After receiving $375,000 for homeless programs earlier this year, the city of Santa Clarita welcomed its new Measure H-funded homeless coordinator Gabriela Martinez.
The local resident was selected from a pool of 80 applicants for her wealth of experience in social services and knowledge on the Los Angeles County homeless service system, according to Jerrid McKenna, assistant to the city manager, who’s overseen the issue over the last several years.
“Gabriella stood out among 20 people from the 80 applicants that we got,” he said. “She’s the boots on the ground. I’ve picked this up for the last four or six years, but I don’t have (a degree in social work) or social work experience. Having that asset in the city with the knowledge she has will be essential.”
Martinez brings to the city more than 14 years of social service experience, working with a variety of populations ranging from refugees, members of the LGBTQ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer) to victims of domestic violence and with nonprofit service providers.
“Working with different populations, I wanted to know what the root cause of their issues were,” she said. “In all the different populations, homelessness kept popping up. I saw it in domestic violence cases when a partner would leave the relationship and had nowhere to go, or seniors priced out of housing.”
The position is being funded through an 18-month, $75,000 grant, part of the $375,000 Santa Clarita received from the nearly $3.8 million in Measure H funding for homeless programs. The $300,000 was designated for property acquisition for interim housing.
Martinez, who started July 12, will administer the 30-plus member community task force that addresses the local homeless issue and the city’s homeless plan, with an ultimate goal to decrease the homeless population, and increase resources and options for the area’s most vulnerable population.
While she has already started responding to emails from the community, Martinez will soon look into the long-discussed local homeless count that is released annually by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which the task force and other community leaders have expressed is inaccurate. The 2019 count increased to 256 individuals from the 156 counted last year, but experts estimate that figure is lower than that of the count in at least one SCV school district alone.
“The point-in-time issue has come up, and even in L.A. County, it’s not accurate,” said Martinez. “I still have to meet with them (task force) and gather information about what they’re really seeing that’s not reflective in the homeless count. I’m working on putting together a meeting where we all talk about initiatives and see where I can support them.”
Martinez plans on tackling the matter, in part, with a heavy focus on data collection.
Perhaps the most challenging part of her role will be the coordination of services, according to McKenna.
“Identifying what each of us (the task force) is doing and what services are provided, going through what’s missing, what do we do and stop doing — that’s Gabriela’s task to have those conversations.”
The task force is Santa Clarita’s first attempt at addressing homelessness in an official manner with established bylaws and structures “to create a conversation and learn how we can streamline and communicate with each other and create a continuum of care,” said McKenna.
Martinez said these challenges encouraged her to apply for the position.
“Homelessness is something I’m very passionate about. I went on the website and read the initiative and saw how comprehensive it was and how the city is in front of the issue. Homelessness is a big issue and it took initiative to put the task force together and address this holistically. I couldn’t not get on board.”
The task force will officially meet Martinez at its next monthly meeting Aug. 21.