A homeless woman, obese and reportedly suicidal, was found living in a makeshift one-room shack built by the previous occupants — two homeless Vietnam veterans — on the contaminated cleanup site inside Whittaker-Bermite on Thursday.
The woman was taken by deputies with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff Station’s Crime Prevention Unit to caregivers at the Bridge to Home, where she was expected to receive care and attention.
“To grab them, jail them, rotate them through court with a low-class misdemeanor is not solving the problem,” Sgt. Daniel Dantice of the CPU told The Signal Thursday.
“Instead, we try to develop a program where we can work with agencies that can help these people,” he said.
“The people at Bridge to Home have already facilitated some way to help her,” Dantice said, noting deputies and other agencies have been well aware of the homeless woman for some time.
The woman, who can’t walk without the assistance of others, was asked to leave by a caretaker of the property.
“She is trespassing, so we called the sheriff,” the caretaker told The Signal.
At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, two CPU deputies in a sheriff’s SUV, entered the contaminated site from Diamond Place, next to The Signal, drove south along a trampled grass path to a secluded trash-strewn valley.
They left with the woman, whose identity has not been disclosed, at 11:55 a.m.
The makeshift camp, centered around a wooden shack the size of a large backyard shed, was built at least six months ago by two homeless Vietnam veterans, according to the property’s caretaker.
When confronted by agents of Whittaker-Bermite about four months ago that they were trespassing, the two veterans left when asked, the caretaker added.
Since then, the shack, furnished with a couch and enclosed with a mosquito net has been sought out by other homeless people and drug addicts.
The shack is flanked by two small gardens defined by chicken wire. Steps were carved out of the packed earth next to it.
A trail of trash — beer cans, fast food wrappers, a meth pipe, a knife sheath — created a trail from the dirt road to the shack.
The shack’s most recent occupant was brought to site by others then due to her inability to walk, and also was brought food.
“We had to do something due to maintaining the safety of the property, as well as something for her well-being,” the caretaker said, adding “there’s more of a concern about rattlesnakes back there and a mountain lion.”
“She said it was extremely painful to walk,” he said. “The other night someone brought her here and left her here.”
Code enforcement officers with the city of Santa Clarita were also called about the site.
“We did receive a report a couple of weeks back that somebody was camping out there,” Danny Rivas, city of Santa Clarita Community Preservation Manager, told The Signal on Thursday.
“This was private property. They built a structure, and that is an issue,” he said. “There are certainly health and safety issues, and possibly code violations, just like any other property.
“Code enforcement would be invalid in this case but we do go out and look at the conditions,” Rivas said.
About three years ago, city staffers and sheriff’s deputies began carrying out monthly sweeps of homeless camps set up inside the Santa Clara River.
“They know the program. They leave but come back in a couple of days,” Dantice said. “But, we continually do it because it makes a difference.
“We are not allowing them to establish a colony,” he said.
Before the monthly cleanups began, homeless camps were found to be more structured than the camp found Thursday on the Whittaker-Bermite property.
“They had been living there for years, and they had built structures,” Dantice said.
When the monthly sweeps began of homeless camps, deputies brought in representatives of several agencies to form a multi-agency team all for the purpose of tackling homelessness. Agencies included: the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health; the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority; Veterans Affairs and Behavioral Health Services.
“Now, we’re streamlined, thanks to the help we’re getting from Bridge to Home,” Dantice said. “(Bridge to Home staff) tell them what’s available to them.”
The Whittaker-Bermite permit, meanwhile, remains off limits to the public, with the ongoing decontamination of the property continues.
The engineering firm handling the cleanup told city officials two months ago that the cleanup is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Over the last 65 years, several industrial firms have manufactured and tested explosive material on what is now the Whittaker-Bermite site.
The Whittaker Corp. made ammunition rounds, boosters, flares, detonators, signal cartridges, glow plugs (used to heat the combustion chamber of diesel engines in cold conditions), tracer and pyrophoric pellets (fragments that spark spontaneously), igniters, ignition compositions, explosive bolts (designed to separate cleanly along a set fracture), powder charges, rocket motors, gas generators and missile parts.