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George Gabriel, senior managment analyst for the city of Manhattan Beach, Lt. Jason Knickerbocker of the Manhattan Beach Police Department and Nico De Anda Scaia, assistant city manager in Hermosa Beach, spoke at the League of Women Voters of the Beach Cities "Homeless in the South Bay: Issues and Answers" presentation Monday at the Hermosa Beach Community Theater.

Even in the affluent beach cities, the issue of homelessness is a growing concern. 

Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach were granted a total of $150,000 of Measure H funds by the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative Jan. 24, according to senior management analyst George Gabriel with the city of Manhattan Beach.

The quarter-cent sales tax is projected to net $3.55 billion in the next ten years for homeless programs, including local plans to combat the issues within cities.

“Homelessness is a regional issue and deserves a regional solution," Gabriel said in an email to The Beach Reporter Jan. 29. "This grant award strengthens the continued partnership the beach cities have to address homelessness in our respective communities.”  

The cities' respective task forces coordinated last fall to apply for the grant.

Measure H gives a needed boost as cities await latest count

For the South Bay, which has seen a near 41 percent increase in homelessness since 2015 according to the Manhattan Beach city website, the $150,000 Measure H grant is a major shot in the arm.

"These funds will be used jointly by all three beach cities to fund homeless coordination and housing navigation services that all three beach cities will benefit from," said Gabriel in a Jan. 29 email. 

The 2019 homeless numbers won't be available until late spring.

The announcement of Measure H grant revenue came just a day after beach cities volunteers ventured out Jan. 23 as part of The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority homeless count.

This year's effort saw some 60 volunteers deploy from the South Bay Adult Care Center in Redondo Beach; 25 from city hall in Hermosa Beach and roughly 40 volunteers from the Joslyn Center in Manhattan Beach. Gabriel noted this was the first time Manhattan Beach had its own deployment site as part of the count. 

In 2018, the count found 41 transients in Manhattan Beach, compared with only six in 2017 and four in 2016, according to the LAHSA website.

In Redondo Beach, a total of 154 transients were found last year, while 23 were found in Hermosa.

Regional problems deserve regional solutions 

All three South Bay beach communities have developed individual plans in recent years to address homelessness. 

Redondo Beach formed a monthly-meeting homeless task force in 2014 while Hermosa Beach adopted a comprehensive Homelessness Plan in July of last year and Manhattan Beach adopted a five-year plan in August.

But, as civic leaders urged at a League of Women Voters of the Beach Cities' panel event in Hermosa Monday night, the issue isn't confined to just one city. 

“Homelessness isn't relegated to one area of the beach cities, it's relegated to all of the beach cities in general,” said Gabriel Monday night. “We try to work together as best as we can to come up with regional solutions.”

The cities have joined forces with South Bay Cities Council of Governments and People Assisting the Homeless, among others, to look at the issue through a “regional lens.”

The SBCCOG and law enforcement officials have been working with PATH to direct individuals experiencing homelessness to resources in the region. 

The group helps place transient people in transitional housing, provide them with job opportunities and health care services.

Redondo Beach City Manager Joe Hoefgen said the partnerships with PATH and the county are working well.

"We have had a number of successes in connecting people in need with services," he said in an email Jan. 29. "But there is much more work to do." 

Modernizing enforcement 

At the Monday night panel, which was dedicated to discussion of "Homeless in the South Bay," Gabriel as well as other city and county officials talked about the progress since the passage of Measure H in March 2017. 

Hermosa Beach assistant city manager Nico De Anda-Scaia echoed the idea homelessness is not only a nation-wide public health emergency, but it's a regional one that cannot be solved with simple enforcement.

“For many years Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach had the culture where we would enforce and think that we could enforce our way out of a problem and that is just not a reality we find ourselves in today,” said De Anda-Scaia at the discussion Monday, which included representatives from County Supervisor Janice Hahn's office and Harbor Interfaith Services.

Lt. Jason Knickerbocker, who has been with the Manhattan Beach Police Department since 2003, said that police were not designed to deal with the homeless problem until the last five to 10 years when they started to take a “more holistic approach” to law enforcement.

“We try to establish a rapport with (the homeless) and sometimes that means letting the little things go,” Knickerbocker said. “If they're smoking a cigarette or doing something else that's a minor crime, we have to take the approach of is it worth us issuing a ticket for smoking a cigarette or are we better off offering them resources, building a rapport so we can establish a relationship with them over time.”

Knickerbocker said “changing culture” in law enforcement is now more of an outreach approach to try to convince the homelessness to get the help they need, whether it is for substance abuse or mental health.

Through grant funding, the Manhattan Beach police department now has an homeless outreach team separate from patrol officers and assisted by a mental health enforcement team that take a multifaceted approach to helping the homeless.

De Anda-Scaia added that cities and their staffs are also taking a much larger role as well.

“We are not experts in homeless services, we are not experts in social services, we are tasked with many different roles and we wear many different hats as city employees,” De Anda-Scaia said. “With our changing political landscape it has become evident that cities are taking larger and larger roles in addressing some of these regional issues.”

Hoefgen articulated a similar sentiment in an email Jan. 29, noting Redondo Beach has taken a proactive approach in addressing issues of homelessness throughout the city.

"We are much better positioned to address these circumstances than we were five years ago," he said.

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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