Once reluctant to acknowledge the problem, Culver City is getting proactive

By Gary Walker

For some people, seeing is believing. After a Jan. 18 homeless count in Culver City, many volunteers came away with a new perspective: There actually are people in Culver City who have no place to live.

“It’s an eye-opening experience for first-timers,” said Dr. Ira Diamond, who led the homeless count and chairs the city’s Committee on Homelessness.

While public parks in the “Heart of Screenland” are not magnets for homeless encampments and the city’s well-kept, tree-lined streets do not harbor caravans of vehicle dwellers, there is now no question that homelessness exists in Culver City.

Culver City began counting its homeless residents last year due to an uptick in the number of people sleeping on the streets or in vehicles.

A 2016 homeless count tallied 101 homeless people, including individuals and families, and this year’s numbers
are due out soon — and Diamond is not expecting good news.

Anecdotally speaking, “the number of homeless has increased tremendously in Culver City,” he said.

Culver City Committee on Homelessness member Deborah Wallace also believes the local homeless population is growing. She has recently begun to see homeless people in her Fox Hills neighborhood, including a woman who alternates between camping on Doverwood Street and the grounds of Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery.

“We have also found homeless sleeping deep within the high bushes off Slauson [Avenue], near the freeway entry, hidden from the public,” she said.

Culver City Councilwoman Meghan Sahli-Wells said the situation might have been worse if not for recent city actions. She was among a three-member council majority to approve continuing the city’s rental assistance program in 2015, which she says saved at least 58 residents from becoming homeless.

“It literally kept them in their homes,” Sahli-Wells said.

The committee has been much more active than in prior years as the visibility of the homeless increases. Its members are developing a series of initiatives to alleviate homelessness that they plan to formally recommend to city leaders.

Those plans are guided by the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, which includes 47 strategies for addressing homelessness.  In February 2016, county leaders put $100 million in funding behind that initiative, which has identified priorities such as developing a coordinated system for social services and outreach, an increase in affordable housing, rapid rehousing and income assistance.

Local rental assistance programs are among the broader strategies through which cities can prevent people from falling into homelessness, said Phil Ansell, the director of the county’s Homeless Initiative.

“There’s no question that there are actions cities can take, like rental assistance, that can help to decrease homelessness,” said Ansell, who lives
in Culver City.

Municipalities can also spend unused federal funding on housing for the chronically homeless, he said.

Meanwhile, committee members are also looking into creating what Diamond calls a “homeless resource guide.”

“It will cover a broad range of services and locations that will be helpful for homeless singles, families and veterans,” he explained. “Some of the areas covered will include homeless services, crisis lines, urgent care, food, legal services, medical, showers, shelter, substance abuse and others.”

Culver City Mayor Jim Clarke is pleased that the homeless committee has been more proactive.

“I’m impressed that through the committee Culver City is taking a leading role in partnering with the county on addressing homelessness,” he said.