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A dozen teams of City employees and social service volunteers are combing the streets of Santa Monica – and the doorways, alleys, and parking lots as well – waking the sleeping homeless not to roust them, but to conduct a survey.

“Do I come into your house in the middle of the night?” asks one angry man wakened from sleeping in a surface lot against the side of a commercial building on 5th Street. “Well, this is my house – get away!”

But most of those awakened did agree to be interviewed, and provided the information necessary for the clipboard-toting workers to complete a four-page questionnaire, take the subject’s photo (sometimes), and give him/her a $5 debit card for a fast food restaurant.

This is all part of the latest initiative of Santa Monica’s Chronic Homeless Project, begun in 2004, when the City’s Human Services Division, Housing Division, Police and Fire Departments, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, and partner nonprofit agencies collaborated to address the most difficult homeless cases. To date, 77 people who had been homeless for a combined total of 639 years are now housed, 51 in permanent supportive housing.

This latest Street to Home Initiative is based on the work of New York’s Common Ground organization, which has reduced street homelessness in Times Square by 87 percent by moving the most vulnerable, long-term homeless off of the street. The Street to Home model has been replicated in five cities (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Washington DC) over the past year. In December 2007, the approach was initiated in Los Angeles’s Skid Row through a Los Angeles County pilot project called Project 50. The model is now being replicated in Santa Monica.

The City, in collaboration with local service providers and the County, is creating a Service Registry to identify the most vulnerable of the chronic homeless for the purpose of housing the 10 most vulnerable as quickly as possible and then directing efforts toward housing the next 10 most vulnerable people.

On Tuesday morning, January 29, at 3 a.m. – one of four early morning outings for the teams – this reporter trailed along behind the team of Julie Rusk, the City’s Human Services Division Manager, and volunteers Jo Fitzgibbons of OPCC’s Daybreak Day Center and David Kane of CLARE Foundation as they walked the streets – and the doorways, alleys, and parking lots – of 4th, 5th, and 6th Streets between Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards. Also trailing along was SMPD Sgt. Ken Semko in his patrol car, at a discreet but nevertheless watchful distance.

The team approached 16 people between 3:00 and 5:00 that morning, of which 10 agreed to be interviewed on subjects including length of homelessness, length of time in Santa Monica, age, physical and mental health status, and healthcare treatment. There were no hassles.

The survey methodology was developed by Dr. Jim O’Connell of Boston Healthcare for the Homeless. The data are used to produce a Vulnerability Score to predict an individual’s likelihood of dying on the streets unless permanently housed. The Vulnerability Score is intended to provide an objective measure to prioritize the future efforts of the Chronic Homeless Project and other initiatives aimed at reducing street homelessness.

Rusk said the development of the Service Registry is a $12,000 expense to the City, mostly for bringing two Common Ground people out from New York to introduce the methodology and the calculation of Vulnerability Scores. That does not include police department services. Other City employees, including Rusk, are salaried and simply adjusted their schedules to include this project. And the remaining team members were volunteers from service agencies, including LA County Department of Mental Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), and nonprofit agencies.

Rusk, Fitzgibbons, and Kane – along with Sgt. Semko – were out again Wednesday morning, 3 a.m., however, the numbers were presented on Thursday, January 31, after press time. More to come.

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