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Action Plan for Homelessness Adopted by Santa Monica’ City Council:

Santa Monica’s City Council members unanimously adopted the 2010 updates to the “Action Plan to Address Homelessness in Santa Monica” at the council meeting on Jan. 11 at City Hall.

In hearing a staff report on the “outcomes of the homeless service system” and taking comments from the public, the council acknowledged and supported the findings and recommendations announced by the City’s Homeless Social Services division.

“The effectiveness of the Action Plan is measured primarily by the reduction of street homelessness,” said Setareh Yavari, who presented the Action Plan and its 2010 update to the council during the public hearing. “The 2010 homelessness count demonstrated a 25 percent reduction since 2007. In order to sustain this reduction in homelessness, it is critical that resources are aligned with activities that are effective in engaging and housing those live on the streets. Since November 2009, we’ve used over $200,000 in direct financial assistance … to prevent 162 Santa Monica residents from becoming homeless.”

With the 2010 updates to the Action Plan, both the City and its Homeless Social Services division hope to address the eradication of homelessness throughout the city by establishing certain benchmark goals, such as the reducing the amount of time people are homeless, increasing income via eligibility of certain benefits, improving housing retention, and maintaining services for those transitioning from living on the streets and into homes.

While council members did not have an extensive discussion of the agenda item beyond a 15-minute question-and-answer session, Council member Bobby Shriver said both the 2010 updates to the Action Plan and the measure as a whole was essential to both the City’s financial health and overall well-being.

“One of the things I learned when I started to look hard at this issue was how much cheaper it is to house people than it is to leave them in the street,” Bobby Shriver said. “Folks who we may see walking around with a pushcart … isn’t costing the government or anybody any money, whereas the truth is folks in that kind of situation cost the government hundreds of thousands of dollar per year, and we don’t really achieve any rate of return on that investment.

“It’s much, much, much cheaper to put people in apartments than it is to leave them on the street.”

Meanwhile, David Snow, executive director of the Santa Monica-based Upward Bound House, an emergency shelter providing services to families with children and seniors, offered suggestions to the council on how to enhance the City’s efforts to address homelessness under the Action Plan.

“(First), families with children whose permanent last address was Santa Monica would get priority status,” Snow told the council. “While we support the city’s objective of reducing the average staying in emergency and transitional housing by 30 percent … there needs to be commensurate housing resources to achieve this.”

Adopted by the council in February 2008, the Action Plan “established a vision statement, guiding principles, and suggested refinements to the City’s homeless service system within six project areas: services, housing, evaluation, community education, public policy, and regional collaboration.”

Slightly more than one year ago, the council adopted a similar plan for 2009 with updated initiatives and the new intent of being a “living document,” meaning the Action Plan to Address Homelessness in Santa Monica would regularly be revised and updated to “reflect new approaches”

One of the new approaches discussed was improved measures of sobriety programs.

With the 2010 updates, the Action Plan is now consistent with the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which redefines “who is eligible for homeless assistance, re-configuring existing homeless program funds, placing new emphasis on homeless prevention, and increasing the emphasis on grantee performance.”

Also, the 2010 updates to the Action Plan corroborate a November 2009 update to federal policy spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to eradicate homelessness among veterans within five years.

According to the executive summary of the 2010 update of the Action Plan to Address Homelessness, “the intention of this revised Action Plan is to continue the successful strategies of Year 1 and Year 2 while also developing a more long-term approach that is reflective of significant new federal policies that will impact the resources and program areas in homeless services and homeless prevention over the next five to ten years.”

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