Santa Monica’s homeless population is eight percent less than it was two years ago. That is the finding of the 2009 homeless count conducted by City staff and over 250 volunteers on the night of January 27-28.The count found 915 homeless persons in Santa Monica that night, of whom 480 were on the street (391), in cars (27) or RVs/vans (43), or in tents and boxes (19). The remaining 435 homeless persons were in Santa Monica shelters and institutions, including homeless shelters (401), motels on vouchers (27), hospitals (2), and jail (5). There were no homeless families found on the street.
“We are pleased, but not surprised, to see a decline in street homelessness,” said Julie Rusk, Santa Monica human services manager. “The City has been working hard for a long time to develop a compassionate and effective plan to address the issues of homelessness in our community. Considering the current state of the economy, this reduction is an indication of the success of our efforts.”The results of the count were announced Monday evening, February 23, at a meeting chaired by Social Services Commission chairman Brian Buchner and attended by hundreds of City officials and staff, police, count volunteers, and interested Santa Monicans. Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), explained that the Santa Monica count is part of an Authority-wide biennial count required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a condition of funding. Last Friday, February 20, HUD announced $73.4 million in 2008-2009 funding for LAHSA and its partners, the largest federal funding award in the Authority’s history.New MethodologyThis year’s homeless count used a more rigorous and accurate methodology than past counts, said Danielle Noble, the City’s senior administrative analyst for homeless services. The 915 homeless persons identified this year represents an actual count in all 19 of Santa Monica’s census tracts. In 2007, only 12 census tracts were counted, and the figures were projected for the rest. Also, multipliers were used in 2007 to count certain categories of homeless persons.The 2007 approach resulted in a “count” of 1506 persons that year, so that this year’s count of 915 would amount to a 39 percent reduction. But the 2007 methodology resulted in an overcount, Noble said, and so the City applied the 2009 approach to the 2007 figures to obtain the “apples to apples” figure of an eight percent reduction.This “new, rigorous methodology that involves physically counting homeless individuals in every census tract of the city … [paves] the way for accurate evaluation of progress in the future,” Noble concluded.The Night of the CountThe more than 250 volunteers were formed into 70 small teams on the night of the count, each of which was assigned a specific territory. Together, the teams covered every street and alley in Santa Monica, as well as the beaches and parks, a total of more than 226 linear miles.This reporter joined the team of John Maceri, the OPCC executive director who chairs the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition; Lydia Perez, an SMC student who was introduced to the project by her sociology teacher; Mona-Lisa Lind, an Argosy University graduate student who volunteered through CLARE Foundation; and Nooruddin Karimi from the Ismilia Center. We counted in the downtown area, covering all the streets and alleys between 4th Street and Lincoln Boulevard and between Santa Monica Boulevard and Colorado Avenue. Unlike the homeless registry survey of January 2008, we did not awaken or interview anyone – just count and tally. We did not venture onto private property, but if we saw someone in a carport or garage, we counted him or her. SMPD officers cruised through the area during our count.We counted 20 persons and seven apparently occupied vehicles in our area that night, numbers that seemed on the low side to this reporter. Maceri said that the LAHSA-operated cold weather shelters in West Los Angeles and Culver City had reported 80 percent occupancy the previous week, so there were probably beds available there. The same night we made the street count, the shelters and institutions separately reported their counts.Action Plan to Address HomelessnessThe 2009 count indicates that the City Council’s 2008 adoption of the Action Plan to Address Homelessness, which focuses City services and resources on the most vulnerable populations, is moving in the right direction.There is no denying that “street homelessness remains a major issue in certain areas throughout the city,” said Santa Monica Police Captain Al Venegas. “But, thanks to the success of City programs like the [SMPD] Homeless Liaison Program, law enforcement and service providers have begun to work together with the City to help people find ways off the streets.”