Homeless Street Teams at Work During COVID-19

October 20, 2020 11:22 AM
by Margaret Willis

The number of people living outdoors in Los Angeles County is staggering: 66,436 people live without a home, including seniors, youth, veterans, and people suffering from mental health disorders and addiction. In February, Governor Gavin Newsom named it California’s number one priority for 2020. Weeks later, we were hit with a global pandemic that has upended our daily lives, disrupting systems that we rely on for health, social wellness, and economic stability. People experiencing homelessness have not been exempt from these disruptions, and their individual suffering has been exacerbated by interruptions in their already limited sources of food, shelter, and hygiene. At the same time, the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has put more households on the brink of homelessness than ever before.

Addressing homelessness has been one of the City of Santa Monica’s top priorities since 2015 with significant progress made through a sustained re-investment strategy in 2017 with the creation of a new model of street-based care and service delivery. The City’s eight percent reduction in the annual homeless census, conducted in January 2020, rings hollow in the wake of COVID-19 but stands in stark contrast to the 13% increase in county homelessness overall.   Specifically, reductions were seen in areas of Santa Monica that were the focus of targeted, coordinated efforts – including the downtown area and the beach.  The pandemic has altered daily life for everyone; we want to bring the Santa Monica community this update on homeless street outreach during COVID-19. 

Maintaining Outreach During COVID-19 

The City of Santa Monica’s homeless street teams have resumed pre-COVID-19 operations, providing connections to services five days a week. In March, our normal rhythm of life came to halt, and in keeping with the needs at that time, Los Angeles County and cities like us prioritized measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect vulnerable people, including homeless individuals with underlying health conditions and people over age 65. This work was successful with a local motel providing shelter to 26 people and limiting spread among an incredibly vulnerable population.   

The People Concern repeatedly engaged with an older man, who had been experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica for several years prior to the COVID-19 emergency.  When the team’s medical personnel observed potential symptoms of the coronavirus, they quickly placed him in one of LA County’s quarantine and isolation sites.  After receiving his negative COVID test result, the team was able to convince him to stay, while they secured a permanent placement in a long-term memory care facility.  He successfully moved into his new home, where he receives the integrated care he needs in the comfort and safety of his own place.  

Three Teams, One Goal: Stability 

The City has three teams for street-based homeless outreach: County, City, and Community (C3) team, the Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team (HMST), and the Santa Monica Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) All three operate with cross-functional experts. Both C3 and HMST are staffed with behavioral health clinicians, case managers, substance use disorder counselors, medical professionals, and peers with lived experience. These teams are operated by The People Concern and in partnership with Venice Family Clinic. The work of this team is featured in a recent LA Times column by Steve Lopez. 

SMPD’s Homeless Liaison Program has an embedded mental health professional through a collaboration with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health who works alongside specially trained SMPD officers as part of this dedicated unit that works in tandem with the C3 and HMST teams coordinated by the City’s Community Services Department 

With flu season upon us, these teams are also now focused on coordinating efforts with the LA County Department of Health Services to administer flu vaccines and COVID-19 tests when necessary to protect vulnerable people on the street and to prevent a surge in hospitalizations. 

As we look past 2020, addressing homelessness will continue to be a priority for the City of Santa Monica. We are as committed as ever to regional coordination and local action with our robust network of nonprofit organizations who are compassionate advocates for permanence during every season and crisis.  

To get involved and to learn more about nonprofits serving people experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica, visit https://www.weare.santamonica.gov/get-involved 

Authored By

Margaret Willis