A group of nearly 20 people gathered at city hall Thursday for the first ad hoc committee on homelessness meeting to discuss Measure H funding in Santa Clarita.
Facilitated by Mayor Cameron Smyth and Councilwoman Marsha McLean, representatives from local nonprofits, organizations and members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department brain stormed ideas and shared experiences of working with the homeless community.
“We can make sure that our share of those Measure H dollars flow through the city,” Smyth said.
A main theme expressed by many of the attendees was the need to destigmatize homelessness in the Santa Clarita Valley. While there is a mental health component of homelessness, there are regular families and children who experience the loss of their homes in the valley, many said.
“If we change that narrative of homelessness in Santa Clarita, there’s no doubt there will be a change,” Smyth said.
City Management Analyst Jerrid McKenna discussed countywide data, expressing that there were 43,854 total homeless people in the Greater Los Angeles area in 2016, a 6.5 percent increase from the year before.
L.A. County is broken into eight service planning areas, of which Santa Clarita is in area two. Specifically, there were 7,094 homeless people in area two in 2016, specifically 316 in Santa Clarita.
Countywide, 13,006 of homeless people have a mental illness and 12,970 are chronically homeless. In area two, 2,533 are chronically homeless and 2,464 have a mental illness, McKenna cited.
McLean shared a story of an interaction she had with a senior citizen living out of her car, which she said broke her heart. The councilwoman said she wanted to work to help specific individuals with the Measure H funds.
“You voted for it, you’re paying for it, the money should be coming back to the community,” McLean said.
All group representatives agreed that the priority should be finding homeless people permanent housing. Deputy CEO of nonprofit organization Katie Hill said Santa Clarita is an ideal place to pursue help for the homeless because citizens care about their community.
“We are committed to making sure you’re getting that money,” Hill said. “If you want it, I promise you’ll be able to get it.”
Executive Director of Family Promise Chris Najarro echoed the need for housing, particularly in emergency situations.
“The issue is, what do we do today?” Najarro said.
Laurie Ender, also representing Family Promise, said the waitlist for homeless people to get housed paired with the lack of housing is heartbreaking. Ender recommended local nonprofits to work together to attain Measure H resources instead of competing against each other for them.
“If our tax payers locally are paying into that, they should see the benefit of it,” Ender said. “The county is going to do well with Santa Clarita Valley tax money.”
According to Ender, keeping nonprofits in the valley small allows them to continue hands-on case management.
While there are plenty of smaller concerns, varying from transportation to extra-curricular activities for children, Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Center Linda Davies said drawing from the community’s generosity for big picture issues is most important.
“We can all get into the nitty gritty of what we don’t have,” Davies said. “What we need is to get people homes and help them stay in those homes.”
Mayor Smyth said this will be the first of many meetings and hopes to include schools and faith groups in the conversation on homelessness. He said he plans to host an open Measure H workshop in the future.
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