Homeless Plan expands with new funds
by Mark McDermott
The City Council this week received two signs of progress regarding the ongoing effort to address homelessness within the city.
According to recently released results of an annual count, the city’s homeless population dropped from 41 people in 2018 to 22 in 2019. Meanwhile, the Beach Cities Homeless Initiative, a cooperative effort with Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach have received a boost in LA County funding, from $150,000 last year to $336,000 this year.
“Obviously, this is not the end-all, be-all,” said George Gabriel, a senior analyst for the city who this year was named as its homeless liaison as well. “We are being rigorous in addressing homelessness because there are increases countywide. We’re going to continually try to address the issue, not only with the City Council but with residents as well.”
Countywide, the homeless population increased from 54,882 to 58,936 this year. The reduction in the homeless count in Manhattan Beach correlates with the city’s efforts. In 2017, voters in LA County approved Measure H, which imposed a quarter-cent sales tax, generating $355 million annually earmarked to address homelessness. The city last year developed a five-year plan to address homelessness and appointed a homelessness task force to assist in its development and implementation. A key feature has been a partnership with the LA County Department of Mental Health, which is working with all three Beach Cities to provide mental health evaluation services through “compassionate field intervention,” according to a staff report. This has resulted in the formation of the Beach Cities Mental Evaluation Team (MET), which assists on 911 calls involving suspected homeless people. Part of the team often includes a licensed mental health clinician; each Tuesday, an MBPD officer is accompanied by a clinician to assist with homeless people believed to be suffering mental illness.
As part of the new funding, the Manhattan Beach Police Department will have access to two mental health clinicians all week long, with an MBPD officer assigned to a clinician to help with fieldwork two days a week as well.
Councilperson Steve Napolitano said that while the city has a long way to go — particularly in retaining shelter beds to take homeless people to in regional facilities — the progress thus far is encouraging.
“I take this as another step in a long, ongoing journey we may never see the finish line of,” Napolitano said. “I think it’s a necessary, right step. We’re going from a local focus to a regional focus, as we should.”
Councilperson Richard Montgomery said that even the increase in funding is not nearly enough to adequately address the problem, but noted that the increase also came after the city showed such dramatic progress.
“This is a good starting point for us,” Montgomery said. “The fact they recognize no three cities can handle the amount of people we have with the homeless issue on $150,000. It’s impossible. Even $330,000…It’s a good way to get it started but by no means are we over.”
Councilperson Suzanne Hadley said that she almost quit her day job, working at the library in downtown Manhattan Beach, because the increasing presence of homeless people was deteriorating her quality of life. So the progress, she said, was particularly meaningful to her.
“I hope we don’t take our eye off that ball. I think it’s amazing,” Hadley said. “The homelessness issue was one of the reasons I decided to run for City Council. I’m not easily pleased but I’m really pleased with how much progress we made in a year.”