Last week, our column focused on some statistics and causes for homelessness in Los Angeles. This week, let’s take some time to look at our own neighborhood – specifically, the 25th Congressional District, which encompasses most of the Santa Clarita Valley and the Antelope Valley.
For help, I called Congressman Steve Knight’s office and was put in touch with his communications director, Megan Dutra. Megan was extremely helpful and made it clear that Steve’s office was aware of the issue and seeking answers.
The first thing that Megan shared with me was a statistics sheet from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, published July 11 this year, that has the most up-to-date stats available in the county. These stats are based on a yearly homeless count and, while provided in hard numbers, are known to be estimates.
Steve’s district is estimated to have 4,581 homeless people, 667 of which are sheltered, while 3,914 are not. That means almost 4,000 people are living in the streets, washes, alleys and underpasses of our fair congressional district.
Doubt that? Join me on a bike ride on the South Fork Trail. The underpass at McBean often has a tent or a guy sleeping on a mat. Two or three guys are often seen sitting at the top of the concrete slope under the roadway.
When I ride further up the trail into Canyon Country, I often see homeless folks congregating at the White’s Canyon and Sierra Highway underpasses. Grocery carts with scavenged recyclables are parked near the bike path. The tents of the owners can be seen in the center of the dry river bed.
Look around, folks. The homeless are here – and in large numbers.
In the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, 82 percent of these homeless are adults, and 55 percent are between the ages of 25 and 54. Thirty-five percent are black, 35 percent are Hispanic and 24 percent are white. Seventy-two are male.
These numbers are similar to what we observed in Los Angeles in last week’s column. Our neighbors to the south are not so different from us.
Some other numbers jumped out at me. Thirty-eight percent of all the homeless folks over the age of 18 are there due to “domestic/intimate partner violence experience.” Of the 1,548 people living in the streets, 1,465 of them are unsheltered.
“Serious mental illness” accounts for 23 percent of all homeless in our neighborhood. That is 927 people who need medical help but, for one reason or another, either can’t get it or cannot comply with the care provided.
While there may be some cross-over, between these two groups we have almost 2,500 people living in our community without a roof over their heads on a daily basis due to domestic violence and mental illness. That is more than the total enrollment at Hart High School (2,200 students).
Seems to me like this would make a fine starting point for local leaders to determine the best way to spend the new money from Measure H, the county-wide initiative to combat homelessness.
Megan went on to tell me about a couple of bills that Congressman Knight has co-sponsored to help create more affordable housing.
The first is H.R. 1661, The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act. This bill provides assistance to extremely low-income residents by giving them better access to a tax credit for home purchase. Ideally, this will make it easier for poor folks to buy and keep their homes.
The second is H.R. 1699, The Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act. It appears that builders of manufactured homes were unfairly categorized as “loan originators” under the Dodd-Frank legislation, which put a severe damper on the production and sale of mobile homes. Many in Congress view this as an error that needs to be corrected.
Both of these bills are excellent examples of efforts to increase affordable housing in our area. But is more help coming from the Feds? Apparently not. Megan shared that there have not been any homeless-specific initiatives in the 115th Congress.
I suppose that is good. Congress is leaving it up to local communities to solve the homeless problem with the resources that we have available to us.
It will be important for us in Santa Clarita to monitor the activities of the Measure H initiative and make sure that our fair city is not ignored in the process. We have homeless folks living in our community – just look around. They are here.
Let’s get some dollars from Measure H and look at investments in battling domestic violence and mental illness locally. This appears to be the best way to impact homelessness in our neighborhood.
Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita. He can be reached at [email protected].