Ways Santa Monica Addressed Homelessness in 2019

December 23, 2019 4:48 PM
by Alisa Orduna

Witnessing people experiencing homelessness on our streets is a heart wrenching, visible, and deeply challenging part of our daily lives. Homelessness is a complex regional issue that is now appearing in places never seen before. We do not believe homelessness is inevitable. We work every day to relentlessly connect people experiencing homelessness to social supports, services, and housing.

This last year was marked by greater collaboration among City and community partners, approval of more supportive housing, and expanded street-based engagement, which we know is one of the most effective ways to deliver services. Here are the five things you should know about our efforts in 2019 to serve the needs of the most vulnerable among us.

1. Street based engagement is working, and our two strategies for whom we outreach and where are delivering results.

First, we deployed our City-County funded C3 team – operated by The People Concern – to the geographic areas most heavily impacted by homelessness.  C3 initially deployed to the Downtown area, and the team has since been expanded to cover the beach.  The coordinated team effort between C3, the Santa Monica Police Department, and Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. Ambassadors have begun to show improvements in the Downtown area, which saw a reduction of 19 percent in the 2019 Homeless Count. 

Second, we focus on our highest utilizers of emergency services. This includes response from police and fire as well as emergency room visits. Our Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team (HMST), operated by The People Concern, focuses on a group of 25 people who are most likely to die on the street. A mixed-methods evaluation published by the RAND Corporation recently validated this intensive approach and other cities are now adopting similar models.

2. Real-time information sharing maximizes impact.

The success of HMST in serving high utilizers underscored the importance of collaboration and service coordination between first responders and social service providers.  To maximize our collective impact, Project Connect – a new data sharing tool developed by Akido Labs – was launched in January. Project Connect is a mobile app that allows participating service partners to stay informed in near real-time and collaborate with first responders around encounters. This tool has created additional opportunities for case workers to engage with their clients. It has also improved discharge planning from hospitals and jail and offers a pathway to housing and services. Since its launch, the Project Connect pilot has reached 108 total users—representing first responders, City staff, and social service providers. 

3. Placing social workers in the library is a good investment.

This dovetails with our street team philosophy – we are most impactful when we deliver services to people wherever they may be. Two social workers at the Main Library and an outreach worker from The People Concern have met with hundreds of people over the last year connecting them to services, interim, or supportive housing. Additionally, ten resource fairs at the Main Library over the last two years have served over 500 people experiencing homelessness.

4. Adding officers to the Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) team increased the capacity of the Santa Monica Police Department.

Five new specially-trained officers joined the HLP team this year, adding fresh knowledge and skills to the work the team is doing as an extension of the City’s street outreach network that also enforces local laws. Over the last year, the HLP team worked with City departments and local businesses to successfully address homeless-related issues around Reed Park, specifically in the areas adjacent to the 7-Eleven store at 630 Wilshire, The Proper Hotel, and SGI-USA.  They worked closely with DTSM Ambassadors to lessen the impacts of quality of life issues related to homelessness throughout the Downtown and surrounding parks. Two additional officers (for a total of 10) will join the HLP team in January 2020.

5. City Council authorized new supportive housing and preserving existing housing through the Housing Trust Fund.

In April Council approved up to 150 units of affordable housing on city-owned land at the current Parking Structure 3, 1320 4th St. Affordable housing is the best prescription for ending homelessness and for enabling people to recover from unemployment, domestic violence, mental illness, substance use, and physical ailments. Housing provides a sense of security, stability, and identity. Once housed, people are assigned case managers to help them establish healthy relationships and reintegrate into the community. In addition to the new housing on the Parking Structure 3 site, the City is engaging The People Concern to rehabilitate the SAMOSHEL structure to enhance usability and improve accessibility, as well as launching a feasibility study to evaluate its overall approach to interim housing, which may include the development of additional units of affordable, supportive housing.

Looking ahead to 2020, we will continue to invest in these efforts. We will also solidify our behavioral health response to address mental illness and substance use. Santa Monica cannot address this issue alone. We need the support of surrounding communities. Together we will release a Westside Cities Regional Action Plan on Homelessness through the Westside Cities Council of Governments. This plan will make recommendations to the elected leadership of each jurisdiction on how to increase regional coordination, build capacity for engagement, and identify new opportunities to strengthen the region’s housing and service infrastructure. 

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about how the City of Santa Monica is addressing homelessness. If you’d like to learn more, here are ways you can get involved:

  1. Check out a video series offering best practices for safely interacting with people experiencing homelessness. We also have a toolkit with helpful tips.
  2. Learn more about our four strategies for addressing homelessness.
  3. Find a local service provider and volunteer throughout the year.

Authored By

Alisa Orduna
Senior Advisor to the City Manager on Homelessness