The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) denied a proposal for a homeless shelter pick-up location in Santa Monica, leaving local homeless without a direct access point to Westside shelters. The proposal, designed to minimize disruptions to local residents and businesses, arose as a result of community concerns regarding the 2007-2008 Winter Shelter pick-up and drop-off program.
The rejected proposal was a result of collaboration between various local governments and related service agencies that are working to provide extra beds at the many countywide shelters, which include sites in Venice (at the Westminster Off-Leash Dog Park) and in West L.A. (at the intersection of Santa Monica and Sawtelle Boulevards). Each of these sites is approximately 2.5 miles from the Ocean Park Community Access Center (OPCC), the proposed pick-up/drop-off site, and are accessible by public transportation.
The proposed system would have provided individuals with 14 consecutive and renewable days of shelter, rather than one night of shelter at a time. The approach also included flexibility for local service providers and the Santa Monica Police Department to ensure that people who needed access to the shelter in emergencies could also be served.
The Westside Cities Council of Governments supported the proposed pilot program, but, after many weeks of discussion, LAHSA rejected the proposal, claiming that it did not meet their criteria for daily first-come, first-served entrance to the shelters, and that it unfairly prioritized the homeless coming from Santa Monica.
In an exclusive interview with the Mirror, Stacy Rowe, Human Services Administrator for the City of Santa Monica, noted that “First-come, first-served, does not meet everyone’s needs. Our concerns in Santa Monica are that our most frail and chronically homeless will not be best served.”
OPCC is an entry point for a multitude of homeless services (medical, intensive case management, counseling, assistance finding housing, etc.). The proposed plan specifically addressed the logjams at the Center; sometimes over 100 homeless waited outside for services and bus access, which created a public safety concern. In addition, with often unruly jostling for a seat on the bus, the most frail often did not get a seat at all. The proposal called for the neediest homeless – the frail and elderly – to be given a 14 day shelter pass; prioritizing these individuals, according to Ms. Rowe, would cut down on the number of people waiting to be transported to a shelter at any given time, making the whole process more orderly and less combative. “We’re disappointed because for people who can’t physically manage to get to the other pick-up sites; it’s a real problem. That’s why we proposed the solution in the first place,” said Ms. Rowe.
Ms. Rowe believes that the lack of a Santa Monica pick-up site will also place a strain on the other local pick-up sites due to over-crowding. Homeless providers in Santa Monica will also now be forced to use their own resources (bus tokens, etc.) to help those who can’t get to the pick-up sites themselves. “We are really disappointed that we weren’t able to work something out. We feel this pilot proposal has merit, and is definitely worth a try,” said Ms. Rowe.
Planning for the Westside Winter Shelter program has been underway for more than six months. Access to the shelters is only allowed through charter bus transit (no walk-ins permitted.) Representatives from the cities of Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Culver City, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition, the Westside Council of Governments and other interested parties have been working to identify pick-up and drop-off locations and develop operational policies.
LAHSA Executive Director Rebecca Isaacs also spoke to the Mirror about the proposal, and she respectfully disagrees with the City’s handling of the issue. “The Winter Shelter program is a ‘lowest barrier’ program,” she explained. “It’s basically two hots and a cot during the winter months with no requirement, first come, first served.”
The 13 LAHSA sites serve 1,700 people, and each site has a catchment area that encompasses numerous cities and unincorporated areas. According to LAHSA’s rules, each pick-up point must be open-access, and the locations must be published. Ms. Isaac believes that the City’s proposal allowed them to “self-select” which individuals would have access to LAHSA’s services, which is not only unfair to the other catchment areas, but flies in the face of LAHSA’s open door policy and would in essence give Santa Monica a private pick-up/drop-off location. Ms. Isaacs pointed out that Santa Monica was obligated to find a pick-up point that was open to everyone, not just locals, and followed LAHSA rules of publication.
Ms. Isaacs, herself a Santa Monica resident, is quick to point out that LAHSA is by no means looking to exclude Santa Monica’s homeless. “We really hope that all homeless folks in Santa Monica who need shelter will avail themselves of our facilities,” she said. “We’re looking forward to seeing how to make next year more successful for Santa Monica.”
The two Westside Winter Shelter sites opened on December 1 and will operate through March 15, adding 300 emergency shelter beds to the Westside. For more information about the 2008-09 Winter Shelter Program, please visit lahsa.org or call 213.683.3333.