A cold night has become a ticket to a motel room for street people in Santa Monica since the City Council adopted a cold-weather shelter program last month.
During the first week of the program, which began Feb. 23, the city distributed 104 vouchers for motel rooms through social service agencies. The vouchers have been used to house 131 men, 22 women and 10 children on rainy nights or when the temperature dipped below 45 degrees. Vouchers may be used by an individual or a family.
The city has 65 rooms in five motels available for the program, which ends April 30. City Manager John Jalili said his staff is looking for an additional 135 rooms. Vouchers are good for $25 a night.
Backup Not Needed
"It does not look like the need will arise" to implement a backup plan in which the city would use municipal buildings to house the homeless when not enough motel rooms are available, Jalili said.
At the urging of Councilman David Finkel, the City Council created the $15,000 voucher system on Feb. 10. Although the city does not have an accurate census of the homeless population in Santa Monica, Finkel said unusually cold weather created an urgent need for a shelter system.
Cold weather in January contributed to the deaths of four homeless people in the Los Angeles area, prompting the cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood to open their city halls to the homeless for several nights.
Vivian Rothstein, one of the city coordinators of the project, said the city will have no problem enlisting more motels in the project.
"I think it is a benefit for the motels because this is their down season," she said. "One motel owner has called us and asked to participate."
The city has arranged for five social service agencies to distribute the vouchers. "The reason vouchers are given out through the agencies is to get people to connect with the agencies and work with them to improve their situation," Rothstein said.
The Ocean Park Community Center, one of the agencies distributing vouchers, sends out three employees on cold nights to distribute vouchers to the homeless in the 3rd Street Mall and city parks.
"So far it has worked out very well," said Ocean Park project manager Betty Macias. "The homeless people have appreciated being able to have privacy, take a shower and get a good night's rest, even though they might not have a place to stay the next night if the weather is good."
The center has distributed 34 vouchers that were used by 57 people since the program began, Macias said.
"We found that so far the voucher program has worked fairly well," she said. But "we are not housing all the homeless people (in Santa Monica) on a cold night."
It is up to the social service agencies that distribute the vouchers to determine if the weather is severe enough to pass out vouchers on any given night, Rothstein said. The agencies also have permission to distribute vouchers on warmer nights if there are special circumstances.
Macias said her group has distributed vouchers on warm nights "to people who are so sick that it is imperative that they be indoors. Sometimes we would put people up for one night and then take them to a clinic the next day."
The other four agencies distributing vouchers are the Salvation Army, the Clare Foundation, the Venice Family Clinic and the St. Joseph Center in Venice.
Rothstein said the two Venice agencies received vouchers because both provide services to Santa Monicans.