Outreach Programs and Field-Based Teams to Address Homelessness

April 4, 2022 1:20 PM
by Margaret Willis

This article was featured in the March 2022 edition of Seascape. Read the entire edition in English and Spanish.

Bringing Santa Monica’s Four Pillar Strategy to life means investing in outreach programs and field-based teams that provide immediate and consistent engagement as well as a connection to services, treatment, and housing. We have enough data points that indicate these resources are the critical gateway into the Coordinated Entry System (CES), a process and system that helps people experiencing homelessness find permanent homes.

Outreach teams throughout LA County are classified as Generalist Teams, Multidisciplinary Teams, or Specialty Teams. While the long-term goal of homeless services is to move people out of homelessness and into permanent housing, outreach plays a crucial role in addressing immediate basic needs and connecting individuals to other services in the community.


Generalist teams provide general, proactive outreach and distribute basic resources (such as food and water), provide referrals to benefits, transportation, shelter and housing programs.

Santa Monica Fire Department and West Coast Care, a city-funded non-profit, work together to provide outreach services and offer food, water, and hygiene products to those that need them. These teams also provide information on Project Homecoming, the City’s reunification program, along with social services. This means that city funds go towards providing services that reunite people experiencing homelessness with family members across the country.

We also team up with Downtown Santa Monica Ambassadors to provide hospitality and maintenance services, and these services have expanded to include Tongva and Palisades Parks. All ambassadors are trained in de-escalation, engaging with people experiencing homelessness, and offering referral information to local/regional social service agencies. This means that city funds go toward staffing the parks with Ambassadors in specific parks seven days a week.


Multidisciplinary teams are uniquely equipped to provide traditionally clinic-based services directly into the community to help vulnerable individuals when and where they need them.

The City funds three multidisciplinary outreach teams to serve people experiencing homelessness. These teams include staff such as licensed mental health professionals, housing case managers, substance use specialists, licensed medical providers, psychiatrists, and peers with lived experience. This means that city-funded teams are out on Santa Monica streets 7 days a week meeting with people experiencing homelessness and providing information about local services.

One Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team (HMST), operated by The People Concern, works with chronically homeless individuals identified as the highest utilizers of local police and fire services. HMST is staffed by licensed mental health professionals, housing case managers, substance-use specialists, licensed medical providers, psychiatrists, and a peer with lived experience.

In addition to HMST, the City also funds two C3 ("City + County + Community") Teams. Staffed similarly to HMST, C3 teams are deployed proactively to the areas of the city with the highest concentration of unsheltered homelessness. One C3 team serves the Downtown Santa Monica area (including Tongva, Palisades and Reed Parks) and the second focuses on the South Beach (including the Pier, beach parking lots, and adjacent parks).


Specialty teams, such as the County Department of Mental Health HOME Team, may focus on specific sub-populations, such as participants living with severe and persistent mental illness.

First Responder Teams

First responders, which are the Santa Monica Police and Fire Department personnel, are the first to arrive when responding to emergency calls for service. Additionally, the SMPD Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) Team has led the Police Department’s engagement with people experiencing homelessness. The LA County Department of Mental Health also enlists the help of two full-time mental health clinicians that work alongside the police department. This means that public safety personnel are also doing outreach in Santa Monica to connect people experiencing homelessness to local services.

In September 2021, the SMFD conducted a pilot launch for the Community Response Unit (CRU) — this team works with the unhoused population on less urgent incidents. They also support seniors and other vulnerable groups. This means that when a call comes in related to people experiencing homelessness, we send the Community Response Unit instead of a fire truck, for example, as this team is more equipped to meet the individual needs.

Mental Health Teams

We have teamed with the LA County Department of Mental Health (DMH) to address non-violent mental health crisis calls for service. In these instances, a therapeutic transport van staffed with DMH behavioral health professionals and people with lived experiences will be deployed, either alongside first responders or independently. This program costs $400,000 in city funds annually and will launch this spring. Funding this program means that a DMH team will be available 24/7 to address non-violent, mental health-related calls for service. This is not an exclusive service for people experiencing homelessness. This will be a resource that expands our ability to provide services meeting the specific needs of those in a mental health crisis in real-time.

In these instances, people are better served by supportive resources and offer a safe, more specialized response to the person in need. This also allows first responders to address more urgent cases, allowing the city to most efficiently use our resources by sending the right resource based on the community need.

Aside from outreach, what else is Santa Monica doing to address homelessness?

In addition to outreach services, Santa Monica partners with local non-profits to proactively address homelessness. We work with city-funded organizations to deploy proactive strategies for people experiencing homelessness and connect them with the services they need.

Last year, Santa Monica budgeted $6.7 million to provide specific services in Santa Monica for people experiencing homelessness. City-funded efforts go above and beyond Measure H and outreach efforts coordinated by LAHSA. City funding delivered local services through non-profits like the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, St. Joseph Center, The People Concern, Step Up on Second, CLARE | Matrix, Westside Food Bank, Meals on Wheels West, Venice Family Clinic, West Coast Care, DMH Therapeutic Transport Van, Downtown Santa Monica Ambassadors, Legal Aid, and Greyhound.

What affordable housing efforts are being worked on in Santa Monica?

Affordable housing plays a key role in the topic of addressing homelessness. Currently, Santa Monica supports 1,600 households with over $29 million in federal funding for local affordable housing. In addition to federal funding for local housing, the City has implemented outreach efforts to increase awareness of the State of California COVID-19 rental assistance program so that residents can continue to stay in their homes. Over 2,600 households in Santa Monica have applied for this funding, and $25 million has been received in assistance so far.

We are also proactively expanding affordable housing opportunities wherever possible. Magnolia Villas on 10th Street is new and offers 39 one-bedroom apartments to seniors 62+ at below-market prices. This site was built with $11.4 million in City funding. The City is also moving forward with efforts to build new affordable housing on city property on 4th Street in the downtown area.

To stay informed, visit santamonica.gov/topic-explainers/homelessness

Please contact the following services for various situations:

  • 9-1-1: If someone is experiencing a medical emergency or if there’s an immediate threat to someone’s life or safety.
  • 2-1-1 or LA-HOP.org: Submit a request for homeless outreach assistance using the LA Homeless Outreach Portal.
  • (800) 854-7771: Contact the Department of Mental Health number if someone is experiencing a psychiatric/mental health crisis.
  • (310) 458-8491: For non-emergency police response in Santa Monica.
  • 3-1-1 or 311@santamonica.gov: Submit a Santa Monica-specific request for service like trash pickup.
  • Authored By

    Margaret Willis


    Housing, Strategic Priorities, Your City Hall