County data reveals more homeless in Santa Clarita

Jason Knowles (left) and Rodney Parker sit at the Metro station in Newhall with food packages from Bridge to Home. Austin Dave/The Signal

Surrounding conversations that the homeless count in Santa Clarita had increased over the past year, data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority confirms that there are more people who are without a home in the city.

According to the report, there were 331 homeless people in Santa Clarita the night of the homeless count in January.

“Obviously we know that getting an accurate homeless count is difficult,” Mayor Cameron Smyth said. “We take those numbers, along with what we hear from providers, and that gives us a good idea of the homeless population in the valley.”

Of those 331, 168 were unsheltered and 163 were sheltered.

Among those who were unsheltered, 73 were in RVs or campers, 46 were living in a car, 29 were in vans, 10 were on the street, six were in a makeshift shelter and three were in tents.

Those individuals in an emergency shelter totaled 149 and those in a transitional shelter totaled 14.

During the 2016 homeless count, there were 316 homeless individuals in Santa Clarita, 217 of whom were unsheltered and 99 who were sheltered.

This data is consistent with a countywide increase announced in May, which showed 7,794 people homeless in 2017, an increase from 46,874 in 2016.

“What I’m interested in is beyond numbers,” Smyth said. “What are the needs in Santa Clarita and how are those different than other areas in Los Angeles County and then how do we provide them with services?”

Taking into consideration the passing of Measure H, the countywide initiative to raise taxes one-fourth of a cent for homeless services, the city’s next step is to continue pursuing that funding, Smyth said.

Following two ad hoc committee on homelessness meetings earlier this year, the mayor has a workshop planned for the end of August to further discuss ways to get Measure H dollars for service providers.

Locally, one of those service providers will be Bridge to Home. The nonprofit’s Board President Peggy Edwards said when evaluating at the most recent homeless count, it is important to look at the big picture.

“It is impossible to look at the Santa Clarita numbers in isolation because it doesn’t make sense,” Edwards said. “People go in and out of homelessness all the time.”

Homelessness differs night-to-night, Edwards said. On the night of the count, some people could have had temporary housing or stayed in a hotel, she suggests.

Santa Clarita’s homeless rate is largely in part to a low vacancy rate and a high cost of living, according to the board president.

It was evident that the numbers at Bridge to Home’s winter shelter had increased because the facility was full all season long, Edwards said. The shelter was not even this full during the season when more people were seeking shelter because of El Niño, she cited.

Bridge to Home does case management year-round in an effort to pair the homeless population with permanent housing, alongside their Feeding it Forward program to provide dinner and sack lunches to low-income and homeless individuals four times a week.

Amid recent news that the 108-bed Lancaster Community Shelter will be closing, Bridge to Home has been receiving calls about transferring people to Santa Clarita, Edwards said.

Since Bridge to Home’s winter shelter will not be open again until November, they have no place to take in the Lancaster shelter guests.

With churches and other groups ready to help in the Antelope Valley, alongside a county task force, Edward said she does not foresee the shelter closing having an impact on the Santa Clarita Valley or Bridge to Home.

The January homeless count found 642 people homeless in Lancaster.

Mayor Smyth said Santa Clarita always wants to be aware of shifts like this in surrounding communities, but does not anticipate any homeless people will come all the way from Lancaster to Santa Clarita.

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