The 110 most vulnerable homeless people — those most likely to die on the streets — have been identified in Santa Monica.
Of the almost 300 individuals found sleeping outside in the early morning hours of January 25th, 110 are considered vulnerable, according to a new study released January 31st.
To determine which of the homeless were most vulnerable and likely to die on the streets, 60 volunteers from a dozen agencies attempted to conduct a 45-question survey of everyone observed sleeping outside between 3 and 5 a.m. January 28th to 30th.
Almost all of the homeless agreed to be surveyed — 261 of 277, or 94 percent.
In exchange for their time, they were offered a $5 McDonalds, Jack in the Box or Burger King gift card.
No children were seen sleeping outside.
The survey — created by Dr. Jim O’Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program — included questions about age, number of years on the streets, previous housing situations, physical and mental health, drug and alcohol use, and run-ins with the law.
Using the results of the survey, a “vulnerability score” was produced.
The New York-based nonprofit organization Common Ground helped the city with training and coordination. It also took the results of the surveys to produce a report of the most vulnerable homeless in Santa Monica and rank them in a service registry for the city to use in its efforts to address homelessness.
The city’s next step is to house the ten most chronic and vulnerable homeless people in Santa Monica as quickly as possible. Once they are housed, efforts will be made to get the next ten into housing and so on, said the city’s Human Services manager Julie Rusk.
“One-hundred-ten people is something we can get to work on in Santa Monica,” said Rusk, who noted the importance of changing the perception that homelessness is a problem that can’t be solved. “There’s no reason we can’t house 110 people.”
Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom was shocked to learn that 277 people were sleeping outside in Santa Monica, but he said this project “is the start of something very, very big.”
“The reality is, there is hope for them,” says Bloom of the homeless. “These are real people — people with families, people with friends. And these people have a future.”
All of the vulnerable homeless had at least one “at-risk” indicator, said Becky Kanis, Common Ground’s director of Innovations, who worked on the study.
Those indicators included frostbite, cirrhosis, end-stage renal disease, HIV/AIDS, being over age 60, or being admitted to the emergency room or hospital more than three times in a year.
Also, of the 110 vulnerable homeless, 21 had a history of mental illness and 14 had a history of substance abuse, while 60 suffered from both mental illness and substance abuse, Kanis said.
The study found that the average age of people sleeping outside in Santa Monica was 49, but the average age of the 110 most vulnerable homeless was 55, Kanis said.
The average length of time they had been sleeping outside in Santa Monica was eight years, but it was 11 years for the vulnerable homeless, Kanis said.
Thirty percent of the vulnerable homeless have been on the streets in Santa Monica for more than 15 years. For some, it had been even longer.
“I’m sort of ashamed, frankly, that 35 people have been homeless in Santa Monica for more than 20 years,” Rusk said.
The study also revealed that the main reason the homeless chose to be in Santa Monica was because of weather, safety and services, Kanis said.
During the day, the beach, the library and the Third Street Promenade are where the majority spend their time.
Seventy-eight percent of the homeless sleeping outside in Santa Monica are male, with 77 percent of the vulnerable population being male.
Of the people sleeping outside in Santa Monica, 66 percent are white, 21 percent are African American and 12 percent are Hispanic. Sixteen percent are veterans.
And the vulnerable homeless account for 82 percent of the reported hospitalizations of street homeless individuals in Santa Monica in the last year, Kanis said.
The ten most vulnerable homeless, eight men and two women — who will be housed as quickly as possible — have been sleeping outside in Santa Monica for an average of 18 years and are an average of 54 years old.
The most vulnerable individual is a white 49-year-old male who grew up in Texas in foster care. He suffers from cirrhosis, mental illness and substance abuse and moved to Santa Monica many years ago.
For the city, the next step is getting him and the other nine most vulnerable into housing and providing ongoing support to them.
Rusk says the biggest issue is finding units for these individuals.
There are “well over 100 housing vouchers” in the city, but “we need units,” Rusk said. “We continue to need help. It’s not easy business housing these people.”
John Maceri, executive director of OPCC (formerly known as the Ocean Park Community Center) and one of the volunteers who conducted the vulnerability survey, agreed.
“It takes a community to solve this problem,” Maceri said. “It takes everyone working together. People who are out here are very, very sick.”
And, as Kanis points out, the effort to end homelessness in Santa Monica “is not over — this is just the beginning.”