Santa Monica Homelessness Success Stories
Change is happening! Get inspired by stories of people who have successfully transitioned out of homelessness and those who are actively working in the community to make those transitions possible.
Through patience and determination, Jill was able to work her way out of homelessness.
Jill’s transition began when a friend who was letting her sleep on her couch handed Jill a list of shelters and resources for people experiencing homelessness. She got in touch with one of the agencies listed — OPCC (now known as The People Concern) — and they were able to get her an emergency bed at Daybreak Shelter. She didn’t sleep well at first, but it was better than being on the streets.
Many steps would follow before Jill found herself permanently housed — like meeting with case workers, doctors, and others who helped her address the trauma of homelessness and to navigate the complex process of getting a Section 8 housing voucher. The process was, at times, overwhelming. She concentrated on trusting in a higher power and simply taking one step at a time.
Even after all the steps had been completed, she had to wait over a year for an apartment to become available. When she finally got into permanent housing, her apartment was so close to the ocean that she felt like she went, in her words, from a “park bench to Park Place.”
Jill is still battling PTSD related to her experience of being homeless, which she says was marked with pain, shame, fear, and humiliation. She knows the feeling of being looked past and ignored simply because of her housing status — how people avoid eye contact and turn away. She remembers how dehumanizing that felt. That’s why Jill makes an extra effort to say “hello” to people who are experiencing homelessness. She hopes that by simply saying “hello,” she can help counteract the sense of alienation they may feel and help restore to them a sense of their personhood.
A lot of times, she doesn’t stop at saying hello. If someone is willing to talk, she’ll talk. She’ll tell them about her own experience with homelessness and how to get connected to services. She’ll even volunteer to go with them to take that first step to getting help. It’s like an individual grassroots advocacy effort, extending a hand to whoever happens to be standing in front of her.
Jill encourages others to say hello too, as long as they feel safe in the situation. She says a little compassion goes a long way.
To learn about The People Concern and their volunteer and donation opportunities, click here.
To read more success stories, visit the St. Joseph Center’s website.
A day in the life of Kevin.
“For almost 20 years, I was drinking daily, and my business suffered, and it just went away,” says Kevin. As he found himself transitioning from business owner to becoming homeless, Kevin resorted to asking strangers on the street for money to maintain his addiction. “My biggest fear of coming out here to ask people for money was that I would see someone that I knew.” Kevin would take the spare change — a dollar here, a dollar there, and if he was lucky, $2.50 — and spend it on his drinking habit.
Now sober, Kevin says that the lengths he would go to get money to drink are the same that he currently takes to maintain his sobriety. However, the journey to quit drinking and transition out of homelessness required many steps.
“I remember providing services and helping out with our homeless liaison programs, working with the City Attorney’s Office as well as Human Services to try to get Kevin resources,'' says Tony Greer, Custody Officer for the Santa Monica Police Department. “We really just don’t give up on people…”
While the SMPD continued to intervene, Kevin constantly saw signs of needing a change. He felt his body becoming weak and tired. One day, a friend he had met at CLARE| Matrix treatment center, who had moved to a sober living facility, asked Kevin, “Are you ready today?” Kevin was finally ready.
Kevin started working with St. Joseph Center, and its staff — along with the collaborative efforts of The People Concern, CLARE| Matrix, Step Up, and Chrysalis — provided Kevin with the resources he needed to save his life.
Watch Kevin’s full story here.
Learn more about the people who are actively making a difference within the community through their work with people experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica.
TESS, Volunteer, The People Concern
Finding Kinship at The People Concern
Compassion and kinship motivate Tess' work with the homeless
Three days a week, you can find Tess sitting at the triage desk at the Access Center for homeless drop-in services at the corner of Olympic and 5th. One by one, unhoused people walk up to the desk and she asks them a few simple questions: “What’s your name? How long have you been in Santa Monica? What’s your date of birth?”
Asking for their date of birth, she says, is the thing that always touches her. Suddenly it all hits home. This person standing in front of her has a birthday. This person was somebody’s child. It serves to remind her: this isn’t a bad person — something really bad happened to this person. This realization spurs on her empathy and motivates her volunteer work at The People Concern.
It was after the untimely passing of her son that Tess began looking for a meaningful outlet. Her friend introduced her to The People Concern — an organization that serves people experiencing homelessness with a holistic system of care. The organization provides mental health and medical care, substance abuse services, and permanent supportive housing. As Tess got to know the organization, she began to feel certain that this is where she should be investing her time.
One of the things Tess emphasizes about her time spent volunteering is the sense of immediate kinship she feels with the clients at The People Concern. Whether it’s laughing at TV soap operas with a group of women, or bonding with a gentleman because he shares a name and birthday with her brother — she finds points of connection everywhere. She finds that there’s really very little difference between those experiencing homeless and those that are not — that the divide between “us” and “them” is quite narrow. She finds that in the end, we’re all just people. We like the sunshine. We like being near the ocean. We like being treated with kindness.
Putting Your Radar Out for Ways to Help
Tess' care for the homeless doesn’t stop when she steps outside the Access Center. She often keeps bags of supplies in her car that she can hand out to people in need. For Tess, it’s a way of life. Tess has had her radar out for people in need at all times. She sees them and then she asks herself if there’s a way she can help. It’s second nature to her.
Volunteers like Tess and organizations like The People Concern are working every day to help meet the needs of the 53,000 homeless individuals in Los Angeles County. Volunteers and donations are always welcome.
Enrique, Santa Monica Police Officer, Homeless Liaison Program
Not Just Handing Out Tickets: How police officer Enrique is helping address homelessness in Santa Monica
Enrique was born in Mexico City and moved to Santa Monica at the age of 13. He grew up near Santa Monica College, which he attended after graduating from Santa Monica High School. He’s loved the feeling of community and diversity here since day one — not to mention the City’s beauty and proximity to the ocean. He says he can’t imagine working anywhere else.
Enrique is a Santa Monica police officer, and he says his work is his way of giving back to the community and making it a better, stronger, safer place. Still, he says, police officers are sometimes misunderstood. The first thing Enrique would like people to understand? That there’s more to his work than just writing tickets and making arrests. In fact, as a member of the police department’s Homeless Liaison Program, there’s a lot more to it.
The Homeless Liaison Program
The Homeless Liaison Program — HLP — is a team of eight police officers and one sergeant and their main focus is to do outreach with the City’s homeless population. Enrique and his team get to know the people living on the street and work to refer them to services like housing, food stamps, or even getting an ID card. They also work to get in touch with family members who may have insight on specific factors that can help the team determine which services they should refer individuals to.
The HLP Team also takes mental health into account in a big way. The program is assigned its own Department of Mental Health clinician, who rides along with the officers and performs in-the-field evaluations. This relational and mental health approach of the HLP is an innovative holistic twist on “policing homelessness” — one that’s meant to address the issue in more permanent and humane ways.
Enrique says the work does take time and patience, and that sometimes progress doesn’t look like progress. He tells the story of an individual who’d been arrested by his patrol partner, Liz, on several occasions. This individual had been homeless for 15 years, and Liz had steadily worked to build a relationship with him and connect him to services. Liz was met with resistance time and again. The person wasn’t interested in services, and so the cycle of arrests continued. But with each arrest, something began to shift. During his stays in jail, this person was, ironically, able to actually receive the services he so desperately needed. Each arrest meant more services and eventually, this man had a foundation of health and support to build on. Today, that man has managed to work his way out of homelessness thanks to those arrests that, amazingly, put him on the right track.
Enrique gives props to his partner for her loyal work with this person and says that it’s moments like these that are most satisfying about his work: “Once they get housed, it gives us a sense of closure, or success — that we were actually part of getting somebody indoors after 10 or 15 years of living on the street.”
Dealing with homelessness in the community
Enrique recommends using common sense when dealing with homelessness. If someone seems to be in need of physical or psychological help, don’t attempt to deal with it yourself. Instead, call the police department, and they can send someone out to do an evaluation.
Learn more about the Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) HERE.
Mallnese, Community Care Coordinator, Providence St. John’s Health Care Center
Meet Mallnese: “The power of seeing and listening to people cannot be underestimated.”
Mallnese has been walking around with open ears and eyes for a long time. It began when she was a child growing up in Pasadena, where she walked down sidewalks and was confronted with the reality of homelessness for the first time. It left a strong impression on her young mind, one that lingered until she grew up and made the decision to pursue a career in social services.
Today, that capacity to see people and listen to their needs serves her well in her position as Community Care Coordinator at Providence St. John’s Health Care Center. It’s there that she works with the homeless population to connect them to resources — a key component in Santa Monica’s goal of ending the homelessness epidemic.
Homelessness in the emergency room
There was a recurring problem in the Emergency Room at St. John’s. Individuals experiencing homelessness were coming into the E.R. on a regular basis, oftentimes without any medical need. Some of them came in for resources like food and clothing, others just to get off the streets for a few hours. The time and attention it was taking to address the needs of these individuals was stretching resources thin — resources that needed to be devoted to medical emergencies like strokes and heart attacks.
This wasn’t the only problem. Repeat visits also meant that the homeless population ultimately wasn’t getting connected to the services they needed. They were simply putting a Band-Aid on their needs with the resources they could get in the E.R.
That’s where Mallnese came in. St. John’s created a Community Care Coordinator role that contributed to a significant reduction in non-emergency E.R. visits. In this role, Mallnese meets with homeless individuals and consults with them. She then works to connect them to local social service agencies and housing resources in Santa Monica.
Before she steps into the room to consult with someone, she reminds herself of several things. First and foremost, she reminds herself to listen — really listen. She then reminds herself to be humble, compassionate, and to offer hope.
Opening our eyes
Mallnese would like to encourage the community to open their eyes and ears as well. She says simply being aware of the person sleeping in the park or in front of the corner store is the first step. The second step is being aware of the resources they can connect them to — services like The People Concern, Step Up on 2nd, and CLARE|MATRIX. Many agencies across Santa Monica and on the Westside are working collaboratively to help address homelessness from all angles.
Watch Mallnese's story HERE.