(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series that looks at the controversies from last week’s City Council Meeting’s first look at the 2023-2024 budget and the five year forecast. The first piece looked at efforts to repay trust fund dollars used during the pandemic emergency, the second at the move to increase funding for historic preservation.)
One of the holes in the safety net for people experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica has been the absence of a 24/7 shelter that can admit people to a bed at all hours of the day and night. The People Concern, who operate the downtown Santa Monica Shelter (aka SAnta MOnica SHELter or SAMOSHEL), devised a plan to turn the shelter into a facility. First responders with the SMPD and SMFD have been asking for a 24/7 shelter so they have a place to connect people experiencing homelessness with services after hours.
However, the plan comes at a steep cost, and we don’t mean the $800,000. Because of the need to create an intake center and reserve beds, SAMOSHEL will never return to its pre-pandemic high of 100 beds, and may even have fewer beds than it does now. SAMOSHEL is still following pandemic-related public health guidance on having space set-aside for isolation should it be needed.
At the City Council budget hearing last month, the renovations to SAMOSHEL were not well received by everyone on the Council. Councilmembers Phil Brock and Lana Negrete grilled Acting Director of Community Services Danielle Nobel and City Manager David White about the changes.
Before discussing the debate and questioning, it’s important to note that this was just a discussion on whether or not funding should be put aside for the retrofit of the space. Final plans haven’t been submitted by the People Concern nor has there been a date for when the shelter will open as a 24/7 facility. For some in the city, it can’t come soon enough. A press release accompanying the statistics from this year’s homeless count heralds the transition to a 24/7 facility as an investment that will happen in the next year.
But for Brock and Negrete, the reduced number of beds may be too steep a cost.
Negrete noted that the regional homeless crisis has had an impact on the city’s ability to put forward programs for its housed residents and frets that the loss of beds is a net loss for the city, even with the 24/7 program replacing the beds.
“I just hope we’re managing what the need is now,” Negrete testified. “I look at the domino effect of dollars being spent so we can create a situation where ultimately we are back at the same place. I look at our unhoused population and the impact its having across the board on this budget from more public works, more public service, additional administrative staff for the fire department, and having to have extra security on the buses…I’m just saying that when we’re looking at how we intake people and spending money on infrastructure for a room at what’s not supposed to be a permanent shelter when what we need are beds.”
Brock echoed concerns about the beds, but focused his questions on whether or not the downtown SAMOSHEL is the best place for the program.
“We can’t afford to lose those beds and spend $800,000 on something that won’t help the situation…,” Brock said. “We need more beds in the city.”
Brock lamented that there even needs to be a shelter in the Downtown area, and ticked off a list of other facilities that he feels should be explored for 24/7 intake instead of SAMOSHEL. Whether intentional or not, Brock helped point out how incredibly complex the regional homeless crisis is as Nobel discussed why some facilities are inappropriate for this kind of intake, even if they could be retrofitted.
For example, Brock mentioned the Daybreak Cloverfield Services Center, also operated by the People Concern who operate SAMOSHEL. However, as the Daybreak program focuses on services to homeless women (although the shelter is open to all), and offering services to help people experiencing trauma and a “ holistic approach to wellness” to help people recover, a 24 hour intake center where people haven’t been vetted doesn’t support the existing program.
As Brock continued to ask about other potential landing sites for the 24/7 program, White stepped in to review the process, which was not a normal RFP process, by which SAMOSHEL was selected. After discussion with first responders, the People Concern developed a proposal with city staff to make changes to the layout at SAMOSHEL to house the program. New offices and an intake area, as well as a place for beds that wouldn’t disturb the other people sheltering and likely already asleep, would be set-aside; reducing the open space for beds. The program would be phased in so that people continually sheltering at SAMOSHEL now would not be displaced. There was no RFP put out, as this was a proposal from an existing provider, not a request from the city itself.
“It really does evolve into something different than it has been,” Nobel added, discussing the changes that could take place at the program.