Santa Monica Urges State to Help Care for Homeless

Times Staff Writer

The Santa Monica City Council, noting that a large percentage of the homeless are mentally ill, has voted to urge the Legislature to establish a statewide system of outpatient mental health facilities for the homeless.

The council also criticized Los Angeles County for failing to provide services to the mentally ill homeless.

The actions were taken in a wide-ranging five-hour hearing Tuesday night on how to deal with the city's estimated 1,000 homeless people. More than 50 people testified before the City Council, including those who live on the streets, county officials and those who provide services for the homeless.

In addition to passing the resolution and deciding to write letters to the county, the council also voted to:

- Seek applications from agencies interested in establishing a day shelter for the homeless.

- Develop a six-month pilot program to provide aid to the homeless in parks and public areas.

- Ask the staff to find out how many of the city's homeless people are refused treatment at county mental health facilities and to prepare a report on the number of temporary jobs available for the homeless.

- Allocate $17,000 to hire two permanent guards and two part-time guards to patrol the downtown/mall area for the next five months.

- Transfer the city's food programs from the Ocean Park residential area to the Salvation Army of Santa Monica.

- Urge the county to seek federal disaster funds for the homeless in Los Angeles.

- Ask the staff to develop research on the numbers of homeless in the city parks and streets.

Earlier Tuesday, Assemblyman Bruce Bronzan (D-Fresno), the chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Mental Health, told a group at Santa Monica City Hall that a large percentage of the homeless, "in the tens of thousands statewide," are mentally ill and in need of care.

"This is mostly the state's fault," Bronzan said, adding that both Democrats and Republicans are to blame.

Bronzan said that as many as 40,000 people were in mental institutions in the 1960s. Many of the mentally ill were deinstitutionalized during the '60s, but the state did not set up adequate community programs to deal with the problem, he said.

Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), who met with Bronzan, said that up to 40% of the homeless may be mentally ill and another 40% may have drug or alcohol problems. "It's not as simple as just building shelters," Hayden said.

During Tuesday's council meeting, Councilman James P. Conn said that the problem was actually caused by the federal government.

"I think we have to say again that Ronald Reagan is Robin Hood in reverse and we're paying for it," Conn said. "We are not going to be able to solve the problem as long as the federal government keeps creating more homeless people."

Defended Programs

Sara Berman, coordinator of county services for the homeless, defended the county's programs. She said that the county spends $90 million a year to aid more than 32,000 people.

"If your agency is doing such a great job, why are other cities sending their clients to Santa Monica?" Councilman Ken Edwards asked.

Berman responded that the Board of Supervisors is committed to dealing with the problem.

But Nancy Mintie, a lawyer with the Inner City Law Center, denied this. She said the county refuses aid to people, including those with children who are not in school full time and people who cannot prove citizenship. She described the county shelters as "rat infested" and "slum hotels."

And Albert Greenstein, chairman of the county task force on the homeless, told the council that the problem should be dealt with on a countywide basis. Greenstein said a set of priorities and a master plan should be developed for the county.

Distribution Increased

"As long as we approach it on a city-by-city basis, it will lead us nowhere," he said.

Christina Sutherland, director of the Westside Food Bank, said that 18 months ago, the organization distributed 9,000 pounds of food a month. It now distributes 100,000 pounds a month.

The council heard testimony from several homeless who had been to the city's Tuning Point Shelter, which helps people find jobs in addition to providing shelter.

Paul Antuna, neatly dressed in a business suit, said that he was homeless for a year, but now works for Rockwell International. He said he served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and suffered from delayed stress syndrome. Antuna said he was testifying because he wanted to show that there are homeless people who can work their way back into the mainstream.

"Not all homeless people are Skid Row types," he said. "There are some homeless people who, because of unfortunate circumstances, need shelter and a place to bathe."

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