City, service providers and volunteers talk homelessness concerns and strategies

Action's Cary Quashen listens as Gerry Ramirez gives a presentation about the allocation of the Measure H funds to the City of Santa Clarita's monthly ad hoc committee on homelessness at the Activities Center on Monday, August 28, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Moving forward with citywide conversations about homelessness, a group of nearly 40 gathered on Monday afternoon for the largest ad hoc committee on homelessness meeting since its formation.

This surge in committee meeting attendance showed dedication from people across the city to solve the homelessness problem, according to Mayor Cameron Smyth.

“This is the largest turnout and yet Santa Clarita has one of the smallest homeless populations in Los Angeles County,” Smyth said. “That is exactly what this community is all about.”

Comprised city staff, service providers, school officials and volunteers, the group met for the first time since Santa Clarita’s homeless count was released at the end of July.

Since city homeless statistics rose from 316 in 2016 to 331 in 2017, attendees discussed concern with the increase and asked one another about best steps for moving forward.

Various attendees cited the need for more affordable housing in the city, so Smyth decided to make that the focus of the next ad hoc meeting.

“To be clear, the city has stepped up already when a private developer said they were willing to do it,” Smyth said. “We’re not standing in anyone’s way.”

Though, the mayor said the complaint he most often hears from community members is that there is already too much housing development and Santa Clarita is overcrowded.

Leaving it to developers

Councilwoman Marsha McLean, the other half of the committee alongside the mayor, said bringing more affordable housing to Santa Clarita will be up to developers.

“I can’t imagine being in the development business as a city council,” McLean said.

In fact, McLean said she has repeatedly heard that the city needs more affordable housing.

“If a developer comes and is willing to build these units, we’re not saying ‘no,’” McLean said. “I think we’d have more developers come in here if it wasn’t so difficult and expensive.”

Participants in Monday’s discussion also reviewed share of the pie via Measure H funding.

Measure H

As in past meetings, attendees discussed the desire to make the most of the Measure H money that will be coming through Santa Clarita as the result of the quarter-cent tax increase passed by voters in March.

Government funding is restrictive, so continued partnerships with the philanthropic community will be important, according to Executive Director and Deputy CEO of PATH Katie Hill.

“Some of the existing programs don’t fit into those Measure H categories,” Hill said. “How are we going to modify existing programs to fit under that?”

Though Measure H will take effect soon, Hill anticipates the homeless count will continue to rise over the coming years because vacancy rates are low and rents are high in L.A. County.

“Measure H doesn’t mean we’re fixing this problem that has been decades in the making,” she said. “It’s a drop in the bucket.”

Joan Adeeb, a volunteer with Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church, said she believed expanding the local homeless shelter to be year-round and to have a larger capacity should be the main priority.

“You’re spending all is this money and it’s going down the drain,” Adeeb said. “You have to give them a bed.”

Child and Family Center CEO Joan Aschoff asked about strategies to attain funding for programs and services that the center had not provided before but wanted to start doing, such as opening a group home for homeless youth.

“We’re willing and we have the expertise,” Aschoff said.  “We don’t want to be disqualified from funding because we don’t have experience in something but want to do it in the future.”

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