OPCC’s new $6.1-million homeless services facility, the Annenberg Access Center, officially opened its doors Monday, September 10th.

The 8,100-square-foot homeless center, at 503 Olympic Blvd. in Santa Monica, is a “drop-in” facility that will serve about 300 homeless people per day, said Kathy Kniss, director of media relations for the project.

Unlike the old access center — which was at 612 Colorado Ave. for about 20 years — the new facility was “designed from the ground up to be a creative use of space to meet the access center’s needs,” said Julie Rusk, human services manager for the City of Santa Monica.

A relocation has been in the works for several years, as the building where the old center was located on Colorado Avenue is scheduled to be demolished later this month as part of a redesign of the Big Blue Bus campus, Rusk said.

The Annenberg Access Center, designed by the local Ralph Mechur Architects, is the second of two facilities built by the OPCC in Santa Monica — and is part of a $19.5 million capital campaign, From Homelessness to Hope, expected to conclude in December, said Kniss.

The other facility, the 22,000-square-foot Cloverfield Services Center, opened in November.

The access center is the point of entry for homeless services in Santa Monica and is the crucial first step in helping people obtain the services and resources they need, Kniss said.

“A sense of trust is created here,” Kniss said. “We’re reaching out to [the homeless]. There is a place that exists where they can get a hot meal, hot shower.”

Services offered at the center include clothing, showers, restrooms, lockers, washers and dryers, sack lunches, holiday meals, mail and message services and bus tokens.

Also offered are case management, 12-step meetings, employment assistance, money management, medical and mental health services, advocacy and assistance in applying for government benefits, referrals to emergency shelters, transitional and permanent housing, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

“The new access center will be providing the same kind of services [as the old location], but in a much more dignified, well-designed and appropriate environment,” said Rusk.

For example, now there are two medical exam rooms where doctors and nurse practitioners from the Venice Family Clinic can see people, instead of a “little office that didn’t have the proper equipment,” Rusk says.

These services provided at the center are designed to build trust with people who are still living on the streets and to encourage them to seek housing and to take the steps necessary to rebuild their lives, Kniss said.

“OPCC is pleased to be able to provide life-changing services to those who are homeless in our community,” said John Maceri, OPCC’s executive director. “We especially thank the City of Santa Monica for partnering with us to build this new facility, where many people will take steps to end their homelessness.”

Major funding for the project was provided by the City of Santa Monica, with additional support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Several foundations also made contributions to the project.

Homelessness has long been an issue in Los Angeles County — a county that has the largest population of people living below the poverty line of any metropolitan area in the United States, according to a 2005 Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) study.

Over 88,000 people in Los Angeles County are homeless on any given night, and over the course of one year, 224,000 individuals will be homeless at some point, according to the same study.

Of these 88,000 individuals, 2,000 are homeless in Santa Monica on any given day.

“We are committed to making our community the best it can be, and to do that, assisting the most disadvantaged of our residents is crucial,” Maceri said.

OPCC, founded in 1963 and formerly known as the Ocean Park Community Center, has ten programs in eight locations on the Westside which provide food, emergency services, clothing, transitional and permanent housing, mental and medical health care, services for battered women and children and preparation for independent living to over 8,000 homeless and low income men, women, at-risk teens and children yearly, according to OPCC officials.

Information, www.opcc.org/.