July 17, 2019 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

SMa.r.t.-Homeless Crisis: Toward Solutions

By Samuel Tolkin for SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)

Although we all know that the issue of homelessness is a national crisis, we here in Santa Monica and in all of Southern California experience it on a daily basis.

There are now, by some estimates, more than a 100,000 chronically homeless in the United States. Roughly, 6 percent of those live in California, and 900 to 1,000 by some counts are in Santa Monica. (While body counts, such as the Annual Homeless Count scheduled for Jan. 24, are meaningful up to a point; they don’t suggest solutions.)

In 1992, a New York University psychologist, Sam Tsemberis decided to test an unconventional approach to the problem. His idea was to just give the chronically homeless a place to live on a permanent basis, without making them pass any tests, attend any programs and/or fill out any forms. He knew he was perhaps dealing with schizophrenic, alcoholic, traumatized, and even brain damaged individuals. Why not just give them a place to live? Offer them free counseling, therapy, health care and other necessities and let them decide if they want to participate. He and some associates formed Pathways to Housing. Some 242 individuals were given apartments, no questions asked and treated with dignity, and asked only not to bother their neighbors.

After five years 88 percent were still in their apartments and the cost was less than treating them on the street. The concept became known as Housing First and was even embraced by the Bush administration in 2003.

In 2005, Salt Lake City, Utah, which had a significant homeless problem, 2,000 plus individuals, decided to try the Housing First concept. They wanted to run a small test. So with the help of state government and local charitable organizations they achieved equally satisfactory results. They are expanding their programs to provide housing for the remaining homeless.

Santa Clara County, California adopted the same Housing First model and by 2014 they had housed 840 people in apartments and have plans to house the remaining 6,000 homeless.

This may sound like we are just warehousing the problem. It is only then that we can get to the next phase of these experiments which is perhaps the most difficult, and that is the rehabilitation where possible of the individuals involved. That phase takes even longer and the results from the trials I have mentioned are still to be evaluated.

The root causes being what they are will require much concentrated effort by both the public and private sectors to reverse the current trend. The size of the homeless population is expanding and the availability of low cost, i.e. affordable housing, is shrinking jeopardizing the stability of many and forcing still more into homelessness.

Our own Governor Jerry Brown in 2011 slashed redevelopment funds which might have been put to use to bolster the affordable housing stocks.

Prefabricated tiny homes, pod housing, stackable systems of factory built components should be part of the equation to resolve this issue and our state surplus should help with funding. Riverside is home to the largest factory built housing manufacturer in the country. I am sure they would be more than glad to work with the public sector in developing plans that respond to this need.

The City of Santa Monica should consider the Housing First approach. Of course, this should be coordinated with the plans of Los Angeles County and the City of Los Angeles. Also, we should consult with the administrators from those cities with Housing First programs. Our city has underutilized suitable parcels of land it could donate for this use at the airport and elsewhere.

If places as economically, demographically and politically diverse as New York, Salt Lake City, and Santa Clara County can make Housing First work, cannot Santa Monica? To be sure, the return on investment will vary, depending on how you count the benefits of fewer people living in the streets, clogging emergency rooms and crowding jails. “Ironically, ending homelessness this way may be cheaper then continuing to treat the problem in the traditional ways this City has. This would not only benefit the people who are homeless; it would benefit the rest of us to know we live in a more compassionate and just nation.” Tsemberis has said, “It is not a matter of whether we know how to fix the problem. Homelessness is not a disease like cancer or Alzheimer’s where we don’t yet have a cure. We have the cure for homelessness and it is housing.”

Do we in the City of Santa Monica and in the County and State have the political will? I believe we do and we can be in the forefront of the solution.

Thane Roberts AIA, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission. For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writings.

Related Posts

The Myth of “Public” Art in Santa Monica

February 8, 2019

February 8, 2019

Over the past few years, the Stanton MacDonald Wright murals at the entrance to Santa Monica City Hall have stirred...

Beausoleil: First Parole Test for Newsom

February 10, 2019

February 10, 2019

Not many Californians under 60 can recall just who is the 71-year-old Bobby Beausoleil and what evils he did back...

AI in the Year 2020… Almost

February 11, 2019

February 11, 2019

By Nektar Baziotis In 1966 Gene Rodenberry’s “Star Trek” made its television debut on NBC. Audiences young and old were captivated...

Is Santa Monica’s Heart for Sale?

February 15, 2019

February 15, 2019

Note from SMa.r.t.: This article, in a longer form, was originally published four years ago but is still as pertinent...

Column: Adapting to Westside Vacancies

February 18, 2019

February 18, 2019

By Avi Sinai We all see the vacant storefronts around the Westside and it begs the question – why are...

SMa.r.t. Column: Gridlocked Best Intentions

February 22, 2019

February 22, 2019

On any given evening (and especially weekends) pay a visit to north-bound 2nd Street between Broadway Avenue and Santa Monica...

No Excuses: Stop the Crime Wave

March 1, 2019

March 1, 2019

My mother turned 91 last Saturday. Happy Birthday, Mom! She has walked the streets of Santa Monica her whole life...

Column: Can we Solve Westside Traffic with more Housing Development?

March 5, 2019

March 5, 2019

About the author: Avi Sinai is the principal of HM Capital, a Los Angeles company specializes in hard money real...

Open Space… Is There Any Left?

March 9, 2019

March 9, 2019

Yes there is. Small as it is, there is about 2.5 acres in the heart of downtown waiting to be...

Letter to Editor: Former Mayor on Voting Rights Case

March 13, 2019

March 13, 2019

By Paul Rosenstein Former Mayor of Santa Monica I hope the judge’s order for district elections is stayed during the...

I Eat, Therefore I Risk:

June 24, 2010

June 24, 2010

Let’s start with the water bottle. Because that’s just such a strange modern mentality to begin with… the notion that...

Hometown Hero: Ted Winterer:

June 24, 2010

June 24, 2010

2010 will be the first time Ted, his wife, the designer Beck Taylor, their children, Eleanor and Steele, and their...

There’s LUCE, and Then There’s “loose”…:

July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010

Class stratification doesn’t have to be part of the dialogue about every single thing in America. Or does it? You...

SMa.r.t. OpEd: A Sense of Place:

September 2, 2016

September 2, 2016

By SMa.r.t In the mid-19th century, America’s West held the promise of cheap land and riches. In some ways, this...

Insurance Arrangement Shows PUC Hasn’t Change:

November 7, 2015

November 7, 2015

State commissions, like people and corporations, rarely change unless they’re given strong motivation; sometimes change has to be forced on...