Counting the homeless in Santa Monica

In 2012 we discovered the first body at about 12:15 a.m., wrapped mummy-like in a filthy gray blanket, a few bundles poked up underneath, laying behind a two-foot high cement wall. The gender wasn’t obvious, but one ragged shoe stuck out. In our sector — including Santa Monica Civic Center, City Hall, Santa Monica High School and the Olympic freeway entrance — we spotted 17 homeless people that night.

This year approximately
250 volunteers conducted the annual Santa Monica Homeless Count on Jan. 28. When I arrived at 10 p.m. for the initial briefing, a cluster of police officers lined the large room at St. Monica’s Church.

An orientation provided information on how to conduct ourselves: Do not shine flashlights onto sleeping people;
do not approach or disturb anyone; be respectful and quiet. Look behind bushes and walls, check out large boxes or Dumpsters, survey alleys, parks and cars filled with more than normal contents but don’t trespass on private property.

Our count sheet would note whether the bodies were singles, groups or children and where they were found — a cross street, alley or near an actual address. We were organized into groups to walk specific sectors, and I was the leader of a team
of three.

Our sector included a residential area around the Ocean Park Library. We found one person smothered in blankets at the entrance to the library and two other ragged individuals roaming Main Street.

Homelessness confounds me. Having traveled through a multitude of Third World countries where hunger, untreated disease and poverty are prevalent, discovering people in America left to live in the streets— some mentally ill, drug addicted or without family support— is incomprehensible.

Information from the homeless count helps to determine where funding should be spent. Santa Monica is an unusually compassionate community, providing incredible amounts of services: outreach to those distrusting support, case management and social services, substance abuse aid, housing placement, job training and employment assistance, as well as free medical care. All this is granted with the intention of improving the lives of those who have become degraded with hopelessness, helplessness and homelessness.

Last year’s count tallied 742 individuals on the streets, a 5% reduction from 2013. Hopefully the trend will continue this year.

Bettina Gantsweg
Marina del Rey

I was homeless, too

Re: Letters to the Editor, Jan. 15

It is folly for letter writer David Long to assume that anyone has not been homeless in this day and age.

I first became homeless in 1974 when I was 18 years old because I lost my mother and never knew my father. It’s been touch-and-go ever since.

You tell me you don’t understand my “mindless ravings” then go on to mindlessly brag how you gamed the system for 29 years, claiming you know best.

But if we elevate attention-seeking homeless haters to public leadership positions, the intentionally homeless whom you describe would all have to join the human race because all these phony stakeholders want is for the Venice boardwalk to be sold for development to the highest bidder. This won’t happen as long as Venice stays Venice.

Edward LaGrossa



Don’t slow Mar Vista traffic

Re: “Venice Boulevard Visioning Begins,” news, Jan. 29

If you want people to get out and walk, how about putting in a beautiful new sidewalk and keeping it clean? Remove the parking meters and put in planter boxes. Paint the bike lane a nice green, like on Ocean Park Boulevard, and create a more beautiful skyline by removing those ugly billboards. And don’t forget to leave room for that monorail down the middle of the boulevard (dream on). But please, we don’t need slower traffic. Have you ever tried to drive east on Venice in the afternoon?


Missing the ball at Oxford Lagoon

Re: “Speaking for the Trees,” cover story, Jan. 22

At this point I am most angry with residents of the marina and surrounding areas. You all show up in small numbers and too late in the game to make any difference. There should have been hundreds of citizens with signs, blocking traffic and entry of the workers so they could not cut one damn tree. A small cadre of 20 people is worthless. You can bet the media in the form of print and television would have covered such an outpouring broadly and perhaps we might have been able to get the county to sit down for a meaningful discussion. So where were you when you might have made a difference?

S. Simon

Try something new today!

Re: “The Guy with the Eye,” cover story, Jan. 15

Celebrated photographer Guy Webster “initially didn’t have a clue about how to use a camera,” he said. I am so fascinated by how one’s interest and/or career can blossom from initially trying out something, seemingly insignificant, for the first time. Inspiring article! Well done.