Santa Clarita homeless task force looks back at 2019 efforts

The Santa Clarita homeless task force is made up of stakeholders from multiple, local organizations in education, health care, law enforcement and faith. Courtesy of the city of Santa Clarita

Formed just more than a year ago, a collaborative community task force leading the Santa Clarita Homelessness Plan met for the last time in 2019 on Wednesday to wrap up the year as it prepares for the new homeless count in 2020. 

“2019 was a pretty good start but we still have more work to do,” said Mayor Cameron Smyth, who serves as the task force’s chairman. “We had to do a lot of organizational, administrative meetings to get the structure in place but once we did that, I think we made a lot of progress.” 

The 2020 PIT count

Santa Clarita’s 2019 point-in-time count tallied 256 people facing homelessness. The figure increased from the 156 counted last year, but it was still inaccurate, according to the task force. 

Now at the table with more than 30 stakeholders, the task force has a better idea of how many people are facing homelessness in Santa Clarita, said Smyth. 

“We always knew that the ‘official’ count really isn’t accurate and through our partnership with the school districts and organizations here, I think we have a much better handle of what that number is and what that picture looks like,” he said. “I think that’s been very helpful and will enable us to be more productive in 2020 in learning what their needs are and how we can better connect them to resources.” 

With the help of five UCLA graduate students, who gave recommendations in May on how to improve the local count, the task force established planned actions to implement in the 2020 count. Some implementations include improved volunteer training and establishing teams with a minimum of three people serving as a navigator, driver and recorder, as well as establishing an experienced team leader. 

In future counts, the task force is looking to implement walking in areas that cannot be adequately seen from a car, as well as conducting the count during the daytime hours rather than nighttime, as currently required by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. 

Homelessness in SCV schools

The education-focused sector of the task force made big strides this year through multiple strategies, including the implementation of a nighttime student residency questionnaire across all Santa Clarita Valley school districts. 

The system helped identify 101 more homeless students in the Newhall School District, bringing the latest count to 138, according to Jeff Pelzel, superintendent of the Newhall district. 

The Newhall School District established family resource centers at Wiley Canyon and McGrath schools to help families with clothing, school supplies and food. FeedSCV has provided homeless students backpacks filled with food and snacks for the weekend. 

The William S. Hart Union High School District has expanded its number of social workers from five to eight across the district and College of the Canyons is applying for a grant of anywhere between $500,000 to $700,000 from the state for rapid rehousing services to help homeless students. 

Next year, the task force plans on working with the city to potentially offer bus passes for homeless families and students.  

Growing the team and services

The 30-plus member task force grew by an additional member in August with the addition of Gabriela Martinez, the city of Santa Clarita’s first homeless coordinator. Her position is funded through a $75,000 grant that is part of the $375,000 the city received from the nearly $3.8 million in Measure H funding for homeless programs. 

She has since met with multiple organizations from in and around the SCV, including with Los Angeles County officials, seeking to include the SCV in the LA-Homeless Outreach Portal, a new online portal designed to make it easier for vulnerable residents to request help and connect with local resources. 

In September, SCV’s only homeless shelter, Bridge to Home, claimed victory when it switched from a seasonal facility to operate 24 hours, 365 days a year after securing $840,000 in year-round funding. 

Starting in 2020, the task force agreed to review its strategic plan and continue its efforts despite a recent Supreme Court decision to not review a lower court’s ruling allowing the homeless to sleep on streets without punishment, said Smyth. 

“Regardless of what the ruling was going to be, we’re moving forward with our plan like we always do in Santa Clarita and we’re going to do it the best way we know how to serve the members of our community.” 

The Task Force is scheduled to reconvene in January.

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