I am again putting pen to paper to discuss homelessness in Santa Clarita and how our taxpayer dollars are being wasted. Why? Because, each week I am reading about additional tax-payer money being thrown at the problem, with no real solutions in sight. Last week I spoke of Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond supposedly passed to house the homeless in LA City; and Measure H, a county wide sales tax addition to provide $3.55 billion for homeless support services over the next 10 years.
But, the requests to spend more money just kept on coming. In an article published in the Huffington Post, dated December 6, 2019, “Governor Gavin Newsom announced a 100-day challenge program to combat homelessness. The program …. replicates a successful national model and will be done by California cities and counties.” He stated, “With a single stroke of your pen, you (Mr. President) can make a major, positive impact on homelessness right away.” Governor Newsom went on to say, «You can immediately order your Department of Housing and Urban Development to house 50,000 homeless Californians with federal housing vouchers – this, combined with critically important increases in fair market rents, can stably house a significant portion of our street homeless population faster than almost any other action you could possibly take.» This money grab must have fell on deaf ears, because on January 9, 2020, AFP reported, “California Governor Gavin Newsom is seeking $1.4 billion from (California) lawmakers to tackle the escalating homelessness crisis in his state and plans to use the money to open shelters, pay rent and provide health care.”
Yet, with all the billions planned to fix the homelessness problem it just keeps getting worse. For the first time our North Oaks community is witnessing multiple homeless individuals camping out on the Soledad Canyon Road sidewalk, just west of Whites Canyon. This issue is complex, requiring different plans and actions for those who are mentally or physically ill, chemically addicted, experiencing a temporary setback, and those who want to remain living on the street. Those differences were brought home again, when last week, I was working in my garage and spotted an elderly woman coming down our street pushing a cart. It was filled with returnable plastic bottles towering above her. When she saw me, she came over with a plastic bottle in her hand and I was under the impression she was asking if I had any I could contribute. She is apparently Asian and does not speak English. When I signaled, I did not have any, she thanked me, turned away and headed back toward her cart. I felt terrible not being able to help her, so I pulled out my wallet, took out a few dollars and called out to her. When she saw I wanted to give her money, she shook her head no, but I persisted until she accepted. She thanked me again, and I silently watched her push her cart around the corner.
Where is the help for her? She is not lazy and she seems to be doing whatever she can to survive. For that matter where is the help for those poor souls camped out on Soledad Canyon in the cold of winter? These two situations appear to be the tip of the iceberg. Homeless encampments are constantly being found in the river, and our overall homeless count is rising. If we do not identify and solve the root cause of these issues quickly, Santa Clarita can easily turn into another Santa Monica. That is why I signed off last week with the “hope someone at Santa Clarita City Hall is both listening and willing to take action.”
Well, someone at City Hall did respond, but unfortunately, they did so anonymously. I am not sure what the respondent intended to imply by calling my column an “Editorial,” but I want to dispel any misinterpretations. Wikipedia defines an “Editorial” as “an article written by the senior editorial staff or publisher of a newspaper.” Typically, a newspaper’s editorial board evaluates which issues are important for their readership to know the newspaper’s opinion.
Therefore, in the interest of accuracy, I can most assuredly say, I am not a member of the Gazette staff, and I do not collaborate on what subjects I will write about. The big hint should have been the title “OPINION” printed in large letters over my column, my being labeled as a contributor, plus the statement following my column indicating, “The Views and Opinions … are those of the writer, not necessarily those of … (the) Santa Clarita Gazette.”
Next, the respondent took exception to my assertion, “From the very beginning, our City Council did not take much interest in Measure H financial planning, and today we shuffle along without sufficient funds to handle our local homelessness problem”. For you to understand my position, let me take you back to what was reported in the LA Times in mid-2017. Measure H did not disclose a clear service, spend plan, or how the money would be spent geographically. The only information provided told of, what the money MAY be spent on, instead of what it WILL be spent on.
After passage, LA County formed a committee to determine where the money would go, and the City of Santa Clarita was not included in this decision-making process. All did not go well, and on April 17, 2017, an LA Times article titled, “So Far, They Can’t Agree” indicated, “The third of the panel’s four scheduled meetings ended last week with votes on whether to form a subcommittee to dig more deeply into …. competing interests (was) rejected,” and instead they voted to “toss the quandary back to county executives for more guidance.” “The committee, … has until May 10 to recommend a three-year budget to the Board of Supervisors.”
The problem was, “county officials … (were) asking for $615 million by the third year, nearly twice what would be raised by the new tax.” “Schwartz of Shelter Partnership …. requested for rental assistance and services (indicating) $87 million over three years was far too low.” Andy Bales, CEO, Union Rescue Mission, said “…. people living on the streets …. suffering would be relieved more quickly if half the money was given directly to organizations that already provide shelter.” Bringing KCET to the conclusion, “The money will go to the same homeless organizations that let homelessness get out of hand.”
So, during all the confusion what did the City of Santa Clarita do? The Signal reported on April 14, 2017, the first “Ad Hoc” Homelessness Committee Meeting had been set up by City Councilmembers Smyth and McLean. As an “Ad Hoc” committee, the meetings would not be publicly noticed and there would be no minutes published. Twenty people representing the Sheriff Department, Bridge to Home, Domestic Violence Center, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) and Family Promise were in attendance. (KHTS April 14, 2017) Some very interesting quotes came out of the meeting. Councilmember McLean assured us, “You voted for it, you’re paying for it, the money is coming back to the community.” Katie Hill said, “We are committed to making sure you’re getting that money. If you want it, I promise you you’ll be able to get it.” Laurie Ender said, “If our taxpayers locally are paying into that, they should see the benefit of it. The county is going to do well with Santa Clarita tax money.” Finally Councilmember Smyth stated, “This will be the first of many meetings and hopes to include faith groups in the conversation on homelessness. He said he plans to host an open Measure H workshop in the future.”
So, it is now two and one half years later and based on the statements of our elected leaders, it is hard for me to become ecstatic or supportive when SCV taxpayers have paid in north of $14 million per Measure H, and has received back grants of a mere $425 thousand. Plus, with our city spending $50 thousand on a 3-year action plan, $75 thousand for a part time homeless coordinator and $300 thousand to research and acquire property for Family Promise SCV to operate and provide transitional housing units for their clients, it all sounds like future planning, with no Measure H money being used for the immediate direct benefit of homeless individuals.
Lastly, the respondent stated, “Many other cities in this county are facing public backlash,” but “the opposite is true here in Santa Clarita.” This sounds like a wake-up call for us to bring this issue to our City Council loudly and often.
Yet irrespective of everything said, I am willing to listen and am offering “the anonymous city spokesperson” a spot on the Canyon Country Advisory Committee agenda to explain why we should be optimistic about the City’s homelessness plans and actions.
All the spokesperson needs to do, is give me a call.