Los Angeles

Outreach Group Tries to Help Growing Santa Monica Homeless Problem

Santa Monica residents have been growing concerned about the increase in the number of homeless people living in the city's parks, and an outreach group believes the way to solve the problem isn't by increasing police presence -- but by interacting directly with the homeless.

Some residents have started documenting the crisis with cellphone video, hoping something can be done to help.

In one video shot at Chess Park near the Santa Monica Pier, a homeless man is seen in distress as a passerby removes a hammer from his hand.

"I'm gonna get a hammer and come back and hit both of you in the (bleep) head," he can be heard saying on the footage.

Other residents captured images of what they see as a growing danger from drug use, to public lewdness, to urinating in public.

Another video sent to NBC4 by a viewer shows a man yelling threats as a mother breastfeeds her baby at a picnic table.

To help tackle the growing problem, a street outreach team called the Multidisciplinary Street Outreach Team has been working to connect homeless people with mental health and substance abuse services, and housing.

It's part of a county-wide effort to stem the homeless crisis. There are 600 experts and volunteers now connecting with transients throughout Los Angeles.

Following a high-profile transient attack on a Santa Monica college student Aug. 24 that left the man with stitches when he was slashed in a Santa Monica park, some residents are calling for more police patrols. 

But the outreach team insists most of the homeless are not violent, and outreach is the best route to solving the crisis.

"We're not going to police our way out of this issue," Zachary Coil, the street outreach program director, said. "We should be trying to think of everybody in our community - how do we get them support and help."

The outreach team worked Wednesday to refer 18-year-old Matthew Burton to a youth drop-in center. He just aged out of the foster care system and was among those sleeping in Tongva Park.

"I'm 18. I'm too young for this," he said. "I'm a good person. I deserve to be in a house. Somewhere better than this."

Among the outreach workers is Felix Garcia who spent 12 years on the streets. He now uses his experience to build trust between public agencies and the people they're trying to help.

"I share my story with them. That will help motivate them to see there could be some good things happening for them," Garcia said.

Santa Monica has set up a steering committee with people from all walks of life who can offer solutions. If you'd like to get involved, visit the site here.

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