Question: How much does it cost the city to provide police, fire, jail, hospital and emergency services for over 2,000 homeless men, women and children living on the streets of Santa Monica? Answer: A lot more than it costs to assist those men, women and children into some form of housing, health care and social rehabilitation, according to a 2001 study.
One major player in the concerted efforts to address the City’s challenge with homelessness is the CLARE Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit founded in 1970 by a group of concerned community members in response to the lack of recovery services for the homeless and indigent alcoholics living on the local beaches. These good citizens rented a small storefront and sleeping area on Pico Blvd. and began providing education, resources and referrals and a safe place for detoxification for the poor and the destitute.
Today, CLARE offers compassionate care to residents of Santa Monica, Culver City, Venice and Los Angeles through 11 programs providing individual assessment and referrals; temporary housing, food, clothing and personal supplies; licensed non-medical detoxification support; alcohol and drug treatment; case management; transportation to appropriate medical and mental health services; advocacy for obtaining Federal, State and local assistance benefits; employment counseling, training and job placement; and transitional housing and residential sober living programs. Up to 26,000 homeless, low-income and working poor individuals receive services each year.
“Statistics show that the percentage of people who are homeless due to alcoholism and addiction is as high as 85 to 90%, and so sobriety must be offered as one of the first treatment interventions,” says Nicholas Vrataric, Executive Director of CLARE, past chair of the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition. He also has over fifteen years of experience with homeless assistance agencies. “CLARE’s whole person treatment model provides services that are linked to the changing needs of the recovery process. We help our clients reach the three main goals of our programs: substance abuse recovery, economic self-sufficiency and residential stability.”
While working as Director of Finance and Operations at the Los Angeles Free Clinic, and after serving on CLARE’s board for four years, Vrataric’s fellow board members convinced him to apply for the position of executive director, which he assumed in 1999. “The truly great thing about this job is both the people for whom I work and the people with whom I work,” says Vrataric. “Our clients and participants are some of the most courageous and committed individuals you will ever meet. Having encountered the absolute bottom of their lives, they have found a way to recovery at CLARE.
“Most recently, I am very proud of the recognition that Santa Monica’s Chronic Homeless Project has received in the press. Several years ago, when the City came to me – John Maceri at OPCC and Rhonda Meister at St. Joseph Center – they asked for our help in responding to the rising criticism of homeless services and the increasing concerns over homeless issues in Santa Monica. We were glad to collaborate on a model that would radically impact the homeless crisis – to immediately address the most visible, chronic and service resistant homeless. Gradually, our three organizations have been joined by other service providers, and with help from the City we have all used resources from our own limited budgets to make this project highly successful.”
And yet every day CLARE is able to accommodate only 20 percent of the people who come through its doors seeking help. Vrataric hopes they can continue to expand their services, so they can reach all segments of the population that still need them. He is especially committed to the growth of their adolescent and prevention services – the CLARITY for Youth Program, which targets teens and young people at risk.
“The City of Santa Monica is a compassionate community,” says Vrataric. “Its residents and businesses care deeply about the issues the City faces and are willing to back it up with funds and participation.”For more information, call 310.314.6200 or visit www.clarefoundation.org.