The signs of homelessness are obvious in and around Los Angeles.
We see the tents. The shopping carts filled with clothing and other personal items. The makeshift underpass shelters.
We hear the voices of men and women asking for spare change or food. We witness them rummaging in trash cans for recyclable cans and bottles.
It’s a stark reminder that success can be fleeting, that life is not fair.
While the signs are often less obvious here in the Santa Clarita Valley, don’t think the issue isn’t just as real. This isn’t utopia. Yes, Santa Clarita is generally clean. Yes, Santa Clarita is generally safe. And, yes, Santa Clarita is generally pleasant. But the problems of the real world are Santa Clarita’s problems, too.
How many are living without a home in our community? That answer is elusive. In April, Family Promise reported some 700 school-aged children as homeless. Months earlier, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority set the homeless count at 331 people, though that total is gathered only by volunteers searching assigned areas with flashlights for people living on the streets or in cars.
The number of homeless isn’t as important, though, as what we can do to solve the issue.
That’s why we were encouraged the city organized a strategic planning session to address homelessness that spanned two days this week at the Old Town Newhall Library and included city officials, community organizations and non-profit leaders. The range of topics included prevention, subsidized and affordable housing and cost of living.
A $50,000 grant, given to Los Angeles County and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, might have served as the catalyst for this workshop but those dollars will hardly begin to remedy this problem.
Money helps, of course. But, we can’t simply expect to throw money at homelessness and find resolution. We must first rally as a community, pool our resources and then build a comprehensive strategy to provide assistance to the hundreds – not dozens – among us without a place to call home.
Collaboration is critical. We must unify, not run at the problem from multiple angles, if we intend to take better care of the most vulnerable among us.
We were pleased to hear a conversation centered around that point during Friday’s session, led by a pair of Maine-based consultants from Analytic Insights hired by the city to develop best practices to combat homelessness.
How can we streamline administrative processes? Enhance the emergency shelter system? Improve data sharing?
The answers to those questions will help direct our future.
Which brings us to another question: Where were our elected officials for this piece of the conversation?
The absence of the five members of our city council – the men and women who organize and finance campaigns themed around making our city the best place to live and work for all residents – was both noticeable and bewildering.
While Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean attended Thursday’s session, she was absent on Friday. Councilman Cameron Smyth handled introductions on Thursday morning, then excused himself while citing a desire to avoid influencing the conversation.
Councilmen Bob Kellar and Bill Miranda didn’t attend either day. And, most egregiously, Mayor Laurene Weste told The Signal via telephone on Thursday that she was unaware of the two-day planning session.
We elect a mayor and city council to represent us, to solve problems, to inspire and lead – and they each missed an opportunity this week. If the issue of homelessness is serious enough to warrant a two-day strategic planning session, shouldn’t it rank as a priority for our elected officials?
There are no easy answers for the scourge of homelessness, thus it requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. We applaud the community and non-profit folks who took time out of their schedules this week to prioritize this issue. We commend the consultants, Amy Flowers and Leslie Ogilvie, for setting an example of collaboration.
It’s time, now, for all of us to join this community conversation – and we expect our mayor and city council to help lead the way.