Santa Monica, CA — It’s 10:30 PM at St. Monica’s Catholic Church, and 300 volunteers gather to receive their assignment for this year’s Homeless Count.
I am among them. We are Santa Monica. Citizens. Residents. Human Beings confronted with the depressing and dehumanizing sights of homelessness every day, and yet, people who want to help in a way that counts.
I am assigned to Team 3 this year, a drive team which consists of four people: A Driver, two Spotters, and a Recorder. I am a designated Spotter armed with a flashlight to help the Recorder document our findings on a clipboard issued by the City.
Santa Monica breaks down the city’s neighborhoods into tiny segments so that each can be thoroughly canvassed. Team 3 is assigned a residential neighborhood located North of Wilshire Boulevard where the houses are big, the streets unusually wide and the lawns highly manicured. Most homes are protected by electronic gates.
Here, among Santa Monica’s most affluent residents, Team 3 spots people wrapped in blankets while sleeping in alleys and people sleeping in vehicles.
Homelessness knows no zip code.
Laura, our Team Captain, drives our vehicle. She’s a nurse who cares for homeless people every day in the Emergency Room of a nearby hospital. Liz, a social worker in Venice, rides shotgun, and is the keeper of the all-important city-issued Map of our designated area to canvass. Next to me in the back seat is Brent, a case worker at the local chapter of the Boys & Girls Club of America. This year is his first year to volunteer, so he gets the clipboard and the important job to correctly identify and record the addresses where we spot people either sleeping in the street, their vehicles or in an encampment.
The City uses this information to send Case Workers to offer Services and Resources to help these people. It’s a very efficient way to allocate the City’s Manpower: Staffers travel to areas where people are sleeping, offer assistance and let homeless people know about all the resources available to them.
Canvassing takes place between Midnight and 2 AM because that’s when the City’s homeless population has bedded down for the night. We are instructed to Document Only and not to engage.
Team 3 finishes up around 1 AM. Our area is small, well-maintained and easy to survey. The highlight of the evening is discovering a city park none of us have ever seen or heard of before: Goose Egg Park, a grassy area in the center of a roundabout on a quiet block in this upper-class neighborhood.
Returning to St. Monica’s Catholic Church, Team 3 feels quite sobered as we turn in our documentation, check ourselves Safe and Done for the Night with city staffers, and pick up a complimentary Tote Bag as thanks for our time and effort. We take a Selfie at my request, hug it out, and then bid one another a good night and a job well done.
The drive back to my home takes no time at all. My apartment is heated. I drink some water, check my phone for the local weather: Outside, it’s 51 degrees. That’s cold at the beach. (Think 31 degrees anywhere else.) I feel grateful for my home, depressed at the thought of the thousand other people in Santa Monica tonight who are without one, and hopeful that I helped make a difference in their lives by volunteering for the Homeless Count.
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