Residents in the Castaic Lake Senior Village seek help as homeless individuals cause problems
In the middle of the night, 65-year-old Peggy Klauss hears a knocking at her door.
“Who could it be?” she says to herself, but thinking it was just her neighbor, she walks over to open the door.
“I opened the door and there stand a homeless woman and man,” Klauss said. “The gentleman was standing off to the side, and I was so shocked. I closed the door a little and left it to a crack. She asked me if my husband lived in the building, and I said ‘absolutely not.’ I closed my door, locked it, and sat down.”
“I realized that could have gone a totally different way with opening the door and not knowing who was on the other side.”
According to Klauss, who lives in the Castaic Lake Senior Village in Castaic, this was not a one-time incident.
“We’ve been living here three years, and the homeless are becoming more and more of a problem,” Klauss said. “We’ve watched tents being put up daily.”
Klauss said homeless individuals set up an encampment just up in Castaic Road behind industrial and other businesses. The encampment has grown to 20-30 people over the years and can be seen from the third-floor of the apartments, she added.
“You’ll constantly find the homeless walking around the grounds,” Klauss said. “Some had been caught sleeping under the staircase in our building. We had to start locking our laundry rooms on each floor because they were sleeping in there.”
“They’re up and down our hallways, constantly going from one apartment to the next. People here, that I’ve talked with, don’t take their nightly walks anymore because they’re scared.”
On occasion, residents leave canned foods in the third-floor laundry room, Klauss added. The food is meant for residents, but now trespassers are taking the food.
Holly DeAndre, 61 years old and Klauss’ neighbor, said on one occasion a resident confronted a homeless man, which resulted in the senior being physically assaulted.
“They’re coming in knocking on people’s doors, ringing their doorbells asking for change,” DeAndre said. “They’re invading our senior community here, our safe space.”
DeAndre said homeless individuals tricked some of the residents into letting them in the building by claiming they were there to visit grandparents. On other occasions, DeAndre said homeless individuals just jump the fence.
According to Klauss, they informed Amber Smith, the community director, about the situation.
“I can tell you that there does seem to be a problem,” Smith said.
She’s encouraged residents to call their contracted security agency, Vanguard Protection, as well as the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.
And although Klauss and DeAndre both agree that FPI Management, the company that runs the apartment complex, is doing everything it can do, the situation is frustrating and escalating.
The three-story 150-unit apartment complex is home to seniors, ages 60 and older, with some units designated as section 8 housing, or the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Section 8 housing helps U.S. residents find affordable homes in their areas.
Some of the units in the apartment complex are section 8 housing, and some of those residents have mental health issues, according to Daniel Huerta, portfolio manager for FPI Management.
“We started getting complaints toward the tail end of 2021, and in December we added a courtesy patrol,” Huerta said.
The courtesy patrol, run by Vanguard Protection, drives around the complex a couple of times a night. They check to see if there’s anything out of the ordinary and residents also have their number to call for anything.
Huerta said on several occasions Vanguard Protection has escorted out transients from the complex, but that’s all they can do. The transients come back.
“This is affordable, quality housing, and that would be our mission [to provide that],” Huerta said. “I would say we’re meeting that goal, but at every property, there’s always ebb and flow. There are times when various issues pop up, and this is certainly one of them.”
“The homeless issues, it is global and local, and it’s something that we have to work around because where do they go, you know, but we do want to provide a safe living place for our residents.”
Recently, FPI Management shared a letter with its village residents asking them to be vigilant, lock their vehicles and doors, not to prop open doors or let strangers into the complex, and keep laundry rooms closed and locked.
“We are working with law enforcement to try and come up with a good solution and where the residents feel they can report it [incidents] freely,” Huerta said.
According to Capt. Justin Diez of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, in the last six months, they’ve received almost 60 calls from the Castaic Lake Senior Village. The majority of the calls are related to family disturbances, and medical or mental health issues, he added.
Of the almost 60 calls, just about four of them may have possibly been involved with a homeless person. Diez had one of his lieutenants comb through the station’s database to pull this information.
Diez noted that, since the encampment is off Interstate 5, the California Department of Transportation will clean up homeless encampments while also sending agencies to offer services. However, Caltrans has a designated limit before it is no longer their jurisdiction; it then becomes a county or city issue, and those entities should respond.
“Once they are off Caltrans property and enter Los Angeles County property, that changes things,” Diez said. “We [conduct] homeless outreach through our Crime Prevention Unit, and ultimately, all they can do is offer them services.”
When deputies conduct outreach, they send out their Mental Evaluation Team along with a clinician from the L.A. County Department of Public Health. The MET team offers to connect homeless individuals with housing services, whether it’s transitional housing, semi-permanent, the Bridge to Home shelter, and other health services.
“I don’t know the exact homeless count in that unincorporated area but it appears that it has increased over the last few years,” Diez said. “The overwhelming majority of the homeless people are mentally ill or medicating on drugs or alcohol. The overwhelming majority refuse services and they want to remain homeless.”
Deputies can only detain or make an arrest if there’s been a possible crime committed, according to Diez.
Helen Chavez, assistant chief deputy for 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, said field deputies in the county supervisor’s Santa Clarita office did not have any records of communication or complaints regarding the Castaic Lake Senior Village.
Chavez said this situation was not on Barger’s radar until The Signal reached out for inquiries.
“What’s going to happen now, the field office will engage with the local sheriff’s station,” Chavez said. “The Sheriff’s Department has now consulted with the countywide homeless outreach services team so they can provide services to the homeless population in that area.”
Many people don’t realize contacting their county supervisor can make a difference, according to Chavez.
“The county is a really important coordinator, an important provider of services, and an important catalyst for getting the ball rolling,” Chavez said. “This is a great example of that, as soon as you put something on Barger’s, or her team’s, radar, action is taken because she’s very committed to public safety.”