Council Struggles to Curb Homelessness
March 4, 2021
By Jack Simon
Most cities in California have struggled to come up with solutions to curb homelessness in their municipalities and it was no different for the Santa Monica City Council last night.
At its annual study session on homelessness, the City Council discussed and rehashed at great length current programs for the homeless instead of focusing on new initiatives.
"I don't know if we know how to solve this (homelessness) but we have to do something about it," said Councilmember Phil Brock, urging his colleagues to focus on new concepts, rather than getting bogged down on minutiae of the current programs. He stressed that residents need to feel safe in their neighborhoods and wants their city government to solve the homelessness problem, regardless of the cost.
The councilmembers reviewed and provided input to city staff on the Santa Monica's Four Pillars strategy to address homelessness, which includes preventing local residents from becoming homeless and increasing affordable housing, addressing the behavioral health needs of vulnerable residents, maintaining access to safe, clean open spaces, and advocating for regional capacity to address homelessness.
During the 6-hour meeting, the council members also talked about letting the homeless sleep in city parking lots, closing parks at night and giving local police more latitude to arrest the homeless for loitering – an idea raised by many residents who called in to the online session.
But interim Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks shot down that policing proposal, saying "we can't the break the laws." She explained that vagrancy laws have been removed from the books and her department is "constitutionally committed to policing." She added: "Being homeless on the streets is not a crime."
Council also voted to affirm the current work of Santa Monica's street outreach teams and Reed Park Ambassadors and to prioritize the expansion of rental assistance to prevent local residents from becoming homeless.
"Housing is a human right and it is unconscionable that Los Angeles County has as many people living without housing as the population of one of its smaller cities," said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. "But we are determined to confront this human tragedy with effective and innovative solutions. The City Council is committed to ensuring safe public spaces and housing for all."
In addition to continuing the street teams and the ambassador program through June 2023, Council also prioritized the following strategies for consideration during the forthcoming budget process: extending emergency rental assistance to prevent residents from falling into homelessness, an alternative non-congregate shelter on city property, a behavioral health triage center and a crisis response unit in the Santa Monica Fire Department.
City staff also provided the Council with the following data about the city's programs to address homelessness. Staff said that the shelter capacity in Santa Monica includes 186 interim beds for individuals, 67 interim beds for families, and 116 substance use treatment beds and the city's homeless prevention programs supported 900 households last year.
In addition, staff said in report, 95 new affordable housing residences were created in 2020, and SMFD responded to 2,946 homeless-related calls (18% of total calls) and provided information about services 756 times during those responses.
Finally, "the C3 outreach team had 1,400 engagements in the downtown and beach areas, where the largest decreases in the homeless count occurred; and the Homeless Multi-disciplinary Street Team yielded cost savings to the city that offset 17 to 43% of its $600,000 annual investment," the staff wrote in its report.
"The City's approach has been marked by a careful balance between providing compassionate services and housing options while enforcing applicable laws to address anti-social behaviors through consistent engagement by first responders and restorative justice alternatives as appropriate," said interim City Manager Lane Dilg in the staff report.
If you are interested in learning more about the City's commitment to addressing homelessness and the impacts of COVID-19, please visit http://www.weare.santamonica.gov/addressing-homelessness.