Comprehensive Update on Addressing Homelessness in Santa Monica Planned for February 23 City Council Meeting
February 18, 2021 5:15 PM
by Anuj Gupta
Join us at the February 23 City Council meeting to hear a comprehensive update and be part of finding new solutions to address homelessness in our community to ensure safe and clean public spaces for all. Homelessness and housing are twin crises impacting Los Angeles County and major U.S. cities, made all the more visible by COVID-19.
Santa Monica has a decades-long history of a street engagement strategy that has proven effective in decreasing homelessness, even as regional and neighboring populations have increased.
- Santa Monica saw an 8 percent decrease in the annual 2020 Homeless Count prior to COVID, while LA County experienced a 13 percent increase in people experiencing homelessness.
- In Downtown Santa Monica, where the City’s outreach and engagement efforts are most concentrated, the annual Homeless Count showed two straight years of significant decreases pre-COVID, including a 19 percent decrease from 2018 to 2019, and a 14 percent decrease from 2019 to 2020.
COVID-19 has presented unprecedented challenges in our response and enhanced the visibility of this human crisis on our streets. The devastating economic impacts of the pandemic have increased housing insecurity across Los Angeles County, even as public health restrictions have limited shelter capacity and forced the closure of libraries, public facilities, and other indoor spaces. The impacts of these combined factors are felt most acutely by people experiencing homelessness and are felt throughout our community as other portions of our normally thriving civic life have been shuttered during public health shutdowns and changes to state laws and COVID-impacts on court operations have limited the ability of criminal case filings to address misdemeanor crimes that impact the quality of life. Many of these conditions will improve in the coming months as vaccination rates increase and civic and economic life resume, but challenges will remain.
We see the needs of all people in our community, and we know we need an all hands on deck response to addressing homelessness in our community. From housing and social services to public safety and public works, our programs, resources, and community partnerships reflect Santa Monica’s long-held commitment to the health, safety, and wellbeing of every person.
Santa Monica has a Four Pillar Strategy for addressing homelessness. Here’s how we are taking action:
Address the behavioral health needs of vulnerable residents.
- Three multi-disciplinary street teams and the specially trained Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) Team, along with two mental-health clinicians from the LA County Department of Mental Health, in the Santa Monica Police Department work to connect people experiencing homelessness to housing and supportive services.
- The City funds $1.9 million for homelessness to grantee agencies that provide direct services, including nearly 400 shelter and treatment beds.
- We engage in on-going care coordination between SMPD, SMFD, CSD, CAO, nonprofit providers, and County services.
- Staff is currently working to develop an alternative crisis response model to divert behavioral health calls from dispatch.
- The City Attorney’s Office Criminal Division, in addition to prosecuting misdemeanor cases, 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.
Maintain access to safe, fun, healthy open spaces.
- Outreach and engagement resources – including multi-disciplinary street teams, SMPD HLP team, DTSM Ambassadors, and West Coast Care – are focused on priority, high-need public spaces including parks, beach, and downtown.
- We consistently look for new approaches to maintaining our public spaces as safe, clean, and enjoyable for all.
In response to concerns about health and safety in downtown parking garages during the pandemic, the City has put in place a contract with security guards to ensure safety and presence via overnight patrols 7 nights per week.
Advocate for regional capacity to address homelessness.
- We continue to forge relationships with County partners necessary to advance regional coordination. In January, Council approved addition of a senior analyst to support grant applications, regional cooperation, and regional response.
- We look to build system capacity evenly throughout Service Planning Area 5 (Westside) and to address inter-jurisdictional issues through collaborative networks like the Westside Cities Council of Governments, even as we continue to advocate for Santa Monica to receive a fair share of regional resources.
- We advocate for federal support to make the kind of impact a large urban county needs.
Prevent housed Santa Monicans from becoming homeless.
- We were one of the first cities in the nation to put an eviction moratorium in place at the beginning of the pandemic to keep people safely at home.
- We are scaling up to provide cash assistance to up to 400 low-income senior households through our first-of-its-kind Preserving Our Diversity (POD) program.
- We have supported 600+ housing vulnerable Santa Monicans financially impacted by COVID-19 through our Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
- Council allocated funds in January to provide additional legal services to tenants who are at risk of eviction when moratoriums do lift and back rent begins to become due.
- Our Affordable Housing Production Program and other programs across the city increase affordable housing and require affordable units in new projects.
- Our housing assistance and voucher programs work to get low-income residents and workers into local housing.
- Our City Attorney’s Office Public Rights Division engages in legal advocacy and education to protect tenants’ rights.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges, but we are partnering with our entire community to identify and implement strong and innovative solutions in keeping with our history. We remain committed to promoting a safe and healthy environment and secure, stable housing for all, and partnering with many providers across our region to take action on this important topic. We look forward to the February 23 City Council study session on homelessness as well as the March 13 special City Council meeting to set priorities for the 2021 – 2023 budget.