Santa Monica Stands Out, Makes Progress on Homelessness and Joins Opening Doors Across America
The City of Santa Monica has made progress in all four of the key steps of the Opening Doors Across America initiative: plan alignment, setting targets and measuring results, acting strategically, and partnering. In the past four years, they have developed and updated their strategic action plan to end homelessness and have implemented this plan which calls for “targeting resources, evaluating the effectiveness of services such as housing and special initiatives, and identifying opportunities to transform service delivery” collaboratively across city agencies. Last month, Santa Monica joined Opening Doors Across America, but they have been acting on the four steps of Opening Doors Across America for years.
Santa Monica’s Action Plan to Address Homelessness was first adopted by the City Council in 2008. In 2010, the Plan was updated to align with the goals of Opening Doors and the strategies in the HEARTH Act– all of which are shown to advance efforts to end homelessness. As encouraged as a part of Opening Doors Across America, alignment is one of the first steps communities can take to improve coordination of systems and efficient use of resources. For the Human Services Division which administers homeless services in Santa Monica, the benefit of alignment with Opening Doors is clear: “All the things we did previously and we’re continuing to do now are reflected in the federal plan, which reinforces our strategy. We benefit from the synergy that comes with being aligned with something bigger," explained Julie Rusk, Manager of the City's Human Services Division. "We can reference the best practices and policies in Opening Doors when we go to our City Council and other stakeholders who want evidence this is the right way to go."
Targeting resources to serve those who have been homeless the longest with the most severe disabilities is a priority for Santa Monica. In 2004, the City’s Chronic Homeless Project began identifying the most vulnerable individuals in the city who were experiencing chronic homelessness to connect them to housing and service resources. To assess the vulnerability of these “hardest to serve” individuals, a Service Registry was created in 2008. This registry implements the use of a Vulnerability Index and is used to track length of time on the streets, age, and both the physical and mental health of participants.
Furthermore, a Santa Monica Priority Population was developed from the registry and is accessible to City-funded service providers and first responders (the Santa Monica Fire and Police Departments and local hospitals) to coordinate service to individuals. This collaboration across government and private entities uniquely positions Santa Monica as a city that has successfully managed to break down the silos of service provision to create a cohesive care plan to meet an individual’s needs. This targeting of resources toward high-users of public services manages the demand on local programs and helps to serve people who need the most help.
Set Targets and Measure Results
Santa Monica measures progress toward their goals and uses this information to inform their programmatic planning. The city relies on data from their Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), ServicePoint, to evaluate the effectiveness of programs in serving the priority population. This strategic use of data allows Santa Monica to determine if resources are reaching those who need them the most and allows them to maximize the effectiveness of prevention dollars and programs. This analysis has led the City to continue its investment in the Opening Doors strategies of permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, and shelter diversion when possible.
Join Santa Monica, Join Us
With a coordinated and targeted approach, Santa Monica has decreased overall homelessness by 25 percent since 2007 and has sustained progress even in the midst of the recession. “If we can get others to see that a small city like Santa Monica with a large chronic homeless population has implemented these practices effectively, other small communities can move the needle on their problem as well. Everyone needs to see this as a solvable issue, regardless of the size of their community.” Opening Doors is a plan that belongs to all of us and the realization of our goals requires action at every level of government and in partnership with the private sector. Decide to join those already participating in ending homelessness.