Our View: Catching up on the homeless

Carolyn Odien, left, and Sheila Wyeth prepare clothes made available for the homeless to pick up at Bridge to Home’s winter shelter on Drayton Street in Santa Clarita last Christmas Eve. Photo by Nikolas Samuels

Santa Clarita Valley voters face another ballot next month, this one with a single item on it: a ¼-cent sales tax hike that would last for 10 years – or be renewed in 10 years.

Revenue generated by Measure H would go toward preventing homelessness, lifting people out of homelessness and treating conditions that keep them homeless.

Since it’s a countywide ballot measure – and we Santa Clarita Valley voters rarely see a tax hike not loved by our countywide voting colleagues who vastly outnumber us – we expect it to pass, despite the two-third’s majority approval requirement.

Measure H would fund Los Angeles County’s Homeless Initiative for 10 years, proponents say. The 10-year cost was put at $1 billion. The initiative – a collection of proposed services arrived at during a series of county meetings with cities and other public agencies over 13 months – was approved by county supervisors Dec. 6 to appear on the March 7 ballot.

The proposed sales tax hike would fund the lion’s share of services required to treat homeless who would be housed in new construction in Los Angeles, as well as funding homeless services elsewhere in the county.

A $1.2 billion general obligation bond dubbed Measure HHH and approved by Los Angeles city voters in November would fund at least the first round of homeless housing construction under the plan worked out between the city and county.

The county invited municipalities to join in fashioning its Homeless Initiative; former Councilman TimBen Boydston attended at least one of the 18 planning meetings.

But when it came time for our council to even discuss the initiative’s multiple proposals, Boydston’s fellow council members refused to consider the plan drawn up in collaboration with some 30 cities, dozens of county agencies and about 100 other public services. Members said the county’s homeless needs were not those of Santa Clarita.

That’s why we’re gratified to learn the council has created an ad hoc committee on the homeless to look more closely at homelessness in the Santa Clarita Valley and how to deal with it.

Proposed by Mayor Cameron Smyth and approved by the council Jan. 24, the committee was created so “we can have more in-depth policy discussions with all the players in hopes of bringing a more ‘Santa Clarita specific’ (set of) ideas, solutions, policies to the full council for review/approval,” Smyth wrote in an email earlier this week.

And “yes, I do support opening the dialogue with the county, and that is actually one of the purposes in creating the council committee,” Smyth wrote.

Kudos to Smyth, who was not on the council when it rejected considering the Homeless Initiative, for finding a way to get the conversation rolling.

But the city has missed the chance to collaborate on county policy and is more than a year behind the county in building a homelessness plan specific to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Meantime, the vote to fund or not fund the county’s initiative is just 3 ½ weeks away.

But it’s not too late for involvement, says Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who supports Measure H and helped put it on the ballot.

“The City Council has important roles as leaders” on the issue, Barger said during a recent Signal Editorial Board meeting.

A seat at the county’s table might give the city some say-so in local Measure H spending, influence it wouldn’t have if it held to its earlier “leave us alone – we’ll do it ourselves” stance.

It might also provide Santa Clarita Valley’s several homeless relief volunteer groups with an avenue to secure some Measure H funding.

Whatever the public’s vote on March 7, Santa Clarita needs to get hustling on this issue.

We believe Santa Clarita Valley’s homeless deserve as many benefits as homeless from any other part of the county should Measure H pass.

The Signal and College of the Canyons will host a Measure H debate at 6 p.m. Feb. 23 at COC’s University Center. Click here for article with more information on the debate, and read the related story from the weekend print publication here.

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