Homelessness is a growing issue, which appears to be of greater concern to our residents every day. We are constantly bombarded with images of homeless encampments in the news and on social media, as well as views of mountains of trash left behind as homeless encampments are forced to move. Some of us see the situation first hand on our daily commute to our place of employment, as well as on the way home. But, even with all the attention this situation is getting, a solution is still out of reach. Looking at homeless demographics, there are those who are drug addicted, those with mental health issues, some who are just down on their luck and need a helping hand, and others who, believe it or not, actually like the homeless lifestyle.
Helping individuals living on the street is going to take a multi-pronged approach, including changes to our legal system, providing financial aid, employment assistance, transitional housing, medical and psychological services – all of which will probably never provide a 100 percent solution. Helping those who want to be helped, or who can be convinced to be helped, is currently the best we can expect. Yet, we are realizing, with rents and the overall cost of living going up, there are a fair number of our neighbors and friends who are in danger of becoming homeless. Seniors who are living on a small fixed income are already in the crosshairs of homelessness. Some seniors have moved out of state or doubled up with a friend, but there are many others who are just a few dollars a month away from being out on the street.
Well, to bring the discussion closer to home, it was not that long ago we were told a fable in order to convince us to vote for Measure H. Advertised by the “Ballot Statement” and PATH, Measure H would provide the funding necessary to end L.A. County’s Homelessness over five years. The sad part of it is that the Santa Clarita Valley will be contributing three times more than we will be eligible to get back to address the homeless issue, because the maximum amount of return is distributed by the percentage of homeless in an area. Our city council decided not to chime in on this issue, and even after the measure passed and preliminary discussions were being held on how to divide up the funding, our city was not represented.
But now, Homelessness has become a hot issue, and it is an election year. According to the July 7, 2018 Signal article penned by Councilmembers Smyth and McLean, “In 2017 the (City of Santa Clarita Homeless Ad Hoc) Committee was formed to discuss and work toward the most effective strategies for addressing homelessness in our city. The committee meets regularly to collaborate with stakeholders from the Santa Clarita Valley and beyond.” Yet, that is far from what really transpired. In fact, being an Ad Hoc Committee, their meetings have not been at regular intervals, or noticed to the public. In addition, minutes of their meetings have not been produced or made public, as well. We just keep hearing councilmembers talk about what a great job they are doing.
Well, some funding did arrive in Santa Clarita when the city received a $50,000 grant to generate a plan on how to handle our Homelessness issue. The city hired Analytic Insight LLC to “engage in strategic planning and development of a Homeless plan for the city.” A Draft Community Plan to Address Homelessness, dated July 2018, is now available on the city website for community review and comment. The document is 60 pages long, with some notable sections as follows.
Within the plan, a description of the City Planning Process reveals, after interviews with 30 undisclosed stakeholders, a two-day strategic planning event, and a network analysis, indicates the top 2 “Areas of Greatest Need” as: 1) Lack of a Year-Round Homeless Shelter, 2) Lack of Affordable Housing Options, including Transitional, Permanent and Supportive Housing. Are you surprised or impressed with these findings? I certainly am not. It really took $50,000, a consultant, and an interview process to find out what we already knew? Further discussion of the current Winter Homeless Shelter included observations showing, a lack of adequate street lighting, sidewalks, running water, and sewer connection. Not to mention, the shelter is a group of temporary structures. Then, why does the city brag about giving “Bridge to Home” $1 million worth of land? Maybe the city should use its influence, or a little money, to hook up the facility to water and the sewer system. The currently defined fix for Bridge to Home’s shelter is, “to investigate a variety of funding sources … to address these needs,” with the city providing an effort to capture Measure H funding by generating Measure H applications by March 2019.
Several other areas described incomplete activities, such as determining families and individuals at risk of becoming homeless by using information gathered with the help of schools and Student Resident Questionnaires. There was no mention of a process to also identify families and individuals at risk of becoming homeless who do not have children in school, as well as retired seniors. Mental health and drug addiction appear to be included in the Homelessness Plan, but nothing about Primary Health Care and Dental. Why have they been left out?
To sum it up, the City of Santa Clarita’s Draft Community Plan to address homelessness is not an action plan, it is a plan to generate other plans, develop materials, and have more meetings, scheduled from now through the end of 2021. While the plan calls for many tasks to be performed, the responsible individuals and their organizations are not identified. Buy-in by performing organizations is also not included. When a plan does not address the entire issue, lacks specific assignments, and does not have buy-in from those expected to perform specified tasks, it is guaranteed to fall apart. My suggestion is to change the status of the Homelessness Committee so as to fall under the Brown Act and have meetings which are noticed and open to the public. That way, members of the public will be able to attend and provide input relative to areas they feel are lacking. At a minimum, the plan should be revised to add responsible individuals and organizations and include the process which will be used to validate task completion.
I urge each of you to visit the City of Santa Clarita’s website at santa-clarita.com/homeless, have a look at the Draft Homelessness plan and return comments to the city by emailing email@example.com before August 22. Because if we are not all in this together and continue to push the city council, I can assure you nothing will happen, and the problem will only get worse.