The Santa Monica City Council received an update on various homeless matters at its meeting Tuesday, January 9th.
– Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman, special representative for homeless initiatives, said that the Homeless Community Court program is scheduled to be launched at the beginning of next month.
The court will serve the chronically homeless of Santa Monica — those that have lived on the streets for many years — by providing “therapeutic justice.”
The court’s goal is to resolve the warrants and minor crime issues of the chronically homeless — such as tickets for jaywalking and loitering — by compelling the chronically homeless to seek city services and programs, including therapeutic beds at drug and alcohol recovery centers and psychological and psychiatric centers.
Basically, they would have their jail time waived and their warrants canceled in exchange for going into some type of rehabilitation program.
The court program has been in the works for some time now, and was originally scheduled to be launched last year.
Edelman also introduced the new executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA), Rebecca Isaacs, a Santa Monica resident, who started her new duties on November 1st.
– A presentation was given by Martha Burt and Laudan Aron of The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization in Washington, D.C.
Burt and Aron gave a PowerPoint presentation on findings of a system-wide evaluation of Santa Monica’s homeless provider system. They also reported on current efforts and recommended next steps for ending homelessness in Santa Monica.
Burt said she found it interesting that only 60 percent of homeless people in Santa Monica are men. “That’s relatively low,” Burt said.
Councilman Kevin McKeown said he was surprised to hear that 40 percent of the homeless population in Santa Monica is women, “because that’s not what you see.”
McKeown said he thought women must be hiding, as they’re in a “a very vulnerable position,” and he requested more information about this.
The average age of a homeless person in the city is 42, which is a bit high compared to national statistics, Burt said.
Of all the people on the streets in Santa Monica, only six percent have neither mental illness nor substance abuse issues and 33 percent are chronically homeless, according to The Urban Institute.
Among recommendations made by The Urban Institute were:
— establishing an ongoing, independent community roundtable for all stakeholders to help develop a strategic plan;
— obtaining better data;
— developing and launching a public education campaign;
— creating outreach teams; and
— starting an anti-panhandling campaign.
A 169 page final report on the “Evaluation of Santa Monica’s (Homeless) Continuum of Care and Strategic Five-Year Plan” was also presented by The Urban Institute to the City Council. Additional copies were available to pick up in the lobby for those who were interested.
In the discussion that followed the report, some members of the audience commented.
– John Maceri, executive director of OPCC, commended the Urban Institute for their hard work, but pointed out that “supportive services get underlooked and underfunded.”
“Any new resources should be targeted for substance abuse,” he said.
Maceri also emphasized the need to increase the supply of affordable housing and emergency shelter beds in any way possible.
“On the Westside, we really have a lack of emergency shelter beds,” he said.
– Rhonda Meister, executive director of St. Joseph’s Center in Venice, praised what she called a “comprehensive evaluation” and said she was ready to work with others to start implementing recommendations from the report.
– The Commission on the Status of Women (COSW) had written a letter to Mayor Richard Bloom and the City Council with many questions, requesting additional analysis.
“The Urban Institute (UI) has done an admirable jobÖ. However, after perusing the UI Report, COSW believes that the City cannot fully know and be informed about what’s working and what is not for a large percentage of the homeless populationÖ women,” the letter stated.
The Commission on the Status of Women noted that there was “little data or discussion in the report that’s gender-specific or that addresses the specific vulnerabilities and needs of this population.”
Councilman Bobby Shriver thanked the Urban Institute for doing an “amazing job,” but also requested more information, for example, on homeless veterans, as there appeared to be little information on them in the report.
As the report was provided at the last minute, the City Council will discuss this report further at a future meeting. This will give the council and public more time “to digest it,” said Shriver.
“This is an enormously complex issue,” said Bloom. “I’m looking forward to the discussion when it comes back [to the agenda]. I want to thank all of the people who worked on this.”