More than two months ago Signal columnist Gary Horton wrapped up a series of columns on homelessness and Measure H with a rousing call for leadership on the issue from the Santa Clarita City Council:
“This column is a direct call to Mayor Cameron Smyth and our City Council to urgently lobby (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) and the county, ensuring our maximum ‘fair share’ of Measure H funds,” Horton wrote in his March 14 column, “SVC skin in the homeless game.”
“Further, this is a call to develop a comprehensive, best-practices homelessness response plan, sufficient to overwhelmingly overcome our city’s homeless problem, once and for all.”
While Horton noted Measure H, the quarter-cent sales tax approved March 7 to fund homeless services countywide, will cost most individuals a small amount, the tax will be much heavier on businesses, including retail. He calculated his own landscape firm will pay a half million dollars over the tax’s 10-year life.
Santa Clarita Valley’s combined individuals and businesses will fork over “between $15 million and $20 million annually to the Measure H apparatus for distribution to help homeless,” Horton estimated, calling for the city to ensure the valley gets back a fair share for its own homeless.
To his credit, newly elected Mayor Cameron Smyth created an ad hoc committee on homelessness shortly after he took office in December, a first for Santa Clarita. It has met exactly once, back in April, after which it back-burnered the issue to write its annual budget.
Not the rousing response Gary called for.
Fast forward to this week, when the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority released a stunning report showing that Los Angeles County’s homeless population soared 23 percent from January 2016 to January 2017, figures based on LAHSA’s annual homeless count, which is itself an estimate and tends to run low.
Breakout numbers for the Santa Clarita Valley won’t be available until July, LAHSA officials said; for now, the SCV count is combined with the San Fernando Valley numbers in one of eight of the agency’s geographic regions.
The San Fernando Valley service planning area shows a homeless population jump of 4 percent over 2016. But in a neighboring region, the Antelope Valley, the jump in homelessness was a staggering 50 percent, neck in neck with East Los Angeles County for the highest jump in homelessness in the entire county last year.
Homelessness experts and politicians both point to the skyrocketing cost of housing in Los Angeles County as a primary cause of rising homelessness. This, according to the California Housing Partnership Corp., is combined with median income levels that were flat between 2000 and 2015, according to the Los Angeles Times.
And the Santa Clarita Valley is one of Los Angeles County’s zones where rising housing costs have been particularly acute.
Apartment rents in Santa Clarita soared 7 percent during 2016, and so far this year they’re up 4.4 percent year-over-year, according to a nationwide service called Apartment List Inc. that monitors regional rents.
A two-bedroom apartment in Santa Clarita rents for $2,440 a month, Apartment List Inc. reported Thursday, more than double the nationwide rate.
That means no matter the number of homeless counted last January, the situation in the SCV is ripe for turning even more residents into the streets of the Santa Clarita Valley as this year progresses.
And it means that while existing nonprofits are the most likely recipients of Measure H homeless services funds, the focus in the SCV might better be on people like Beverlee Broggie, a Newhall resident who recently brought before the council a group of senior apartment dwellers in danger of being priced out of her homes by rising rent.
The city’s response was: “We’ll look at it.”
Meantime, the city has held one meeting of its ad hoc committee on homelessness. Perhaps it should re-convene the group and ask Measure H purse-string-holders to fund a program to keep seniors in danger of losing their homes with a roof over their heads.
Generally, prevention is cheaper than treatment, after all. And keeping seniors out of our streets and riverbed would be more Awesometown-like, wouldn’t it?