June 5, 2019 8:45 AM
by Alisa Orduna
California’s affordability and housing crisis continues to dramatically impact the number of people living on the street throughout Los Angeles County. This week, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) announced a 12% increase with nearly 60,000 people now experiencing homelessness across the county. While this increase is jolting, including a 19% uptick on the Westside, it is consistent with what’s happening across the Southland.
We feel the impact in Santa Monica, but we are also seeing a turn. Santa Monica’s count numbers released in March largely held steady with a modest 3% difference and a substantial 19% reduction in the Downtown area.
Santa Monica has long had a plan in action to address its share of the region’s homeless population. When regional and local homeless counts increased by over 20% in 2017, the City doubled down on its efforts through the integration of a data-driven approach that is beginning to show results.
Through the influx of funding, the City piloted several key initiatives to address homelessness in open spaces through regular engagement, getting to know people by name, assessing their needs, providing field-based treatment, and helping navigate a pathway toward re-housing and services.
On June 5, 2019, RAND Corporation released the results of a study evaluating the social and economic effectiveness of the Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Outreach Team (HMST). The evaluation found that not only did participants receive a better quality of care through intensive case management services, but their contacts with police and fire were significantly reduced, offsetting City spending on the program by 17% to 43%.
Since the time the report data collection ended, the program has continued to evolve to improve participants’ health outcomes. Enhanced coordination between the City, county, and service provider The People Concern has resulted in even more participants successfully graduating from HMST to other forms of care.
The HMST outreach team is one spoke in Santa Monica’s wheel or coordinated services. Here’s a look at other approaches that are paying off.
- Santa Monica C3 Multidisciplinary Team– A geographic-based interdisciplinary team deployed to the Downtown area proactively providing field-based medical and behavioral health treatment to people experiencing homelessness in Tongva, Palisades, and Reed Parks, the 3rd Street Promenade, and along key transit zones like Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard. This team is the top reason homelessness decreased in the Downtown core.
- Expansion of the Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) Team– A dedicated unit of Santa Monica Police officers and a sergeant with an embedded social worker expanded to 10 officers and t day-a-week operation. This team works closely with Human Services to coordinate care for vulnerable residents while ensuring the safety of all in the community.
- Enrichment of Homeless Outreach in the Library– A full-time outreach worker, two social workers, and Library Services Officers are part of the SMPL team to serve as a resource for homeless patrons and to ensure the library can be enjoyed by all.
- Santa Monica Fire Department’s Community Response Unit– SMFD continues to develop innovative strategies within the confines of State law to address the needs of high utilizers of the emergency medical system. The Department continues to share data on people who generated multiple calls in a short period of time to intervene with the most appropriate level of services.
Santa Monica’s strategy is working and our success rests on it’s a four pillar approach of
- keeping Santa Monica residents housed;
- increasing access to behavioral healthcare;
- promoting safe and healthy public spaces; and
- strengthening the regional capacity to assist our neighbors in need.
Santa Monica makes up 8.3 square miles of the county’s 4,700. As the homelessness crisis continues to threaten individuals, families and communities across the county, every one of its 88 cities need to continue to do everything we can to turn a new chapter in the lives of our homeless neighbors and for the health of the county overall. Santa Monica is all in on this effort and further motivated by Governor Newsom’s commitment of unprecedented state resources with $650 million in one-time funding identified in his May budget.
Senior Advisor to the City Manager on Homelessness