Santa Monica

Councilmember Kevin McKeown


I’ve been very visibly active on homelessness issues for almost thirty years.  In the late 1980s, I was one of a group of community activists who used Santa Monica’s 

(Don’t forget that any TV set graphic on my website links to a video!)

pioneering municipal telecomm system, the Public Electronic Network (PEN), to communicate with local homeless people who had discovered PEN terminals at our city libraries. From that direct dialogue, we together conceived a site offering showers, washers, and lockers for homeless people seeking jobs, and took our new “SHWASHLOCK” concept to the City Council, which approved it in 1990.  The facility was built near Fifth and Olympic, and is still in daily operation helping homeless

people stay clean and employable.

Speaking at the grand opening of SHWASHLOCK, 1993

About that same time, I served as an alternate on Santa Monica’s Homelessness Task Force.  Many of the recommendations we made then are the policies we find are still working today – but implementation and fine-tuning of our homelessness
social support programs was a long, and at times contentious, process.

“The vision for the City’s Action Plan to Address Homelessness is to transform Santa Monica to a place where our effective action and compassion end the impact of homelessness on our community. Through collaboration and cooperation, the City of Santa Monica, non-profit agencies, housing providers, governmental partners, business and faith communities will focus on intensively serving the most vulnerable and chronically homeless people, who have been homeless in Santa Monica for many years, so that they obtain and sustain housing. We will work with our neighboring communities and partners to form collaborations that address the regional nature of homelessness and promote the development of housing and services throughout Los Angeles County.”

Over the past five years we’ve achieved a 20% reduction in people on the street!  We have successfully gotten local homelessness down and kept it down.  This is in part due to the new focus on “housing first” in Santa Monica’s 2008 Action Plan (see inset text at the left of this paragraph), and a concentrated effort to focus City services and resources on the most vulnerable homeless populations, while encouraging all homeless individuals to engage in offered services, to become more stable, to move into appropriate housing, and to remain housed.  Our efforts have proven effective, humane, and socially sustainable over time.

In 2004, along with Council colleague Bobby Shriver, I was an early supporter of hiring a Santa Monica “homelessness czar,” which turned out to be the estimable Ed Edelman, former County Supervisor.  He worked wonders in turning our longstanding local efforts to help the homeless into a regional program, with shared responsibilities among Westside municipalities.  As Santa Monica’s delegate to the Westside Cities Council of Governments, I was able to add shared work on social services to our five-city agenda.

Homelessness is more than a Santa Monica, or regional, issue, though.  Homelessness is a national disgrace, the result of decades of social safety nets allowed to fray and fail.  Cities across the country have embraced the new “housing first” model of moving people off the streets and into supportive living arrangements, rather than trying merely to cope with an unending crisis by helping people survive unhoused.  After attending an eye-opening national conference organized by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, I was inspired to write this updated summary of homelessness issues.

Discussing Santa Monica with federal homelessness director Phillip Mangano at a 2006 national conference in Denver

Yes, I’ve taken a lot of political heat over the years, including a vicious TV attack campaign during an election, for my insistence we balance compassion for the unhoused with our commitment to

protect those who feel threatened by homeless people on our streets.  That’s OK.  We cannot walk away from this issue.  We have to put our heads and hearts toward solving it.

Our work continues: for a 2014 update, and our next steps, please see this video.

I’m honored by, and grateful for, your support in electing me six times!