A church ministry that’s helped the homeless of Santa Clarita for nearly 40 years is seeking help from the community after receiving notice from county officials that it must vacate its property by the end of June.
Peter Hilst, the pastor of the Bible Tabernacle’s 10-acre ranch near Sierra Highway and Sand Canyon Road, said the ministry offers homeless and shelter services and a six-month alcohol and opioid recovery program for men. A similar ministry for women is based in Venice.
Hilst made an impassioned plea for help before the regular Santa Clarita City Council on Tuesday evening and mentioned the ministry’s volunteer service programs, including brush clearance, weed abatement, adopt-a-highway and tree removal from damaged homes.
Unfortunately, the property is not in city limits, so there was little City Council could do.
Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar said during the meeting he would inform Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office.
“It is just an outstanding program,” Kellar said. “It really makes a difference in these peoples’ lives.”
“We endeavor to cultivate stability and fidelity in their lives, restoring these men to their families and enabling them to hold steady jobs,” he said. “Basically, we are creating productive and law-abiding citizens. The ministry provides food, clothing and housing free of charge, we receive no government funds as we are financed through free-will offerings by individuals and churches who have us on their missionary budgets, such as Santa Clarita Baptist Church and Church of the Canyons.”
Hilst told The Signal on Friday the ministry is not like a mission or soup kitchen, but gave 298 baskets of food to families in January.
Hilst said he met with Rosalind Wayman, Barger’s deputy for Santa Clarita, on Thursday. A spokesman for Barger said her office would continue to look for solutions between the ministry, the district attorney’s office and the county building and planning department.
A Jan. 19 letter from the District Attorney’s office to Hilst said the site was in violation of county ordinances regarding the use of unpermitted structures on the ministry’s property.
“For a period of years, there have been multiple notices from different county agencies citing violations served and posted on your property. We know that in good faith you have looked for alternate properties to relocate your ministry and outreach program, however, you have not been successful,” the letter said. “The site is not permitted or licensed for an adult residential facility (homeless shelter/temporary housing facility). Furthermore, you are operating a church at the property in an illegal building and without the required Conditional Use Permit (CUP).”
Hilst said many of the buildings on the site date back to the 1970s and he has been told some date back as far as the 1920s. Hilst said the site has averaged 80 residents for the last ten years.
The letter from the district attorney’s office also said a number of factors would prevent the ministry from using their ranch site after June 28.
“Due to the substantial cost and the public hearing requirement, combined with the site location in a high fire zone and FEMA flood zone, approval of a CUP is not realistically obtainable,” the letter said.
Hilst said county planners want the ministry to install a large water tank and bridge across a wash on the property, among other considerations.
“It would be prohibitively expensive,” he said.
Hilst said during the City Council meeting the use violations were not triggered by safety concerns or neighbor complaints.
The property was initially purchased by the ministry in 1978 and opened a year later. Hilst said Friday the ministry has looked at a number of locations to move into and county planners had suggested an abandoned juvenile detention center on Lake Hughes Road as a relocation site, but other county agencies said they would repurpose it.
“They want us to find an ‘M1’ location that has the infrastructure and everything for us to move in,” he said. “We’re looking ideally on the order of something like a camp with cabins and everything in place.”
Several churches have made inquiries on the ministry’s behalf, Hilst said, but several of the sites are being offered at tens of millions of dollars.
“We don’t have a whole lot of money,” he said.
Hilst added that the ministry would like to retain the property, which they own, as a volunteer and services base while housing the men in their program offsite.