In response to city staff’s comprehensive update on homelessness, the Santa Monica City Council used a special session Wednesday night to give priority access to affordable housing to Emergency Housing Voucher program participants, approved up to $200,000 for expanded legal and support services to Santa Monica renters at risk of eviction, and endorsed potential new investments to address homelessness as resources become available.

These investments would include creating an additional multidisciplinary street team to provide expanded outreach citywide, expanding the Santa Monica Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) team to operate seven days a week, and redesigning the SAMOSHEL interim housing program scope to facilitate after-hours intakes for city referrals. These responsive solutions combined with longer-term strategies such as working regionally to increase the supply of affordable housing and pursuing a strategy to address behavioral health comprise the city’s comprehensive approach to homelessness.

“We must integrate today’s timely and responsive solutions with our longer-term existing strategies such as regional work to increase the supply of affordable housing and multifaceted approaches to behavioral health,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. “Our constant attention is critical to addressing homelessness in Santa Monica. The council’s investments respond to community questions and concerns, but more importantly, they connect people to life-saving resources and into permanent housing.”

The council’s discussion also addressed a wide range of topics from parks and public spaces, housing, street medicine, public safety, prevention programs, substance abuse, the legal system, mental health, and housing. System constraints and challenges related to the workforce, enforcement, behavioral health, housing capacity, and resources were also presented.

Council direction comes as city staff shared the results of the 2022 Homeless Count held in February (Release: Santa Monica’s results show 807 people experiencing homelessness were counted in Santa Monica, a decrease of 11 percent from the 907 individuals counted in January 2020. While this decrease is due to local shelter capacity being significantly reduced to comply with COVID-19 public health guidance, the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Santa Monica stayed nearly consistent with 2020, increasing 1 percent to 608 in 2022. The city continues to focus on permanent solutions combined with responding to immediate public health and quality-of-life issues, including the expanded availability of regional interim shelter beds, which the city claims have helped prevent a local increase in homelessness.

According to the city, Santa Monica’s initiatives are organized under four pillars:

  1. Preventing Homelessness:  Preventing housed Santa Monicans from becoming homeless and increasing affordable housing opportunities
  2. Behavioral Health:  Addressing the physical and behavioral health needs of vulnerable residents providing more access to healthcare
  3. Safe Public Spaces:  Continuously enhancing the city’s approach to maintaining equitable access to safe, fun, and healthy open spaces
  4. Regional Capacity: Strengthening regional capacity to address homelessness.

The city also boasts of recent efforts to balance street-based outreach with enforcement of local law while advancing longer-term solutions, which they feel is a more comprehensive approach to address this public health crisis. The city sites the following efforts underway:

  • Multi-disciplinary outreach teams. Last year, the three City-funded multi-disciplinary outreach teams made more than 11,000 contacts with people experiencing homelessness, provided direct medical or psychiatric services to 808 participants, placed 57 people into interim housing, and placed 24 individuals into permanent housing
  • New experts were added to the field through the Santa Monica Fire Department’s Community Response Unit. A therapeutic transport van will be deployed this summer through a partnership with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, building on the active deployment of numerous multidisciplinary outreach teams including the Santa Monica Police Department’s (SMPD) HLP Team
  • A behavioral health center feasibility study is in progress and $10 million in local funding has been secured through a recent development agreement with Providence St. John’s to help meet the behavioral health needs of housed and unhoused residents in Santa Monica by pursuing a potential 24/7 behavioral health center on city-owned land
  • SMPD has adjusted operations and mobilized sworn and professional staff to respond to quality-of-life issues including increased patrols in parks and public spaces, and continued mobile camera deployment in key spots, with the specific goal of maintaining public safety in the parks and open spaces and responding to business questions and concerns
  • Public Works staff continue to ensure high levels of sanitization and safety in public spaces citywide, and Downtown Santa Monica (DTSM) Ambassadors maintain restrooms and inviting open spaces
  • Investing in homelessness prevention, over 100 new federal Emergency Housing Vouchers have been secured, 134 new affordable residences have been opened (including two new affordable senior housing developments), and at least 191 additional affordable housing units are currently in various stages of development
  • The city helped Santa Monica residents apply for over $36.6 million in rental assistance and provided legal assistance to over 590 Santa Monica households to ensure Santa Monicans can stay in their homes
  • $8 million in grants were provided to 19 local agencies and 35 programs through the Human Services Grants Program providing a range of services to vulnerable populations to prevent and address homelessness
  • Advocacy for direct investments from the state and federal governments continued with the goal to expand local strategies to address homelessness including expanded outreach teams, pre-filing diversion programs for those with mental health and addiction issues, and the possible location of a behavioral health center

Disclaimer: This particular story borrows heavily from the City of Santa Monica’s own press release.

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