The Santa Monica City Council once again tried to legislate away the city’s homeless problems by voting for a new 100-person homeless shelter that will allow the city to legally remove people from the parks at night.
The council also enacted a law banning aggressive panhandling and removed loopholes from the park closure law that allowed people to remain in the parks while they were asleep.
A final decision on the location of the shelter will be made this week. However, the staff has recommended city-owned property at 505 Olympic Blvd., formerly a trailer park.
The temporary shelter, proposed by Councilman Paul Rosenstein, will cost $390,000 to set up and $365,000 a year to operate. It will be run by the Salvation Army.
Rosenstein proposed the shelter to comply with a recent state Court of Appeal ruling that people cannot be removed from public parks unless they are offered a place to go.
The new shelter would bring the number of city-funded shelter beds to 150. There are also 276 privately funded shelter beds in the area. Recent counts found between 91 and 133 people sleeping in the city’s parks.
Council members Asha Greenberg and Robert T. Holbrook, who brought about the round of legislation by demanding stricter policies, voted against the shelter because the council declined to pay for it from the social service budget.
The city spends $1.3 million yearly on homeless services, and Greenberg and Holbrook have been pushing to direct funding away from emergency services in favor of programs working on long-term solutions to homelessness.
Greenberg said the plethora of emergency services makes Santa Monica a magnet for homeless people.
Mayor Judy Abdo defended the effectiveness of the social service agencies, saying they are held to high standards of accountability. “To think (the money) is being squandered or wasted is wrong,” she said.
Members of Santa Monica’s homeless community and their advocates were out in force at the council meeting last week, pleading with the panel to take a humane stance, not a punitive one.
“I fought for this country, why can’t I live in it?” asked James Cole, a resident of Santa Monica for 26 years who was dispossessed when the city bought and closed the trailer park where he lived. “Why has my dignity been taken away from me?”
Bryan Ruiall, a panhandler, asked not to be stereotyped as aggressive. “Most of us are polite,” he said. “You go to work . . . This is work for us until we get a permanent home.”
Many homeless speakers complained of police harassment, citing an incident in which, they alleged, a police officer stomped on food brought to them at City Hall. Officials said the allegations would be investigated.
Hotel managers and some residents, however, said they were fed up with homeless problems and the council’s record of dealing with them.
The council has grappled for years with the problems but has had little success. Critics charge the council has been particularly attentive in election season; three seats are up in November.
Jean Sedillos, who represents a public safety group, Save Our City, chided the council for conducting its “fourth annual masquerade as champions of public safety . . . The people of Santa Monica are really tired of being jerked around,” she said.
Hotel managers came armed with tales of lost tourism and convention business. Rich Casale, of Loew’s Santa Monica Beach Hotel, read from a series of letters in which groups chose other area hotels over Santa Monica because of public safety concerns.
“A nice hotel in an unacceptable location,” stated one letter.
Though they voted for the new law banning aggressive panhandling, Holbrook and Greenberg said it didn’t go far enough.