By Jessica Doherty
San Marino Tribune
The city of San Marino hosted a panel with local and state officials earlier this month to discuss the resources, policies and laws around housing and mental health that affect residents throughout the city.
The event, hosted by the San Marino Police Department at the Crowell Public Library’s Barth Room, featured guest speakers alongside moderator Police Chief John Incontro — including Caitlin Sims, manager of local programs at the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments; Erica Nam, district representative at the office of state Sen. Anthony Portantino; Will Gray from the Los Angeles Center for Drug and Alcohol Abuse; Mary Camp, program manager for San Gabriel Valley CARE (SGV CARE); and Onnie Williams from the Homelessness Initiative at the Los Angeles County CEO’s office.
“This started not just from calls from community members, not just from calls for service from our officers, but with conversations with community members,” Incontro said of the event.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, San Marino has maintained a population of zero unhoused individuals from January 2020 to February 2022, the most recent survey date. But the evening’s discussion was described as important amid the county and nation’s ongoing housing and mental health crises. The speakers all touched upon the challenges L.A. County faces — a lack of dedicated mental health professionals and resources and affordable housing options.
“Homelessness has a lot of complexities, there are a lot of structural impacts from prior decades of policies,” Williams said. “Some housing policies … some mental health programs have been defunded and [we are] trying to build infrastructure and capacity to get those back.”
The organizations that gathered on Nov. 6 may have all been dedicated to different areas of mental health and housing support, but all agreed on the importance of pathways to permanent housing and expanded mental health services in future policies.
The first half of the evening provided updates on current projects from the panelists in attendance. The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments launched the SGV CARE program to “allow mental health professionals who have the training to de-escalate situations and connect individuals to the very few mental health resources that exist,” Camp said.
Nam, meanwhile, spoke of the many mental health-related bills Portantino has supported to try and change the lack of services in the state. COG also has partnered with the Los Angeles Center for Drug and Alcohol Abuse (L.A. CADA), which Gray later said will soon have a dedicated outreach team in the city.
Williams added that the county is currently focusing on providing interim housing and services as well as increasing the housing supply with the Department of Public Works.
During the Q&A portion that followed, one attendee asked about last year’s launch of the 988 phone line, a federal alternative to 911, and how authorities in San Marino now redirect and address calls to that service. Williams said that 988’s capacity will hopefully “become ingrained like 911.” But in the interim, Incontro said that SGV CARE’s response has been quick and is a valuable resource as the police department determines which emergency response teams should handle a call. Camp said that SGV CARE is currently working four days a week in the area.
“I truly support the idea that law enforcement should be pulled back and allow mental health professionals to take the lead,” Incontro said of mental health-related emergency response calls.
Three residents brought up concerns about presumed unhoused individuals at the bus stops on Huntington Drive and expressed desires to remove the structures. City Manager Philippe Eskandar replied that because they are on either school district or private property the city cannot remove the bus stops. Furthermore, he emphasized that their removal would not provide lasting change to the individuals sheltering there.
“That individual is there because there is nowhere else for that individual to go … being homeless, as the [police] chief said, is not necessarily a crime in itself,” Eskandar said.
For San Marino residents who may want to call the authorities about an individual who is perceived to be unhoused, Incontro said the police cannot take any action if they are not in distress or causing harm. “The options we have are working with the folks here and working with the system to find housing, to find mental health care,” he said.
“Tonight, we want to educate ourselves,” Incontro said of the evening’s discussion. “We want to inform each other and come to a better understanding about the unhoused in our society and, in some cases, [those] who are facing mental health challenges.”
First published in the Nov. 17 issue of the San Marino Tribune