Barger talks homelessness, foster youth at State of the County

FILE PHOTO Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger speaks at the Hyatt Regency Valencia. Eddy Martinez/The Signal.

Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger offered plenty of praise during her second State of the County address on Friday in Santa Clarita.

She thanked local elected officials for their partnership – including state Sen. Scott Wilk, Assemblymen Dante Acosta and Tom Lackey and Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste and the other four members of the city council.

She hailed the leadership of Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation. She commended law enforcement, singling out Capt. Robert Lewis and his Santa Clarita-based team of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

But, Barger’s message over spinach-stuffed chicken, mashed potatoes and colorful vegetables at the newly remodeled Hyatt Regency Valencia wasn’t all sunshine.

During her nearly hour-long presentation, Barger linked Los Angeles County’s worsening problem of homelessness with deficiencies in mental health services and called for “intensive collaboration” between local and state officials, community organizations and non-profit and faith-based groups.

“We have to figure out how to get them off the streets,” Barger stressed.

While voters’ approval last year of Measure H, a countywide initiative that raised taxes by a quarter-cent to bolster homeless services, is expected to annually generate about $355 million, the cost of the county’s homelessness program is estimated at $428 million, the Los Angeles Times reported in February, leaving a shortfall of $73 million.

A total of 57,794 persons are left homeless on any given night across the county, according to a 2017 report by the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority.

The county’s homeless population is aggravated by shortcomings in mental health services, leaving some people to “die” on the streets, said Barger while emphasizing her office’s work with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health as an example of the cooperation that will be required to solve homelessness.

Dr. Jonathan E. Sherin, the department’s director, called Barger “a rare leader” with “innate courage.”

“She has a deep, deep commitment that comes from the heart,” Sherin said.

In the spirit of collaboration, the SCV Chamber of Commerce raised $2,500 from the lunchtime crowd to support Bridge to Home, the Newhall-based shelter that provides homeless services across the valley.

The chamber’s top leaders, John Musella and Troy Hooper, were among a group that presented an oversized check to Hunt Braly of the Bridge to Home Board of Directors.

In addition to homelessness, Barger underlined the welfare of foster youth as a key priority, touting the benefits of the county’s foster youth job program and introducing Amanda Hernandez to share her story.

The oldest of five children from a broken family, Hernandez has only recently been able to afford her first apartment. Prior to becoming part of the employee program, Hernandez told the crowd she was driving two hours to work at a fast-food restaurant in an attempt to make a living.

Now, Hernandez said, “My siblings even look up to me and tell me I’m their role model.”

Later, Hernandez added, “Don’t let the stigma (of foster youth) fool you. There are plenty of other foster youth out there just like me.”

Barger didn’t miss the chance to praise the Hyatt, either.

After dissing the hotel at the SCVEDC’s Economic Outlook in March, where she described then-TPC Valencia as “a far better venue,” Barger opened her address by complimenting the new look.

“I want to thank the Hyatt for always opening up your door to the community,” she said. “Without you, we would not have an incredible gathering place.”

UCLA Health was the title sponsor for the 10th State of the County, presented annually by the SCV chamber.

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