The estimate of the overall number of homeless people on the streets in Santa Monica on any given night has dropped a significant 24 percent in the last two years, according to the 2007 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, which was released Thursday, October 11th, by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

The study, conducted every two years, was done this year on the evenings of January 23rd to 25th. It is considered the largest single community homeless enumeration — or count — performed in the United States, according to the Homeless Services Authority.

The study includes people directly counted on the streets and also those included by projection, said Stacy Rowe, human services administrator for the City of Santa Monica.

The methodology used in 2005 and this year was “substantially similar,” Rowe ads.

According to the results, the estimated homeless count in Santa Monica on any given night has dropped 24 percent — from approximately 2,000 homeless people in 2005 to approximately 1,500 this year.

There was also a 30 percent decrease in the number of people directly counted on Santa Monica’s streets, from 940 in 2005 to 661 this year.

The numbers are lower overall in Los Angeles County as well.

Some 73,000 homeless people live in Los Angeles County, down from approximately 88,000 in 2005 — a 17 percent decrease.

But Homeless Services Authority executive director Rebecca Isaacs points out that, while the numbers are lower, Los Angeles remains the “homeless capital” of the nation.

“The situation is still extremely serious,” Isaacs says. “Clearly, a great deal of work remains to be done to reduce and end homelessness in our county.”

And while the overall homeless population in Los Angeles County — and on the streets of Santa Monica — has decreased, Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles, one of the most densely populated homeless areas in the U.S., saw an increase in the number of homeless people, from 3,668 in 2005 to 5,131 this year.

In Santa Monica, the number of homeless people counted inside shelters and residential facilities actually increased from 243 in 2005 to 301 in 2007, Rowe said.

“The good news is, our overall number [of homeless people on the streets] went down, but the number of homeless people that are getting into residential facilities is going up,” Rowe said. “If there’s going to be an increase anywhere, that’s where we’d want to see it.

“Ultimately, the goal is to move everyone into permanent housing, but we can all agree that it’s a positive thing to move people from the streets into temporary shelters or residential programs.”

But there is a shortage of residential programs and there has not been a substantial increase in the number of shelters for the homeless over the past two years in the county, according to the Homeless Services Authority.

“There is still a capacity issue,” says Rowe. “We’re working on building our shelter capacity [in Santa Monica], as in terms of residential and permanent housing capacity.”

“But we also need regional partners,” Rowe adds, pointing out that it’s a region-wide effort.

Rowe also said, “I think it’s fair to say that there is a downward trend in Santa Monica — and while there might be many explanations for it — it does underline that the efforts of the city and service providers since 2004 to target those people that have been homeless on the streets of Santa Monica the longest — and moving them into housing and other residential programs — is starting to have an effect.”

Rowe also points out that counting homeless people, no matter where, is complicated and no easy task.

But the 2007 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count does claim a 95 percent “statistical confidence level” with a 7.5 percent margin of error, which Rowe says is “pretty good.”

While there could be a lot of reasons the homeless population has decreased since 2005, Rowe thinks one thing is clear from the results of the homeless count.

“I think it shows that our efforts are paying off, but I think it also shows there’s still a significant population on the streets and the City of Santa Monica needs to partner with others in the region,” Rowe said. “It’s going to take a regional effort to get all the folks where they need to be, which is in permanent housing. And that’s true in Santa Monica and elsewhere in the county.”

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