There’s Still Time to Volunteer for Santa Monica’s Annual Homeless Count

Every year since 2009, Santa Monica has called upon hundreds of volunteers to help gather accurate data about the number of people sleeping in the bayside city’s streets and homeless shelters.

The city of Santa Monica is asking people once again to step up and help on Wednesday, January 25 from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. to gather the data necessary to help those living on the streets.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires cities which receive federal money to combat poverty to perform an “in-time” count of their homeless populations once every two years, for the last eight years, Santa Monica continues to do a count annually.

The count serves several functions, according to the city’s website:

  • To measure progress towards ending homelessness
  • The count and demographic survey give a snapshot of who is experiencing homelessness and where they are located
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) tracks the results in each community to determine the amount of federal funds allocated to homeless programs.

Over the course of the evening, volunteers are divided into teams as they walk through the city counting — though not engaging with — the number of people sleeping in shelters, in the streets, in their cars, or in other public places.

Since the city began doing a count annually, the number of people sleeping on Santa Monica’s streets has decreased. In 2009, which was the year Santa Monica adopted its “Action Plan to Address Homelessness,” volunteers counted 915 people sleeping on the streets, in cars, in encampments, or in shelters. Last year, the total number of people counted by volunteers was 728. The biggest decrease in the number of people counted happened from 2009 to 2010 and the number has remained relatively constant since then. The highest count since 2009 was 780 people, counted in 2013.

The annual homeless count “is the most tangible way for us to understand what our need is in the community,” Margaret Willis, Human Services administrator, told Santa Monica Next in 2014.

Homelessness, much like the housing crisis, is a regional problem and as such, requires regional solutions. Los Angeles County is home to what is estimated to be the largest homeless population in the country.

While the causes of homelessness are myriad, and many experiencing chronic homelessness struggle with severe mental health issues, exacerbating the problem of housing insecurity for those on the cusp is an increasingly expensive rental market — driven in part by slow rates of new housing construction in Santa Monica and the region.

Increasingly high rents have discouraged property owners from participating in federal rent subsidy programs, like Section 8, which serve as a safety net for many low-income renters.

Additionally, Santa Monica, in 2012, lost its primary source of funding for building new, permanently affordable housing when redevelopment agencies throughout the state were shut down. Until 2012, Santa Monica spent about $15 million a year to help nonprofit housing developers finance the production of permanent affordable housing, either through new construction or adaptive reuse.

This past November, however, Santa Monicans voted to approve a half-cent transaction and use tax that would raise funds to spend on affordable housing as well as repairs for school buildings.

And in Los Angeles, voters approved a $1.2 billion measure to help house homeless people.

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