants and property owners -- rose from 214 to 246, a 14 percent increase.

Also rising was the number of people living in tents and in vehicles -- from 99 in 2020, the last time a census was taken, to 135, a 36 percent increase, according to this year's count.

The homeless count, taken in the early morning hours when people are "bedded down for the night," City officials noted, "provides a very different snapshot of homelessness than what people experience in Santa Monica during the day in our public spaces."

“The impacts of homelessness are felt by everyone on our streets every day, and this public health crisis remains a top priority,” said Santa Monica City Manager David White.

“Housing is limited and too expensive, resources to address behavioral and mental health and substance abuse issues are in short supply, and we are surrounded by the City of Los Angeles on three sides, where the concentration of people experiencing homelessness is substantial."

The City's "robust, multi-departmental, data driven approach based on proven methods" has helped maintain the local homeless population stable, officials said.

"In order to reduce the inflow of newly homeless households, Santa Monica has strengthened its commitment to preventing homelessness and increasing affordable housing options while promoting a diverse and inclusive community," staff wrote in their report.

City Manager White said Santa Monica must "continue to urgently deploy a comprehensive strategy that includes providing connections to services and available housing, prevention, enforcement (and) increasing the supply of affordable housing.

The City also must continue "addressing the mental and behavioral health needs of those experiencing homelessness" and pushing for legislative and regional solutions, White said.

"We hear the concerns being raised and are actively working to respond to this crisis by adding experts to the field and more longer-term solutions like a behavioral health center,” White said.

Staff also plans to recommend that the City expand the three multi-disciplinary outreach teams from the beach and Downtown areas across the city ("Santa Monica Spends Some $5 Million a Year in Homeless Outreach, Report Says," January 20, 2022).

In addition, the Council should consider prioritizing households with Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs) on the Below Market Housing (BMH) waiting list and begin using funds set aside to prevent evictions.

Santa Monica should continue "doing more of the effective things," said Margaret Willis, the City's Human Services Administrator. "Let's double down on those things that show a positive impact."

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