Though recent surveys on the number of homeless people in Santa Monica and throughout Los Angeles County have shown reductions in the population of people living on the street, some Santa Monica officials and social service agencies are expressing caution to not draw conclusions of significant progress based on such statistics.
Representatives of Santa Monica’s Human Services Division reported to the City Council Tuesday, November 10th on the annual review of homeless services in the city, including outcomes for the nearly 3,000 people who received services and the progress of programs specifically targeting the homeless.
Of the 2,979 people who received services during the year such as case management, housing, addiction recovery and mental health services, 406, or 14 percent were placed into permanent housing and 583, or 20 percent, received emergency or transitional housing. The number of individuals who found and maintained jobs was estimated at 495, or 17 percent, said Setareh Yavari of the Human Services Division.
As part of the city’s plan to address homelessness, volunteers and staff surveyed homeless people on the street, identifying the most vulnerable or those most likely to die on the street. By June this year, 386 individuals were interviewed, of which 219 were found to be vulnerable. Thirty-nine of those surveyed have since moved into permanent housing, Yavari told the council.
In January, the city, working with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), conducted a count over one night of homeless individuals on the streets and in local shelters. The count indicated an eight-percent drop in Santa Monica’s homeless since 2007, from 999 to 915.
The total decrease countywide, excluding Pasadena, Glendale and Long Beach, was far greater, as an estimated 43,000 homeless people were counted on the streets and in shelters over one night for a 38 percent drop since 2007, according to LAHSA.
LAHSA officials noted that although a significant number of people are still without shelter, the count shows that progress is being made by cities and the county in reducing homelessness. The agency attributes the decrease to an increased focus on the issue by elected leaders, investments in housing programs and a strong network of agencies providing support.
“Los Angeles’ new homeless data shows tangible results from the efforts of the city, county and Continuum of Care agencies to address poverty and homelessness,” Michael Arnold, LAHSA’s executive director, said in announcing the count results.
Referring to the reductions reported in Santa Monica and the county, some officials cautioned that such figures don’t necessarily mean that drastic improvements have been made toward ending homelessness.
“It’s human nature that we’re going to start thinking that we’ve done something significant,” Santa Monica Councilman Richard Bloom said, referring to a drop in the number of homeless veterans on the street.
Bill Daniels of the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Association told the council that the number of homeless veterans in the LAHSA count has dropped 58 percent to 6,400 since 2005. Of 25 Santa Monica individuals receiving services at the Veterans Administration clinic, 72 percent were housed and 93 percent received VA services, Daniels said.
“We don’t want to leave people with the impression that we’ve made enormous inroads into the problem such as a 58 percent drop might indicate to some people,” Bloom said.
Councilman Bobby Shriver said he too feels “nervousness” in reporting large reductions in homeless, noting that people who encounter the population may not feel that there are 40 or 50 percent fewer homeless on the street.
“They feel that there are similar numbers of people there even though progress has been made,” Shriver said.
In the Santa Monica homeless count, the eight percent drop covered each of the city’s census tracts and status multipliers were not applied to the count, said Julie Rusk of the Human Services Division. According to LAHSA officials, only a portion of all the county census tracts were counted and people were also tracked in emergency shelters and transitional housing.
Some Santa Monica social service agencies have expressed surprise with the significant decrease indicated in the LAHSA count, saying they have recently seen an increase in the need for services.
“We expressed shock and surprise because what we’re seeing at Upward Bound House doesn’t reflect a 38 percent drop in homelessness,” said David Snow, executive director of Santa Monica- based Upward Bound House, which works with homeless families. “What we’re seeing is an increase in the demand for our services.”
John Maceri, executive director of Santa Monica-based OPCC, also called the reduction a “pretty precipitous drop” and said local agencies are seeing more people seeking services due to increased economic pressure. But while Santa Monica’s count may use different methods than other parts of the county, Maceri said there has been a decline in street homelessness.
Some agencies in the Los Angeles area have also expressed concern that reporting a large drop in homelessness could impact the amount of funding that is provided for services.
But social service agencies and city officials stress that the number of homeless countywide remains critical despite any reductions and they need to continue working on solving the problem.
“Whatever (the number) is it’s too many,” Maceri said of the homeless figure.
Snow added, “Whether it’s 70,000 homeless in LA County or 40,000, that is still at crisis levels. We should see the results as an opportunity to redouble our efforts.”
Santa Monica leaders also spoke of how homelessness remains a troubling issue for the city and the region, and how they will need the help of outside sources to continue combating the problem.
“It’s still a terrible shame in LA and the whole region that we have the highest number of homeless. This is tough stuff,” Shriver said.