By Anthony Sotelo
Anyone who has lived in Santa Clarita for more than a decade or two is able to attest to the near-exponential growth the city has seen. Countless new homes, shopping centers and roads are popping into existence seemingly overnight. What was once miles of dirt and hills is now being laid over with stucco palaces and trendy eateries. Despite this growth, we have also seen a rise in the local homeless population.
Recent measures have seen to it that this growing population has no place in our valley. In a 5-0 decision, the Santa Clarita City Council voted to make it illegal to sit or lay on a curb, to sleep in your own property in public places and to sleep directly on public grounds. These measures are being justified with a plan to expand aid for those affected.
However, without tangible institutions for aid, these reactionary measures only do more to alienate an already “invisible” population, and nothing to solve the cause of the problem. As it is now, we are pushing people towards complete social isolation, which is neither an effective nor humane solution to the homeless crisis.
The epidemic is derivative of a much larger problem in California: the increase in rent and utilities without a proportionate increase in real wage. The minimum wage might be going up, but spending power is diminishing with the rate of inflation. The Economic Policy Institute reports a 74 percent rise in worker productivity since 1970, but only a 13 percent rise in wage. Wage-push inflation further stagnates our dollar by raising prices to maintain lofty margins when minimum wage rises.
The explosion in housing becomes increasingly inconsistent with a floundering actual wage and rent spikes. According to Joint Center for Housing Studies in Harvard, nearly one-third of U.S. renters paid more than 30 percent of their wage on rent, higher than the recommended amount in federal guidelines in 2015. A study by real estate database Zillow revealed that for every 5 percent average rent increase in the Los Angeles County, two thousand more people will lose their shelter.
This makes it difficult to dismiss the plight of the homeless as an effect of poor decision making or lack of hard work. The rising cost of rent and utilities is expanding the population of “working homeless,” those with full-time employment who still cannot afford rent.
The faceless bodies sleeping on the sidewalk become harder to ignore when they look like you. As we lose more of our paycheck to the landlord and the utility companies, some of us may have to confront the reality of losing where we call home. If we continue to choose to ignore the increasing number of homeless showing up in the city and deny them assistance, we are choosing to be blindsided by an intensifying housing crisis our council shows no knowledge of containing.