Maintaining a sense of normalcy can seem nearly impossible for homeless families in Santa Clarita.
Everyday tasks like cooking a meal, finishing homework and driving to work are full of uncertainty as families facing homelessness struggle to keep a roof over their head.
“It’s harder to be a family because you’re not just thinking about yourself,” Bridge to Home’s Director of Programs Chris Najarro said. “How do you explain what’s going on to your children?”
Bridge to Home and Family Promise, Santa Clarita Valley’s nonprofit organizations that house families, are looking to partner to find solutions for families in need.
Recognizing the problem
There are many families in the SCV who are living paycheck to paycheck, just on the brink of homelessness, according to Family Promise’s Board President Laurie Ender.
“To be a homeless family right now is not as uncommon as some people think,” Ender said. “We are definitely seeing the same rise in homelessness in L.A. County and all over the country.”
Santa Clarita’s homeless count rose from 316 in 2016 to 331 in 2017, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Though, this count may not reflect families who are homeless and might be temporarily staying with relatives or friends or renting a room or hotel.
“Everybody’s story is different, but the one thing that is the same across the board is they don’t have a support system anymore,” Najarro said.
Family Promise houses four families for 90 days at a time in their facility, but their waitlist has been full for two years. Bridge to Home’s winter shelter is open from November to March and can house 60 individuals.
If no other housing options are available, the organizations will either put the families in a hotel, bring them to a local church or send them to a shelter in Downtown Los Angeles, which are often full.
When Family Promise first opened six years ago, Ender said the largest challenge was finding people jobs. Since the economy has turned around, Ender cites the housing market being too expensive and people not being able to afford the cost of living as the primary problem.
In fact, Ender said, there are various homeless people in Santa Clarita who are employed but cannot afford to pay rent.
Finding funds and solutions
It is important to be proactive and seek out affordable housing at the city level, Najarro said. As the population continues to grow, she said affording to live in the valley is only going to become more difficult.
Looking to solve homelessness will require a holistic approach, Najarro said. The organizations must look at each family’s problem, whether it be the loss of a job, medical problems, domestic violence or mental health issues.
There are usually many reasons families become homeless and those problems are usually not completely resolved after a 90-day program, Ender said, so Family Promise continues to work with them after they leave.
Measure H, the countywide initiative to raise taxes one-fourth of a cent for homeless services, will hopefully supplement the services nonprofits are already providing, according to Ender.
Homeless people in Los Angeles County will still require case management, mental health services, job tools and housing facilities, which is what Measure H can fund.
“It will give us more work to do but make it easier for us to do it,” Ender said.
Though, she said Family Promise will continue to fundraise money on their own.
Helping your neighbors
Homeless families are members of the community, Ender reminds Santa Clarita residents. She said there is a misconception that homeless people come to Santa Clarita from elsewhere.
“There has to be building of community support,” she said. “I think we’re getting there. I think we’ve made huge progress.”
Seeing community members help one another and volunteer cannot be quantified, Ender said. Volunteers and those being served are often neighbors or classmates.
“It turns out to be as good of an experience for our families as it does for our volunteers who get to spend time with them,” she said.
Regardless of the amount of funding an organization receives, it is this human interaction that matters most, Ender and Najarro agree.
“What it can’t replace is a hug from a volunteer or a listening ear,” Ender said. “It doesn’t replace knowing that somebody cares about you and that we’re going to take care of you and that we’re here for you.”
Ender points to a time where a homeless high school student wanted to go to prom and the community rallied around her to buy her ticket, get her a dress, get her hair done and find her a date.
“That’s where we live, that’s what this community does,” she said.
Bridge to Home and Family Promise hope to collaborate more in the future by creating collaborative programs, streamlining their processes and connecting homeless families with resources.
With a combination of Measure H funds, city recognition and community input, Ender said she thinks homelessness in Santa Clarita will look differently in a year.
“I think we’re going to say, ‘Wow, progress. Look what we did, look who we helped,’” Ender said.