The homeless population in Santa Monica has dropped eight percent from two years ago, according to a citywide count of the homeless earlier this year.

The city Human Services Division and volunteers used a new, rigorous methodology for this year’s count that involved physically counting homeless individuals in each of the 19 census tracts of the city. The count, conducted in conjunction with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s count, tallied 915 homeless individuals living within the city’s borders.

Human Services Division representatives said the division is demonstrating the early success of Santa Monica’s Action Plan to Address Homelessness adopted by the City Council last year, and is paving the way for accurate evaluation of progress in the future.

“We are pleased, but not surprised, to see a decline in street homelessness,” said Julie Rusk, Santa Monica Human Services manager. “The city has been working hard for a long time to develop a compassionate and effective plan to address the issues of homelessness in our community. Considering the current state of the economy, this reduction is an indication of the success of our efforts.”

This year’s citywide count was designed to gauge the initial progress of the Action Plan to Address Homelessness. The plan, which focuses city services and resources on the most vulnerable populations, aims to end the impact of homelessness in Santa Monica by engaging homeless individuals in services, helping them become stable and moving them off of the streets and into appropriate housing, a Human Services spokesperson said.

While city officials are encouraged by the new approach, Santa Monica Police Capt. Al Venegas said there is no denying that “street homelessness remains a major issue in certain areas throughout the city.”

“But, thanks to the success of city programs like the Homeless Liaison Program, law enforcement and service providers have begun to work together with the city to help people find ways off the streets,” Venegas said.

Among the city’s new homeless initiatives, the chronic homeless service registry program identifies the city’s most vulnerable individuals, helping service providers to prioritize treatment and find appropriate housing solutions. Santa Monica’s Homeless Community Court is another program that provides individuals a second chance to get back on their feet, and Project Homecoming reunites homeless individuals with friends and family members who can offer safe and stable housing options.

“The city, in collaboration with service providers, businesses and residents, has shown a continued commitment to finding compassionate and effective solutions to end homelessness in Santa Monica,” said John Maceri, executive director of the OPCC social service center.

The 2009 Homeless Count was conducted by more than 250 volunteers between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. January 27th. City staff said they are confident the count findings show an accurate picture of the city’s homeless population.