Pilar Schiavo | A Time for Celebration and Reflection

Pilar Schiavo, Democratic Voices

It’s the season of celebration. A time for people to come together with those they love and reflect on the year. However, that’s tough for so many people I know, who are ending this year really struggling. Struggling to find housing they can afford. Struggling to access health care. Struggling to cover the basics. 

That’s why this holiday season, I am reflecting on the work ahead to help the people who need it most, and on the kind of community we want to create together. 

At the forefront of my reflection is doing all we can to get our unhoused neighbors indoors. Our homelessness crisis is something I worked on prior to getting elected to the Assembly, was one of the things that motivated me to run in the first place, and is an issue we have been tackling in my first year in office. 

When I first got involved in working on homelessness in our community, it was when a permanent supportive housing project was being proposed in our community. The proposal was to build a 55-unit building, the majority of which would go to unhoused veterans and disabled folks. 

The building would also have wrap-around services, including a five-day-a-week caseworker to support things like access to health care, job training, treatment, and other services. 

It was the perfect example of what was needed to bring people inside permanently, and of different agencies, levels of government, and public and private entities coming together to help our neighbors and our community. 

The first time I went to the site where the building was being proposed, more than four years ago, I saw an unhoused man across the street. 

For the sake of keeping his identity anonymous, let’s call him Joe. 

Joe caught my eye because of the peace sign he was holding and I heard him say he would love to live there when it opens. Later that week, I saw him again, this time at the park near my home that I drove by every day. 

I stopped and spoke with him. Joe told me he had a housing voucher for two years already, but couldn’t find anyone who would take him. He faced roadblock after roadblock — landlords unwilling to take his voucher, scams where people tried to scam him for a housing deposit but didn’t have an actual apartment for him to move into — complete nightmare scenarios. 

Finally, during the pandemic, Joe found housing at a Project Roomkey near my home. While Project Roomkey is an important piece of the puzzle as we’re trying to get people off the street, it’s not permanent. 

Many of those who stay at Project Roomkey shelters, while grateful to not be on the street, still face incredible roadblocks to find a home. That was the case for Joe, and despite all of his efforts, a permanent home was nowhere in sight. 

Until last week. 

For months I have been working to connect unhoused veterans and community members with the new housing in our community that is finally coming to fruition. Last week, I got an update on the permanent supportive housing project I fought for in our community. Not only will they open their doors to 55 unhoused neighbors in January, they are also holding a room for Joe. 

Upon hearing the news, I immediately started crying. 

So many years after I first saw him — he gets his wish, to have a home right here in the community where he grew up — in the building he hoped would lead to a forever home for him. 

However, my tears were bittersweet. While I am so grateful that Joe is finally getting a home and the services he needs, it shouldn’t have been as hard as it was to accomplish. 

Just like so many living on our streets, he didn’t want to live outside. He desperately wanted a home, but our system has failed him over and over. Knowing that he would finally get to move inside, to a place that will have all of the services and support he needs, is the best way to celebrate this holiday season. 

Recently, I personally had to call a city council member and multiple homelessness agencies to keep an unhoused neighbor indoors and try to bring another inside. People should not need an Assembly member to make calls on their behalf just to get off the streets. And even as an Assembly member, it took many calls, following up, and pushing to ensure people got the housing and services they needed. One I’m still working on.

In our first year in office, we worked hard to bring real solutions to homelessness. We put forward legislation to streamline affordable housing developments. We also removed red tape to ensure we could create more housing, and fought for a bill to ensure unhoused and low-income folks were able to get IDs — something that has made securing jobs and other resources impossible in the past. And we brought nearly $8 million back to the 40th Assembly District to support programs that address homelessness and food insecurity in our community. 

And, while I am grateful for what we’ve been able to do in just one year, there is so much more work ahead.

This holiday season, as we are focused on the community we want to create together, let’s all commit to doing what we can to help bring every single unhoused neighbor indoors, ensuring everyone in our community feels safe and welcome, and giving all people the opportunity to be healthy, and thrive.

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.

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