Homelessness Up 15% from Last Year to This Year in Homeless Count in Santa Monica as More Renter/Eviction Protections Are Set to Expire Around the Region

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Yesterday, the City of Santa Monica released the results of the 2023 homeless count. Unsurprisingly, the count showed an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness: 926 people experiencing homelessness were counted this year, up 15 percent from the 807 individuals counted during the City’s 2022 Homeless Count. The city council will hear a report from the city at next week’s meeting. You can read what the staff is planning to say in their staff report, here. You can read more coverage of the homeless count results at the Daily Press and Outlook.

“While I am disappointed to see an increase in our homeless point in time count, this was not unexpected given the pandemic wind down of Project Roomkey,” wrote Councilmember Caroline Torosis to Next. 

“I am confident that the City has a multidisciplinary approach – from public safety to human services – of addressing our crisis head-on in collaboration with our regional partners. I will not rest until everyone has a safe and habitable place to call home.“

In its release announcing the uptick, the city offered a handful of explanations for the uptick ranging from an increase in the amount of shelter beds and the closure of Project Roomkey sites including a 50-room hotel in Venice. People living in a Roomkey hotel room would not be counted in 2022 as they were in interim housing but people staying in an overnight shelter in 2023 would be.

The press release outlines the many-pronged approach the city is taking to address homelessness including things that will help people experiencing homelessness, such as opening new affordable housing for seniors, and those that are designed to help people that are housed avoid having to see people experiencing homelessness such as expanding prohibition against sitting or lying in doorways at night to include along major boulevards including Broadway, Colorado, Lincoln, Pico, Santa Monica, and Wilshire.

The entire press release, including the list of solutions the city is implementing, can be found at the bottom of the article.

In the first episode of the What’s Next podcast, Councilmember Jesse Zwick commented that while Santa Monica has many things it can do to battle homelessness, the problem is not just a local one, but a regional one as well…and that a lot of that problem is caused by the high cost and low supply of housing in Los Angeles County.

A 2022 report in the Washington Post draws a straight line between high rent and high numbers of people experiencing homelessness. As illustrated below, one can see the direct correlation between rent and homelessness in major American cities. Los Angeles is second highest in the country in the cost of rent and 4th highest with the number of people experiencing homelessness. 

To make matters worse, over the past quarter of a century, the cost of rent is growing at over three times the rate of wage growth in Los Angeles County.

Unfortunately, despite the visible increase in enforcement of nuisance and camping ordinances and outreach efforts to those experiencing homelessness; it is likely that the numbers will continue to increase with next year’s count. Renter protections that existed during the regional homeless crisis are expiring or are scheduled to expire in the coming months throughout the county. This could lead to a tsunami of people who are housed but insecure losing the roofs over their heads. 

As CalMatters noted in a March 31 article, about the expiring eviction moratorium in L.A. County, “Across California nearly 600,000 people owe a total of $2.1 billion in back rent, researchers say. In Los Angeles city and county, nearly 200,000 people owe more than half a billion dollars in unpaid rent.

There’s no telling how many of those 600,000 people could be on the streets next year.

City of Santa Monica Press Release:

Santa Monica Releases 2023 Homeless Count Results

and Previews Recommended Approach to Homelessness

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – Today, the City of Santa Monica released the results of the 2023 Homeless Count held in January. The results show that 926 people experiencing homelessness were counted in Santa Monica, an overall increase of 15 percent from the 807 individuals counted during the City’s 2022 Homeless Count.

Compared to last year’s results, 73 more individuals were counted on the street and in vehicles, and 46 more individuals were counted in the Shelter and Institutional count, which consists of emergency motels, shelters, hospitals and the Santa Monica jail.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) is expected to release the results of the 2023 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count between June and September of this year, which will provide context for Santa Monica’s results within the County. Preliminary analysis suggests that multiple factors may have contributed to this year’s increase. As noted in 2022, the 11 percent decrease in overall homelessness in 2022 as compared to 2020 was due to the significant reduction in the local shelter capacity following COVID-19 public health guidance. In 2022, the number of individuals counted on the street and in vehicles, increased by approximately 1%.  As public health guidelines eased, shelter capacity increased, allowing more individuals to obtain shelter beds than in 2022.

Additionally, while local shelter capacity has increased since the 2022 Count, the temporary regional motel shelter capacity implemented during the pandemic continued to wind down, including the 50-room Project Roomkey facility in Venice. This regional demobilization and decrease in the availability of motel rooms may have contributed to an increase in demand on local shelters, which increased shelter counts, and possibly the street count as individuals were displaced from neighboring motels.

“Addressing homelessness is a top priority for the City Council,” said Santa Monica Mayor Gleam Davis. “It is an absolute tragedy that more than 66,000 people are experiencing homelessness in LA County, and Santa Monica remains committed to doing our part to advocate for our most vulnerable community members and connect them to housing and services.”

“Acknowledging the urgent need to address the mounting impacts of homelessness, the Council declared a Local Emergency on Homelessness on February 14, 2023,” said Santa Monica City Manager David White. “This action, combined with an infusion of funds from the passage of Measures CS and GS, will allow us to seize this moment of public support to expand and implement evidence-based best practices and cut through obstacles both internally and in working with our regional partners.”

City Initiatives to Address Homelessness

  • The Council adopted a Proclamation Declaring a Local Emergency Order on Homelessness on February 14, 2023. At the May 9 meeting, staff will recommend that the Council extend the local emergency until May 31, 2024, given the 2023 Point-in-Time Count results and to maintain and scale up the interventions detailed below.
  • The City’s approach to addressing homelessness will now be leveraged by two new funding streams – Measure CS and Measure GS, approved by voters in November 2022. Measure CS dollars will be used to expand field-based services. Measure GS will infuse new revenues into the City’s Housing Trust Fund to create new deed-restricted affordable housing and expand homelessness prevention programs. 
  • At the March 11, 2023, retreat, the Council reaffirmed addressing homelessness as a top priority and approved an organizational realignment to create a Housing and Human Services Department. The new department would become the organizational lead for homelessness services and programs. This would enable the City to rapidly implement Measures CS and GS programs, the objectives of a recent study completed by the City’s auditor, Moss Adams, and provide core focus and leadership on administering a comprehensive array of housing, educational, and social services programs in addition to investments to support vulnerable populations.
  • Work has been initiated on a Homelessness Strategic Plan, which will incorporate and build on the findings of the Moss Adams Report issued in November 2022. Grounded upon the City’s Four Pillar approach, the Homelessness Strategic Plan will set clear policy direction, promote alignment, support regional efforts, and focus on measurable objectives, all towards the goal of preventing and addressing homelessness in Santa Monica.
  • In 2022, the Council supported the redesign of the existing SAMOSHEL interim housing program to accommodate 24/7 intakes for City referrals. This limited scope program redesign will begin later in 2023 and will provide additional options for after-hours intake and facilitate direct referrals by City entities (including SMPD) for people experiencing homelessness and non-urgent behavioral health issues.
  • The City has executed an agreement with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (DMH) to implement a pilot program to launch a therapeutic transport van, staffed with DMH personnel in the City of Santa Monica. DMH’s Therapeutic Transport Program will co-respond to incoming emergency calls related to, or presumed to involve, non-combative, medically stable individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. The program also offers a supportive and expedited alternative to the transportation needs of acute mentally ill clients requiring additional care. The program is designed to relieve first responder resources to focus on other health and safety priorities. The City has committed $464,000 to fund the program with the objective of implementing 24/7 DMH Team coverage.
  • The City modified its municipal code in 2022 to expand the prohibition against sitting or lying in doorways at night to include along major boulevards outside of the downtown area such as Broadway, Colorado, Lincoln, Pico, Santa Monica, and Wilshire. This change affords additional tools to address quality of life concerns. 
  • A behavioral health center feasibility study is in progress to help meet behavioral health needs of housed and unhoused residents in Santa Monica. $10 million from the 2022 development agreement with Providence Saint John’s is available and $1.5 million in federal and another $1.5 million in state funding has been secured to support implementation. The public is invited to attend community listening sessions on May 17 from 5-7 p.m. at the Annenberg Community Beach House; May 18 from 12-2 p.m. at the Santa Monica Public Library Main Branch, Multi-Purpose Room; and May 18 from 6-9 p.m. at Virginia Avenue Park, Thelma Terry Room.

Recent Accomplishments in Addressing Homelessness in Santa Monica

  • Opened three new affordable senior housing developments in 2021 and 2022 (Greenway Meadows, Pacific Landing, Magnolia Villas), two new developments are coming online in 2023 (Las Flores, 1819 Pico Boulevard).
  • Multi-disciplinary outreach teams are a proven strategy to address homelessness. These teams are uniquely equipped to provide traditionally clinical-based services directly into the community:
  • One Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team (HMST), operated by The People Concern, works with chronically homeless individuals identified as the highest utilizers of local police and fire services. HMST is staffed by licensed mental health professionals, housing case managers, substance-use specialists, licensed medical providers, psychiatrists, and a peer with lived experience.
  • In addition to the HMST, the City also funds two C3 (“City + County + Community”) Teams. Staffed similarly to HMST, C3 teams are deployed proactively to the areas of the city with the highest concentration of unsheltered homelessness. One C3 team serves the Downtown Santa Monica area (including Tongva, Palisades and Reed parks) and the second focuses on the South Beach (including the Pier, beach parking lots, and adjacent parks).
  • In 2022, these teams collectively made 10,454 contacts with people experiencing homelessness, provided 833 clients with direct medical or psychiatric services, and placed 59 clients into interim or permanent housing. The Council has supported the continuation of this work, along with the addition of a third outreach team that will allow coverage of all areas of the city to start in FY 2023-24. The Emergency Order will allow the City to more efficiently execute agreements to continue and expand these services beyond the Downtown and Beach areas.
  • Moss Adams’ study identified increasing the supply of affordable housing and permanent supportive housing as the most critical components to homelessness prevention and resolution.
  • Over 100 new federal Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHV) were secured last year, and participants began moving into their own apartments in February 2022. To date, 45 people have ended their experience of homelessness in Santa Monica by securing homes not only in Santa Monica but in communities throughout the County and City of Los Angeles including San Pedro and Ladera Heights.
  • The City helped 450 Santa Monica residents access legal services to stay housed through ongoing and new programs, with plans to extend the Right to Counsel and Eviction Prevention programs through June 2027.
  • In April 2019, the Council approved the development of affordable housing at 1318 Fourth St. This will bring over 100 new units of permanent supportive and affordable housing online.

Looking Ahead to FY 2023-25 Investments

City staff will present a comprehensive update on homelessness to the City Council and community at a regular meeting of the City Council on Tuesday, May 9 at 5:30 p.m. The update responds to questions and concerns brought forward by the Council and the community, and will help the Council consider investments for the FY 2023-25 budget including:

  • Expansion of the City’s homeless multidisciplinary outreach teams’ work beyond the Downtown and Beach area, adding coverage to the entire city.
  • Redesign of the SAMOSHEL interim housing program to accommodate 24/7 intakes, giving additional options for after-hours intake and facilitating SMPD transports for people experiencing homelessness and non-urgent behavioral health issues.
  • Adding police officers to expand the Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) to make it operational seven days a week and to augment Police Department staffing where it is most needed to address community needs. Resources will also go toward the Directed Action Response Team (DaRT), which addresses matters of public safety in the Downtown, Pier and Beach areas.
  • Expansion of public space maintenance investments, including enhancements to ensure higher-risk cleanup activities are performed safely, using an additional, specialized pilot Homeless Support Team (HoST) to address “hot spots” and respond to 3-1-1 requests.

These responsive solutions combine with longer-term strategies such as developing a Homelessness Strategic Plan, working regionally to increase the supply of affordable housing, and pursuing a strategy to address behavioral health to comprise the City’s comprehensive approach to homelessness.

For more information, visit santamonica.gov/topic-explainers/homelessness

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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