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Holbrook Is Mayor For 2006: Council Makes Changes In Homelessness Policies

Last Tuesday, City Council member Robert Holbrook moved to the head of the dais as mayor and Council member Bobby Shriver became Mayor Pro Tem.

In his fourth term on the Council, Holbrook was mayor once before, in 1997. Shriver was elected to the Council in November, 2004.

Homelessness took center stage at the meeting with the appointment of former County Supervisor Edmund D. Edelman as the City’s point man on homeless issues. Edelman, who will be paid $200,000, told the Council, “This is a daunting task. We know this is not an issue that can be solved easily or mitigated easily. It’s going to take a lot of regional efforts spread across this region to do what needs to be done…[it is a] great reflection on the City of Santa Monica that you’re willing to invest in this effort.”

The City’s acting Human Services Manager, Mona Miyasato, elaborated on Edelman’s comments in her staff report to the Council, saying that solving homelessness in the City will take “maximum participation of all sectors of the housing market – private property owners, non-profit housing providers, for-profit housing developers and public entities, community education region-wide, cooperation and flexibility on the part of all stakeholders and leadership with a willingness to try to new approaches.”

The Council then approved some changes in the City’s programs for homeless people that incorporate new strategies recommended by City staff, despite reservations expressed about them by the some of the current City homeless service providers. According to the City staff report, additional funding of $256,554 will be invested in the expansion of the Chronic Homeless Project, on the assumption that it will materially reduce expenses now incurred by the City when it pays for emergency room care and Police and Fire Department services.

John Maceri, Executive Director of the Ocean Park Community Center, expressed a view held by some other service providers that “in last year there’s been a lot of focus on the chronically homeless and that’s appropriate because they are the most visible and the highest utilizers of services but I want to make sure we’re not creating a separate set of problems … opportunities for people to fall through the cracks on the front end and they sink so low that they have to become chronically homeless before they receive services.” He went on to say that the City must keep its “eye on eviction prevention, on homeless prevention on such front-end services that help individuals and families that are currently housed or recently housed. The sooner we make an intervention when someone becomes homeless, the faster it is to get them rehoused.”

Marceri also said, “The level of disability that we’re seeing among the people that we’re serving is pretty significant. I don’t think we should underestimate the amount of time, energy and, frankly, resources it’s going to take to work with this population to get them housed and have them stay housed.”

Council member Kevin McKeown stated, “People often turn to the City Council to solve the problem. The truth is, it’s really the whole community that must solve the problem.”

Shriver, who called for the appointment of a point person to deal with homelessness shortly after he was elected, said, “I’m still very cross about our lack of progress here. I feel like I haven’t accomplished in this year what I hoped to have accomplished even though Edelman has been appointed. It makes me violently angry to find that there are 92,000 homeless people in L.A. County. It makes me violently angry to find the largest mental health facility in the United States is the L.A. County jail. Voluntary regional cooperation has not worked. There needs to be a law just as there’s a housing element. There needs to be a homeless element. There needs to be a state law in cities, if they are not going to do their fair share to pay into some sort of central fund for people who do their fair share.”

He added that there shouldn’t be “nervousness about focusing on the chronically homeless. I understand it, but when I ran for election this is what was communicated to me.”

Finally, he asked everyone to write to James Nicholson, the U.S. Secretary for Veterans Affairs, to urge him to open some buildings on the West Los Angeles V.A. property for housing and services for veterans including homeless veterans. His address is 810 Vermont Avenue, Washington D.C. 20420-0002.

Council member Ken Genser said that he believed City staff “generally is moving in the right direction. I don’t think anyone is complaining that we are concentrating on the chronically homeless individuals but they are saying don’t lose sight that you need to provide services for people at the front end.”

Council member Richard Bloom told his colleagues, “It’s easy to feel frustrated. It’s easy to feel anger, and disappointment. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the homeless issue,” as nationally there are 800,000 homeless people and “in our one county of Los Angeles in one of 50 states in this very large and populous and wealthy country we have in L.A. county approximately 11 percent of the nation’s homeless population. Over 1 in 10 of the homeless people in our country are in our county. Make no mistake about it, the homeless issue is a housing issue. If we don’t have a place to house homeless people, they will be on the street. It’s fundamentally that simple. I think it’s unfair to say we haven’t made progress.”

The City staff report stated that “in fiscal year 2005 a total of 2,861 homeless persons in Santa Monica were provided with case management, temporary housing, addiction recovery, mental health services, and employment assistance through the homeless programs funded by the City. Of those who received services, slightly over half (52 percent) were male and 48 percent were female. 613 (21 percent) were children. Of the 2,248 adults, 459 (20 percent were identified as chronically homeless. Via City-funded services, 874 homeless persons (39 percent) received emergency or transitional housing, and 309 people (14 percent) made the transition into permanent housing during the course of the year. In addition, 547 adults (25 percent) found and maintained jobs that lead to self-sufficiency.

In other business, the Council tabled a staff recommendation that it authorize the commencement of negotiations with the developer-design team, Related Companies of California, for the Civic Center Village project until the staff provides financial analyses of Related and the other two finalists.

Shriver told City staff that “it’s very difficult to make this kind of decision, though all these developers are very well known, without having the appropriate financial information.” He added that he had discussed the absence of financial data in the staff’s recommendation several days before the meeting with the acting City Manager and “didn’t understand why it wasn’t part of the package.”

Council member Herb Katz objected to the fact that the information provided in a chart by City staff during its staff report at the meeting was not provided to the Council members in advance, since it was suggesting that the Council approve one of the developers based on the chart.

Turning to other business, the Council unanimously approved an access agreement for the Santa Monica College (SMC) Bundy Campus with SMC. This agreement will allow a right-turn exit onto Airport Avenue and will ultimately require the City of Los Angeles to install a signal at campus entrance of Bundy/Centinela.

Finally, the Council made several appointments to the City’s Boards and Commissions. Joshua Staub was appointed to the Commission on the Senior Community, Brenda Katz was reappointed and Sandra Pettit was appointed to the Pier Restoration Corporation, Brian Buchner was appointed to the Social Services Commission and Ted Winterer was appointed to the Recreation and Parks Commission.

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