I remember feeling my heart sink when I saw tent cities and homelessness encampments explode after the 2008 housing crisis. Then the pandemic hit and I saw sidewalks with one or two tents turn into five, and then 10 tents. Too many neighbors in Santa Clarita have told me stories of moving here to raise their family, only to have their grown children now priced out of their own neighborhood.
After multiple major economic crises and decades of not investing in housing people can afford, the homelessness crisis is a true emergency that we cannot ignore or try to fix with Band-Aid solutions.
When a solution was proposed in my own community of Chatsworth, I knew I needed to be a part of that fight for housing, services and a permanent path out of homelessness for our struggling neighbors. With my decades of organizing and coalition work, and the ability to still pay the bills, I was fortunate to be able to take action.
I cofounded an organization to help fight for housing and homelessness solutions for our unhoused neighbors in the northwest San Fernando Valley.
Finding real solutions to homelessness can seem daunting. It’s not something that will happen overnight, and it takes real action and investment by our elected leaders. But if you take it bit by bit, neighborhood by neighborhood, you can make a real impact.
I am so proud that the organization I cofounded helped secure housing for veterans experiencing homelessness in our community. During the pandemic we also fought for hygiene and public health support, connected people with housing and services when we had resources, and delivered more than 20,000 meals to people in need that first year and annually going forward.
This work has helped people to get off the streets permanently, increasing resources to keep the people of our communities safe.
So a year later, when I decided to run for office, solving our homelessness crisis was a core issue that motivated my decision. Running for office isn’t easy — and it certainly isn’t easy for a single mom who had to quit their full-time job to run. But the challenges that faced our community were too great, and I knew the only way to make the long-term, widespread change we needed was to step up.
As I spoke with thousands of folks in our community on the campaign trail, homelessness was almost always the No. 1 issue people wanted to talk about. People were tired of politicians failing us with Band-Aid solutions that waste taxpayer dollars: moving folks from sidewalk to sidewalk without moving folks to permanent housing and off the streets for good.
In my first month in office, I made a pledge to our community at my swearing-in that I would fight every single day to ensure we permanently move folks off the street and into housing, and that our region would once again be a place where people could afford a home. And I am so proud to say that the pledge I took is reflected in many of the first bills I introduced.
The first package of bills I introduced was a package of three bills focused on critical issues to help solve our homelessness crisis, including: 1) removing cost barriers to IDs and vital records that are necessary to access housing and jobs; 2) ensuring local government transparency and accountability related to their work addressing the homelessness crisis; and, 3) streamlining cumbersome bureaucracy to access state government funding for low-income and homeless housing construction.
This bill package aims to address three specific problems we face when trying to get people off the streets, on their feet, and into housing. With these efforts, we intend to tear down barriers to important resources for those experiencing homelessness, ensure our local governments have a real plan that is presented annually to the public to help end and prevent homelessness, and streamline California’s application and funding process for affordable housing development, so units are built as quickly as possible.
As we know, the one biggest solution to our homelessness crisis is access to housing people can afford, both so the unhoused have permanent housing and so people don’t fall into homelessness in the first place. That’s why I also introduced three bills related to housing affordability, with two of those bills focusing on some of our most vulnerable neighbors — foster youth and veterans.
The first bill is focused on funding affordable housing development for former foster youth. We focused on foster youth specifically because in a recent survey of California foster youth, nearly one in three transition-age foster youth in California experiences homelessness.
The second bill would remove bureaucratic obstacles and barriers for affordable housing developers by removing restrictions ahead of purchasing property for development, and the third would expand property tax credits available to veterans in an effort to keep housing costs manageable and help our veterans realize the dream of home ownership.
There is so much work ahead to ensure no one is living on our street, that everyone has access to housing they can afford, and that our community is once again a place people come to raise their families without the stress of living paycheck to paycheck.
You can count on me to continue that work — it will remain a priority of mine while serving as your assemblywoman and will always be at the forefront of the work we do in our office. Together, we will see a future where everyone in Assembly District 40 has a safe place to call home.
Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, represents the 40th Assembly District, which includes most of the Santa Clarita Valley in addition to the northwest San Fernando Valley. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.