Santa Monica California Works with New York to Tackle Homelessness


March 30 – Eight months after opening its first facility for homeless veterans, the New York City-based homeless service provider Common Ground was chosen as the preferred provider for a similar facility on the Veterans Administration grounds in Westwood.     

Common Ground – which was chosen this month along with builder Macormack Barron Salazar to provide therapeutic homeless housing for Los Angeles area veterans – has been making a mark on Santa Monica’s latest policies to tackle homelessness.

Chosen by the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Common Ground and Macormack Barron Salazar have 90 days to negotiate, draft and execute an enhanced sharing agreement for the project, which will be housed in one of three buildings on the VA grounds set aside for homeless veterans.

“I think it’s great,” said Council member Bobby Shriver, who led the effort to house and provide services for homeless veterans in the abandoned buildings. “This is the national best practices standard group.”

The plan to house some 500 homeless vets on the VA grounds would be an initial step in helping the estimated 22,000 homeless veterans in LA County to get off the streets.

It isn’t the first time Common Ground tackles the challenge of housing homeless vets.

Last July, the ward-winning agency created a transitional residence for 96 homeless veterans on the Hudson Valley VA campus in Montrose, New York, which is some 45 miles north of New York City.

The project helps veterans get back on track by providing “case management services and assistance with recovering from physical and emotional injuries, reconnecting with family members, and securing employment and permanent housing,” according to Common Ground officials.

It isn’t the first time Common Ground helps Santa Monica shape its homeless policies, which City officilas shifted six years ago from providing emergency services to housing those who had lived longest on the streets.

The new policies seem to be bearing fruit. The number of homeless in Santa Monica has dropped from 999 in 2007 to 915 in 2009, according to a one-night census conducted in January of those two years.

In addition, 375 of 3,575 homeless individuals, or 10 percent, were placed in permanent housing in Fiscal Year 2007-08, and 698, or 20 percent, received emergency or transitional housing, according to statistics presented to the City Council last week.

As of January 2009, 54 of the 131 most vulnerable individuals on Santa Monica’s Service Registry, or 41 percent, were off the street, with 18 individuals permanently housed and 36 housed temporarily.

Santa Monica’s efforts in housing the chronically homeless were bolstered by Common Ground when agency officials visited the beachside city in October 2007 to tout the Street to Home “housing first” model they said had help New York City slash homelessness by nearly half. (“City Finds Common Ground on Homelessness,” October 9, 2007)

During the visit, officials from the agency — which has created more than 2,000 units of permanent and transitional housing — cautioned that tackling Santa Monica’s entrenched homeless problem would take much will power and perhaps eliminating the tier of counseling required before the chronically homeless are housed

The three cornerstones of Common Ground’s approach — to identify chronic homeless persons and each person’s needs, relentlessly make street outreach efforts to each chronic homeless person based on those identified needs and create a multifaceted process to secure stable housing – are also being followed in Santa Monica.

A different program in New York also has helped Santa Monica tackle its homeless problem. (“Community Courts Gaining Momentum,” March 30, 2007)

After visiting New York City in January 2006, former LA County Commissioner Ed Edelman — who was hired at Shriver’s behest as the high-profile official in charge of homelessness for Santa Monica — returned with the concept of "community courts.”

The courts help connect those who commit misdemeanor offenses with social services instead of sending them to jail. (“Homeless Court is Now in Session,” February 5, 2007)

In Fiscal Year 2007-08, 145 chronically homeless individuals in Santa Monica participated in Court services, up from 85 individuals the previous fiscal year, according to City statistics. Of those, 101, or 70 percent, had citations or warrants dismissed when they completed the program.

Of those who attended the “community court,” 143, or 99 percent, have engaged in case management; 58, or 40 percent, have received an emergency shelter bed, and 43, or 30 percent, have entered outpatient or residential substance abuse treatment

In addition, 32 individuals who have gone through the court, or 22 percent, have accessed mental health services, and 14 individuals, or 10 percent, have been permanently housed.


By Lookout Staff


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