A new report on the homeless and housing-related problems released by Simi Valley officials on Friday concluded that rent hikes have far outstripped average increases in incomes, forcing an increase in the number of people struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
Exactly how many of the estimated 2,000 homeless people in Ventura County live in Simi Valley is difficult to pin down, said Diane Davis-Crompton, the city's community services director, who was responsible for the report.
But Davis-Crompton said as many as 100 families in Simi Valley are currently either homeless or living in crowded, unhealthy or illegal conditions. The report said that landlords are choosing tenants who seem financially secure over those on fixed incomes, such as seniors or single-parent families.
Last year, the city was presented with a visible reminder of its homeless problem when about 40 squatters set up an illegal makeshift trailer park in a church parking lot before complaints from neighbors forced the city to have nearly all of them moved.
"Homelessness can, under these circumstances, become self-engendering since the displaced are more likely to suffer often repeated crises as a result of their homelessness," Davis-Crompton said in the report, which will be presented to City Council on Monday.
As a rule of thumb, Simi Valley does not provide the type of social services that could help a homeless family. Davis-Crompton said that, as far as she knows, there is also no county-run program for the homeless. Those in need are referred to six private agencies that are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the growing demands for services because of a lack of funds and a tight housing situation.
Faced with the prospects of a growing population of homeless, some Simi Valley officials are suggesting that the city become more actively--and financially--involved.
"We've got people living in the streets," Councilman Glen McAdoo said. "We just can't sit on our hands and do nothing about it."
In her report, Davis-Crompton suggested that the city contribute $10,000 a year to a Lease Assistance Revolving Loan Fund. The privately operated fund, established last year by the Commission on Human Concerns, provides interest-free loans to eligible homeless families, senior citizens and the disabled to help pay initial move-in costs. The loans must be repaid in two years.
The $60,000 now in the fund has come largely from donations by the county and six other cities, including Oxnard, Camarillo and Thousand Oaks.
McAdoo, who is chairman of the Commission on Human Concerns, said Simi Valley should also be on the list of contributors.
"There are quite a few people working that are poor and faced with the monumental task of trying to get enough money together to rent housing," he said. "What this does is try to help them out by lending them that money."
Mayor Greg Stratton said he is inclined to go along with contributing to the fund, although a larger issue remains. "What we really need to find out is why there are homeless," he said. "Are they homeless or are they choosing an alternate life style that's readily available?"
The Davis-Crompton report, part of which included information compiled at the request of the council more than a year ago, attempts to answer some of those questions.
Simi Valley's homeless population does not tend to be "street people" who choose a homeless life style but rather local residents who "entered into homelessness as a result of a life crisis which pushed them over the edge," the report concluded.
"They can be kids who have run away from home, pregnant teen-agers, undocumented workers, mental patients released uncured, mothers who were deserted, skilled and unskilled workers who cannot find employment . . . and senior citizens whose fixed incomes did not keep pace with the rising cost of housing."
Cost of Living Factor
The cost of living in Simi Valley is playing a major role in squeezing some residents out, city officials said.
Between 1980 and 1986, the cost of renting in Simi Valley increased from 37% for a two-bedroom apartment to 100% for a studio apartment, according to statistics from the Area Housing Authority that were included in the report. During the same period, however, average incomes increased only about 25%.
Under the circumstances, residents barely making ends meet can easily find themselves homeless, Davis-Crompton said. "Many people can get by month to month, but if something major happens in the household, it will stretch their budget to the point where they can no longer pay the rent," she said.
SIMI VALLEY RENTALS Average Monthly Costs
1980 1986 Increase Room, shared bath, shared kitchen $155 $275 77% Room, separate bath, shared kitchen 170 300 76% Studio apt. 225 450 100% 1-bedroom apt. 300 525 75% 2-bedroom apt. 450 615 37% 2-bedroom house 450 750 66% 3-bedroom house 525 850 62% 4-bedroom house 580 915 58%
Source: Area Housing Authority