Addressing Homelessness: City continues innovative approaches to preventing and addressing homelessness

May 14, 2024 8:02 PM
by Heather Averick

Santa Monica made significant progress in furthering the city’s key strategic priority of Addressing Homelessness in 2023, with a robust, innovative and expanding portfolio of programs and initiatives. 

On May 14, the Housing and Human Services Department shared details of these cross-departmental efforts in the Annual Homelessness Report presented to the City Council. 

The report showcases the impressive work completed in the first year of the newly formed Housing and Human Services Department being the lead of cross-departmental efforts on this issue, building on the city’s five-decades-long effort to prevent and address homelessness.

View a video on our progress here.

Here is an overview of some of the investments made in the past year. 

SMFD WISE Case Management Program

The Santa Monica Fire Department has partnered with Wise & Healthy Aging (WISE) to support at-risk seniors who are high utilizers of the 911 system. 

The WISE case manager works part-time, and since the start of the program in September 2023, 31 clients have been enrolled in the program. Twenty-two of these clients have been connected with much-needed services and no longer need to depend on the 911 system for assistance. 

Santa Monica Shelter (SAMOSHEL)

The city increased funds to SAMOSHEL so that all 60 beds are now reserved exclusively for those experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica who are referred from Santa Monica Police Department, the Shelter, Treatment and Empowerment Program, or STEP Court, and city-funded outreach teams. SAMOSHEL recently underwent renovations to create a new intake room and is now open 24/7 for referrals from first responders.  

Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) Team

The HLP Team is the Police Department’s dedicated unit tasked primarily with working with people experiencing homelessness. The HLP Team works to locate, identify and provide outreach to people experiencing homelessness. When necessary, the HLP Team enforces applicable municipal and state codes. The HLP Team regularly works side by side with outreach personnel from the Salvation Army, The People Concern, and other organizations to address, and at times facilitate care and services for, people experiencing homelessness.

The HLP Team operates Monday through Friday and is currently staffed with one Police Sergeant and nine Police Officers and supported with one full-time, dedicated clinician from the Department of Mental Health.   SMPD is in the process of recruiting staff to add a second HLP Team to provide coverage seven days a week.

Multi-Disciplinary Outreach Teams (MDTs) 

The City Council has supported the addition of a third MDT, which launched in Fiscal Year 2023-24, to ensure all areas of Santa Monica are supported with outreach.  The MDTs are staffed and managed by the city’s homeless service partner, The People Concern, and are comprised of a psychiatrist, licensed medical and behavioral health clinicians, clinical social workers, and case managers. 

In 2023, these teams made 8,282 contacts with people experiencing homelessness, provided 1,059 direct medical or psychiatric services, and placed 56 clients into interim or permanent housing. 

311 Homelessness Related Response Program

In February, SMPD entered into a formal partnership with the Salvation Army to support the City’s 311 Outreach efforts and provide street team assistance to the HLP team. The Salvation Army Homeless Outreach Team provides immediate support and follow-up via direction from the HLP team to 311 requests that are related to providing services to people experiencing homelessness. 

Homeless Support Team (HoST)

The HoST pilot program addresses the impact of homelessness in parks, beaches and other public spaces. The team is tasked with proactive maintenance, rapid response to 311 requests, and supporting the HLP team with encampment removal efforts. From September through March 2024, HoST collected 91 tons of debris from 942 calls for service.

The team is expanding this month to deploy five days a week. 

Affordable Housing 

Increasing the supply of affordable housing is a key component of the city’s efforts to address homelessness. The city has nearly 5,000 affordable residences, including 184 permanent supportive housing residences specifically for formerly homeless individuals. 

This year, Santa Monica earned the state’s Prohousing Designation, recognizing the city’s strong commitment to developing affordable housing and opening the door for additional funding opportunities to help the city continue this work.

Affordable housing additions in 2023 and 2024 include: 

Santa Monica also continues to provide long-term rental assistance via several federal housing voucher programs. As of December 2023:

This year, Santa Monica also received an award of 15 Stability Vouchers to provide rental assistance and supportive services to those people experiencing homelessness and at risk of homelessness. As of March 2024, 13 of the 15 vouchers are in process.

The city also continues to support 206 vulnerable seniors through the Preserving Our Diversity, or POD, cash-based assistance program. This year the city raised the average monthly assistance from $510 to $766.

Regional Collaboration

The housing and homelessness crisis is a regional issue, and the city seeks partnerships, resources, and greater collaboration with other agencies throughout the region. The city launched several initiatives this year thanks to these regional collaborations.

Therapeutic Transport Team: In January, Santa Monica launched a therapeutic transport team pilot program, in collaboration with LA County’s Department of Mental Health, to assist Santa Monica Police and Fire personnel with 911 and non-emergency calls for service that involve someone experiencing a mental health emergency. 

As of March, the DMH Therapeutic Transport Team had served 34 people. 

STEP Court: In January, the City Attorney’s Office, in collaboration with the Los Angeles Superior Court, the Public Defender’s office, and Exodus Recovery, Inc., launched the Services, Treatment & Empowerment Program, or STEP Court.  STEP Court is a collaborative diversion court that connects qualifying individuals with housing assistance and mental health and/or substance abuse treatment. The program has 22 graduates participants since its launch. 

L.A. County Pathway Home Program: In partnership with L.A. County Homeless Initiative’s Pathway Home encampment resolution program, the city transitioned 25 people experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica to interim supportive housing in the city. Since the operation launched on Feb. 14, two individuals have moved into permanent housing.

Continuing the work 

While the annual report highlights the city’s progress in addressing homelessness, our work is not done.

That’s why at the May 14 meeting, the City Council also voted to approve a Proclamation of a Local Emergency Order on Homelessness through May 31, 2025, to ensure the city can continue its momentum to address homelessness.

Extending the order will allow the city to continue to quickly and flexibly address the crisis.. 

Many of the city’s homelessness efforts over the past year were guided by the results of a comprehensive audit conducted by the city’s auditor from April through October 2022. The audit recommended prioritizing investments in the areas of affordable housing, regional collaboration, and internal alignment through a citywide Homelessness Strategic Plan. 

In the past year, the Housing and Human Service Department has been diligently working on completing the plan which will be the roadmap to guide the city’s efforts to address homelessness. It will build on the city’s past work to set clear policy direction, promote alignment across city stakeholders, and support regional efforts. It will also include measurable outcomes, goals and strategies which will inform how we report annually on the city’s progress going forward. The plan will be presented to the City Council in early 2025.

For more information, view the annual homelessness report here.

Authored By

Heather Averick
Director of Housing and Human Services


Housing, Safety, Strategic Priorities