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Voices / A Forum for Community Issues | Gripe

'It's a National Problem, Not Local'

January 31, 1998

TRACY SCRUGGS

Supervisor, Human Services Division, City of Santa Monica

We don't have a policy that restricts the number of beds we support. But we do have a policy, which the city passed in 1994, that supports not increasing funding for the homeless and instead looking for long-term solutions for them. The city spends about $2 million right now on the homeless.

The idea is to make sure that we're providing a balanced approach, trying to help homeless people get off the streets, but also not doing so much more than surrounding areas that we become a magnet.

We don't fund things like drop-in services, where you have people just kind of there. There's a good point to be made that you have to be able to pull people off the streets to link them to your services, but I think we do that with outreach. We have people who walk the beaches and the streets and talk to homeless people and bring them in. I think it's working; we really do help people get into permanent housing and jobs. We pay nonprofits to help people develop a plan to change their lives, maybe get public benefits that they might be eligible for.

If we were to put another $500,000 toward another shelter, something else would have to go and we couldn't help people move on from the shelter.

The Santa Monica Police Department also has a homeless liaison program, and while its primary function is law enforcement, the officers have had particular training about the needs of homeless people. When they get calls for trespassing, they try to get the people help. Certainly they're not social workers, but they do what they can.

It's a real difficult struggle for any city. It's all about wanting to help provide solutions, but needing to embrace a regional solution. We're not trying to pass the buck, but it's not Santa Monica's problem, it's a national crisis. We need to make sure we have a city that works for residents, tourists and the homeless.

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