The decline in the homeless population of Los Angeles County, and of Santa Monica in particular, announced last week, gave a statistical confirmation to the anecdotal, but very moving, tales of success told at the 12th annual awards breakfast sponsored by the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition (WSHC) at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel on Friday, October 12.
The Success Breakfast, emceed by actor Brad Rowe, drew a capacity crowd of 480 as it honored 23 formerly homeless people who had found homes, jobs, and new lives with the assistance of some of the more than 30 nonprofits, church groups, and public agencies that make up the Coalition. Also recognized with Community Support Awards were a dozen businesses and organizations that have worked with Coalition members.
Robin Gee, manager of Santa Monica’s City TV, was presented with the 2007 Community Partner Award for her contributions to the Coalition’s public relations committee and especially for the creation and production of It’s Your Call: Homelessness in Our Community, an eight-week call-in program broadcast in Santa Monica and Los Angeles. WSHC chairman John Maceri praised Gee’s “energy, enthusiasm, and creativity.”
The homeless population figures were released October 11 by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), a City-County joint powers agency. They showed a 17 percent decrease in the estimated number of homeless persons in the county at any given time from January 2005 to January 2007. In Santa Monica, the decrease was 24 percent, from 1,991 to 1,506.
The figures are based on biennial counts conducted by LAHSA which enumerate homeless persons in portions of each community and extrapolate those numbers to the area for which figures are reported. Julie Rusk, Santa Monica Human Services Manager, said that she believed the 2007 count in Santa Monica was more thorough and therefore more accurate than the 2005 count, but that the decline was also the result of the work of Coalition members, including the City.
“Additional findings for the City of Santa Monica include that on any given night, as many as 80 percent of homeless persons are unsheltered, compared to 83 percent countywide,” she said. “This is despite the fact that the 2007 count found 58 more people in shelters than in 2005, a 24 percent increase due to increased capacity.”
The formerly homeless people who were honored at the October 12 breakfast were cited for their successes in education, employment, overcoming multiple barriers, giving back, and advocacy. One of the several recipients in each group told his or her personal story, and anyone who thinks that all homeless aid programs simply mollycoddle shiftless vagrants who are either too lazy or too ornery to hold a job should have been there to hear the stories. As Robin Gee said in accepting the Community Partner Award, “It’s uplifting and inspiring to be at this event.”
In honoring the successes of these people, the members of the Coalition do honor to themselves and demonstrate the real value of their work. Annie Balter, one of the honorees, spoke for all the WSHC beneficiaries when she said, “You guys are honoring us. Wow. The honor goes to all of you.”