Natasha Guest is a Senior Administrative Analyst for the City of Santa Monica. Guest is helping coordinate this year’s homeless count in Santa Monica.
Santa Monica is sometimes called the “Home of the Homeless.” This is not a moniker I particularly like, but I’ve come to think of it this way: Santa Monica is a community dedicated to serving our most vulnerable residents. We annually provide over $7 million of our general funds to improve the quality of life for all Santa Monicans, including children, teens, families, persons with disabilities, seniors, and persons who are low-income or homeless. That’s an impressive safety-net for a community our size. We have a big personality but many folks forget that Santa Monica is a city of less than 100,000 residents.
So, addressing homelessness is but one piece of a big social services pie in Santa Monica. Yet it’s no small issue and there are a variety of ways we approach the problem. Where to start? Well, we have to understand what we’re looking at first. This blog recently posted about HMIS and how it can help end homelessness. That post stressed the importance of using data to understand a problem. That’s essentially the same reasoning behind every community’s Homeless Count. We need data tracked over time to understand who’s out there; it’s the only way we can truly address the problem.
To this end, HUD mandates communities conduct Homeless Counts every two years, on odd-numbered years (for instance, 2009 and 2011 saw large-scale nationwide counts). At the City of Santa Monica, we like to think of ourselves as students with a better than 4.0 grade point average. We count EVERY YEAR with full support from our City Council, local homeless service providers, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, volunteer groups, and our residents. I don’t just work for the City of Santa Monica but I’m lucky enough to live here, too and it is honestly one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life to stand among 250 concerned stakeholders and residents in the middle of a cold January night and watch them come together to count the most vulnerable members of our community.
What are we finding out there? In just the past 2 years, we’ve seen a 25% reduction in homelessness in our city. If every community throughout Los Angeles County is committed to a reduction in homelessness – and is given the tools and resources to do it - then we can see the end of homelessness in the LA region. While ending homelessness for 51,000 people may seem overwhelming, if each community commits to ending homelessness for their residents – maybe that’s just a few hundred people in a small city or even a few dozen in a neighborhood – then it suddenly seems possible. Want to help? Then join me and 250 of my neighbors on Wednesday, January 25th from 10:30PM to 2:30AM and see for yourself what addressing homelessness in Santa Monica is all about.
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