Community Task Force on Homelessness establishes board; UCLA students to help create more accurate local count

UCLA graduate students to help Santa Clarita Community Task Force on Homelessness create a model for a more accurate homeless count. From left are Jenny Rees, Brian Harris, Irma Livadic, and Michelle Viorato. Tammy Murga/ The Signal

The collaborative community task force leading the Santa Clarita Homelessness Plan made progress Tuesday with the official establishment of its board of directors. The group also said it’ll receive help from UCLA graduate students on developing a more accurate homeless count.

“We have a skeleton now,” said Cameron Smyth, Santa Clarita city councilman and now chair of the seven-member Community Task Force on Homelessness board.

He was unanimously nominated by the 30 community stakeholders who make up the task force. Laurie Ender, who is the governing board president for Family Promise — a nonprofit serving homeless families in the Santa Clarita Valley — was named vice chair.

The remaining seats had to each represent the five different sectors that make up the task force: service providers, education, faith-based, government and health care.

These are the five executive members:

  • Service provider: Peggy Edwards, president of Bridge to Home, an SCV homeless services agency
  • Education: Jeff Pelzel, assistant superintendent of the Newhall School District
  • Faith-based: Michelle Andrews, director of discipleship and care for the Valencia United Methodist Church
  • Government: Marsha McLean, Santa Clarita mayor pro tem
  • Health care: Joy Castro, director of case management and social services at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital

UCLA students
Santa Clarita currently has 331 homeless individuals, according to the 2017 annual point-in-time count, but many have challenged that number, saying the actual number is more than double that.

To provide a better count, five graduate students of the University of California, Los Angeles’ School of Public Policy are taking on the task, as part of a capstone project, of developing a model of measurement the city can use.

“We don’t want to do a thing that’s just a capstone project, we want to do something that’s actually relevant and useful to the city,” said student Brian Harris.

The students said they will start with literature reviews and interviews to find out how the community defines and perceives homelessness, which could affect the accuracy of a homeless count and the amount of Measure H funds cities could receive.

Over the course of the next decade, an estimated $3.5 billion is expected to help fund programs and services for the homeless in Los Angeles County, but just how much each local agency receives depends on the count, according to the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority.

“UCLA coming on board to undertake developing a model that’s statistically valid that’ll provide a deliverable measurement of our accurate homeless count locally is a very, very good deal,” said Jerrid McKenna, assistant to the city manager.   

Though still in the early stages, the five-student team has until March to present their findings.

The Task Force scheduled to reconvene in January.

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