Maria Gutzeit | Homelessness: Solutions for All Are Needed

Homelessness is one of the things that is huge in Los Angeles and Orange County but a much smaller issue here. Kudos to the City of Santa Clarita for paying attention before we get to a critical stage. They recently drafted a homelessness plan and, after public comment, adopted it a few weeks ago.

While there are some uplifting stories, my personal experiences with homeless have been overwhelmingly negative. I was just minutes behind the transient attack on the local bike trail earlier this year. I clutched my daughter close as a clearly impaired man camping in the Green Thumb parking lot danced and sang wildly, while employees and customers huddled inside and wondered when the sheriffs would come. I’ve had a naked man scream at me and run into the street where I was riding my bike in Venice. In the same town, I was threatened by two women living in the public bathroom. We’ve had our car windows pounded on by a vagrant at a Victorville Starbucks. I’ve needed a sturdy escort at evening meetings at the Van Nuys Government Center. Most of us sadly know the overwhelming smell of urine in public spaces, both in Los Angeles and in Santa Clarita. Yes, there are successes but it’s largely the tragedy that spills over into the people living and working in neighborhoods impacted by this issue.

In addition to the homelessness plan, the city also prepared a ban on living in public spaces. That’s now on hold after a court ruling saying, essentially, that municipalities have to provide alternatives to living on the street.

There was significant discussion in the plan on getting public support for homeless programs.

True, it does seem based on Los Angeles, Orange County, and even our own Tesoro De Valle residents that no one wants “low income” or temporary housing in their neighborhoods. We do have several quite nice Section 8 and alternate low-income facilities in the Santa Clarita Valley. They are so well kept that it’s unlikely people know where they are, unless they’ve “shopped” for someone in need of that housing.

However, anyone reading the ample Los Angeles Times coverage of the issues in Orange County (stripped-down hotel rooms devoid of anything that can be stolen still being trashed, residents failing to comply with drug-free requirements for their free housing) or Los Angeles (RVs dumping sewage on the streets and ignoring parking ordinances) is right to be worried.

A recent Signal letter writer took the bold step of categorizing the homeless. There are some who are drug addicts or have mental health issues. There are some who just need a brief hand. There are some who don’t want to work, even though they could. Admitting that all homeless are not the same is a good start. The plan has goals for all of these categories, but no concrete counts and no discussion of neighborhood impact mitigation.

Shouldn’t women and children be able to use the bike paths or parks without passing by drunks and drug addicts? Are we sure “safe overnight parking lots” are just that? Is that RV dumping sewage going to end up in front of our house during the day, knowing full well that the current enforcement process just means they merely need to park somewhere else in the neighborhood the next day?

Those of us with crushing commutes and stressful jobs might feel better knowing that “choosing to not work” isn’t an option our tax dollars are going to subsidize, especially when it results in trashing of our shared public spaces.

The plan puts the official homeless count at around 331 people, but says based on school data it could be higher. I’ve completed the school forms and they are vague and certainly not anywhere to get a number. Even at double the official count, homeless account for less than 0.5 percent of the city’s population.

Another goal of the draft plan was to get “better numbers.” Similarly missing from the plan were rankings on priorities, realistic timelines, discussion of best management practices and evaluation of the return on investment for programs in the wish list of the plan.

Only with solid numbers and laser focus on public safety and community preservation will measures addressing homelessness get traction. Hopefully the new homelessness committee will come back with some time-tested, cost effective goals, ranked on feasibility and impact.

Then, all residents can feel well taken care of.

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among several local Democrats.

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