By Jorge Casuso
March 19 -- Downtown Santa Monica continues to claim the largest concentration of homeless individuals in the city, according to a census count that also found the beachside city's homeless population has declined in the midst of a sinking economy.
According to census figres released by City officials Monday night, Santa Monica’s homeless population dropped to 915 individuals counted on a given night last month, down from 999 individuals two years earlier, or an 8 percent decrease.
In the Downtown census tract bounded by Wilshire and Pico boulevards and Lincoln Avenue, the beach volunteers counted 197 homeless individuals living on the street. In addition, 13 individuals were counted in vehicles and two in tents and boxes.
According to the homeless census mandated by Los Angeles County, of the 480 individuals counted along the 226 linear miles traversed by volunteers on foot and by car, 391 were physically found on the street.
Of the balance, 43 homeless individuals were found in vans or RVs, up from 14 in 2007; 27 were counted in cars, up from 24, and 19 were found inside tents and boxes, down from 51 two years earlier.
Of the total 435 were cointed in in shelters or social service agencies, City officials said. Only individuals, and not families, were found to be living on the street.
John Maceri, executive director of OPCC, Santa Monica’s largest homeless service agency, once again walked the streets of Downtown counting those without homes. At 1:30 a.m., he strolled down the Third Street Promenade.
“I noticed fewer people out than I did two years ago,” he said. “I did not see the level of disability, I did not see as many women. There were fewer people.”
Maceri predicts that the number of homeless will grow as the economy worsens, noting that people who lose their jobs and homes don’t immediately end up on the street. “The next six to nine months will be the real bell weather,” he said.
Santa Monica's homeless have long gathered in the Downtown, where there are plenty of workers and visitors to panhandle, multiple parks where they can tuck themselves in between bushes and a number of agencies that provide shelter and services, City officials said.
Using a “rigorous methodology,” nearly 260 volunteers combed every street and alley in Santa Monica on the chilly night of January 27 and physically counted every homeless person found on the street, in a shelter or motel, and in every tent, car, box and RV in the city.
The recent count will be used to gauge the success of an “Action Plan to Address Homelessness” adopted by the City Council last year.
To find out more information on the Action Plan or how to get involved in the effort to end homelessness in Santa Monica, visit the Human Services Division webpage on the city’s site: www.smgov.net.