Our View | Santa Clarita Is Misunderstood on Homelessness

Our View

This comes to us from the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Department.

Your city government in recent years has been taking the homelessness issue quite seriously, as outlined in the guest commentary we’re publishing today from Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean and Councilman Cameron Smyth. The City Council created an ad hoc committee to address issues of homelessness, and the city’s notable efforts to combat homelessness include the transfer of $1 million of land to Bridge to Home, a local nonprofit that operates Santa Clarita’s seasonal homeless shelter and plans to develop a year-round shelter on the property provided by the city.

In short, the leaders at Santa Clarita City Hall are not an uncaring bunch. The city’s actions on the homelessness issue prove at least that much.

Yet, when the city drafted some new language to tighten up its ordinance governing “living” in public spaces, some of the reactions might have led you to believe Santa Clarita was sending out jackbooted thugs to forcibly expel every last homeless person from Santa Clarita.

We saw L.A. media headlines like this one: ‘Santa Clarita Cracks Down on Homeless in Public Places.” Murmurs of potential litigation arose, and some residents objected that the city was unfairly targeting the homeless for enforcement, as if homeless individuals should simply be allowed to set up camp wherever and whenever they want. Even more ludicrously, some suggested the ordinance could have unintended consequences, like making it illegal to have a picnic in the park.

The city staff and the council were talking about no such things. At the same time as they were working with Bridge to Home and developing solutions to help the local homeless, they were also looking to protect all of the citizens they represent, by creating the enforcement tools to ensure that Santa Clarita’s public spaces are safe, sanitary and available for everyone.

If you think these aren’t valid concerns, just fire up your Google machine and type in, “Santa Ana River Trail” and the word, “homeless.”

By the end of 2017, approximately 700 people had taken up residence on the Santa Ana River bike trail, rendering it all but unusable for the general public. By the time the encampments were cleared away — and their occupants given one-month vouchers to stay in motels — the Orange County Public Works Department was left with a monumental cleanup task.

The final tallies? Over 400 tons of debris. More than 13,000 needles. And, more than 5,000 pounds of hazardous waste, which includes human feces, pesticides, propane and more.

Now, imagine such a scenario unfolding on the Santa Clara River Trail in Santa Clarita.

Certainly, Santa Clarita’s homeless population is much smaller than Orange County’s. Estimates range from 300 to 400, which puts the Santa Clarita Valley well below the national average of 17 homeless individuals per 10,000 population, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“It couldn’t happen here,” you might say. Well, they never thought it would happen in Orange County, either.

Finding such a scenario unacceptable does not mean you are insensitive to the plight of the homeless. This is not an either-or proposition, as some would have you believe. It’s possible to sincerely care about helping homeless individuals and families who genuinely need assistance, while still believing that public spaces like parks, libraries and bike trails should be available for all residents to safely and comfortably enjoy. And, further, that residents and businesses should be able to live and operate in a healthy and safe environment — the kind of environment the city of Santa Clarita is trying to provide by adopting ordinances that reasonably restrict the kinds of activities that are allowed in public spaces.

Meanwhile, city leaders and Bridge to Home are working together to provide shelter and opportunity to those who truly need it. Anyone who says the city of Santa Clarita and its leaders are ignoring the plight of the homeless — or that they just don’t care — simply hasn’t been paying attention.

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