Silvia Gutierrez: Helping those experiencing homelessness

Opinion - santa clarita news

The topic is dominating the headlines, leading local newscasts and being written about on The Signal’s editorial pages.

Homelessness in our community, and throughout the region, has reached critical proportions.

As we look at tackling the problem, we must also look at why the problem exists.

In Los Angeles County, we estimate that of the 58,000 people identified as homeless in the 2017 count: 27 percent have serious mental illnesses, 16 percent are battling addiction and a full 53 percent have serious physical disabilities including: chronic illness and brain injuries.

The majority became homeless, and remain homeless, because of economic challenges, including the high cost of housing.

The sad truth is that many of those with addictions were once themselves victims of domestic violence, economically challenged or diagnosed with mental and physical impairments.

In the years they’ve been on the streets, they did not receive the help and treatment they needed, and many turned to drugs and alcohol for self-medication.

Why do we see a continued uptick of unsheltered people? The 2015 report, “All Alone,” by the Los Angeles Economic Roundtable, funded by the Hilton Foundation, notes that “the number of Los Angeles residents experiencing chronic homelessness continues to grow even after housing over 10,000 individuals in the past three years.

“This tells us that the flow of individuals into chronic homelessness is unabated—the pathways have not been closed. Multiple failures create these paths into homelessness and chronic homelessness: families, schools, social services, health and mental health care, the criminal justice system, lack of affordable housing and a stagnant labor market.”

This report is based on a study of public assistance recipients and found that, “Over 13,000 public assistance recipients were newly identified as homeless each month from 2002 through 2010.”

So, with an inflow of 13,000 each month, L.A. homeless services providers and government agencies have been hard-pressed to stem the increase of people living on the streets, despite housing thousands of people each year. And, finding housing has become increasingly difficult.

A public assistance recipient receives $221 each month. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Clarita is $1,770 per month. The National Low Income Housing Coalition notes that a person must make more than $20 an hour to afford a modest apartment in California.

Getting people into shelter does not necessarily cure what caused people to become homeless in the first place. But, trying to cure the causes while the person is still on the street is impossible, e.g., diabetes can’t be managed because insulin must be refrigerated.

Agencies tried treating homelessness on the streets in L.A. until 2006, when we discovered a different way to help people, one that has resulted in housing placements with more than 90 percent of people successfully retaining that housing after one year.

This national best practice is based on the principles of harm reduction and is called “housing first.” Using housing first principles, people are placed into housing as soon as possible so they have a safe and stable base to support treatment and long-term housing plans.

L.A. County’s Measure H is now allowing the development of a county-wide infrastructure to support best practices such as “housing first.”

Bridge to Home, Santa Clarita’s homeless services agency, just applied for funding to build a unit for families on the property that the city has deeded to us.

This is part of an overall plan to build a permanent facility on that land. It will ultimately provide year-round crisis housing for people that need immediate shelter and bridge housing for people that have entered into case management programs and are waiting until they can find permanent housing.

It will also allow Bridge to Home to site all of our services, including case management, in one place.

Measure H is funding a planning project in the city of Santa Clarita, which will allow the city and stakeholders to develop a coordinated plan to address the issues.

We urge readers to use this forum to help end homelessness in our valley.

We want to thank everyone in our community who has taken the time to address the homeless crisis in our region and in our community.

We, at Bridge to Home, welcome the opportunity to continue to explore solutions. One of the solutions on the horizon will be the launch of our Bridge Builders program.

The program will be integral in taking our shelter to year-round-status and make our much-needed, expanded and permanent facility a reality. We look forward to sharing more about this program with the community very soon.

Thanks for the support.

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