Santa Monica shifts to a more proactive regional approach that reaches into Venice

By Gary Walker

Responding to a 26% increase in Santa Monica’s homeless population over just one year, city officials unveiled a series
of proposals this week to increase homeless outreach, services and housing opportunities — both within the city and outside its borders.

Contemplating a more regional approach to homelessness, Santa Monica City Council members will vote next month on whether to allocate as much as $500,000 of the city’s federal housing funds to support an existing permanent supportive housing complex in Venice.

The 12-unit building at Pacific Avenue and Navy Street is a block south of Santa Monica and owned by the nonprofit Venice Community Housing Corporation. In exchange for funding renovations to the property, three units would be set aside for homeless Santa Monica residents.

“It’s a good test case for a regional approach to housing,” VCHC Executive Director Becky Dennison said. “We absolutely agree with them on that approach.”

Santa Monica Housing Division Manager Barbara Collins said local housing representatives might also ask the council to loan more money to Dennison’s group for new affordable housing construction in Venice or other Westside neighborhoods.

According to a city staff report, Santa Monica has provided approximately $25 million in capital funding to develop five permanent supportive housing buildings with 136 apartments for homeless households, and revenue from the city’s Measure GSH can used for additional housing. The ballot measure approved last November increased the city’s sales tax by 0.5% to raise approximately $16 million annually for affordable housing construction and school repair.

Meanwhile, the Santa Monica City Council voted Tuesday to spend as much as $1.4 million over the next two years to deploy members of Los Angeles County’s multidisciplinary homeless outreach team within Santa Monica city limits.

The city will also bolster its local multidisciplinary street team with additional outreach workers, place ambassadors in Tongva and Palisades parks to direct the homeless to city services, and deploy dedicated outreach personnel in the city library system.

The Santa Monica Police Department will also add more officers to its Homeless Liaison Program, or HLP team.

“We’re looking at all of these as a collective action model,” Santa Monica Humans Services Administrator Margaret Wills said.

In September, council members approved City Manager Rick Cole’s request for $320,000 over the next two years to fund a senior advisor on homelessness at City Hall. That person will coordinate city efforts to implement its homelessness strategies while engaging state and regional leaders.

“We want to focus on what we’re calling proactive engagement,” Cole said during a Monday morning press conference.

Santa Monica’s new strategies for combating homelessness come six months after the city’s annual homeless count reported an increase in the city’s homeless population from 728 people in 2016 to 921 people in 2017, while Los Angeles County’s homeless population jumped 23% from 47,000 to 58,000.

The Santa Monica survey found that 29% of Santa Monica’s homeless had been staying in the city for less than a month and 46% came to Santa Monica from elsewhere in Los Angeles County.

Cole dismissed claims that the May 2016 expansion of light rail service into Santa Monica is adding fuel to the fire.

“We have seen no evidence that confirms that people are using the Expo Line to come to Santa Monica to stay,” he said.

Cole also cautioned residents not to expect an immediate, drastic reduction in homelessness.

“We’re under no illusions that this is a one-and-done story,” he said.