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'Outsourcing' of Homeless Stirs Intercity Debate

A dispute erupts after Santa Clarita hires a group to shuttle people to L.A. instead of opening a winter shelter.

November 27, 2004|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

Who is responsible for sheltering about 175 homeless people in Santa Clarita?

That question has sparked a brewing intercity fracas, with a Los Angeles official charging that Santa Clarita wants to outsource its homeless services.

The spat began when Santa Clarita officials decided this week not to reopen a winter shelter that had operated for several years and instead pay $36,000 to a nonprofit group to transport homeless people from Santa Clarita to shelters in the San Fernando Valley and downtown Los Angeles.

In response, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry introduced a resolution opposing the decision and urging cities in the county to address homelessness locally.

Perry charged that Los Angeles has become a dumping ground for other cities' homeless problems and said she was exploring remedies, such as demanding compensation for the costs of shelter and other homeless services.

"They need to own up to what they are doing," said Perry, whose district includes downtown's skid row as well as Bunker Hill, Little Tokyo and parts of South Los Angeles. "My thinking for those cities that don't want to care for their homeless people and want us to absorb them downtown is maybe they should pay us."

Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar said he had not seen Perry's resolution, but he defended the city's actions and denied that the city's plan was to export its homeless citizens.

"I can certainly understand her concern," he said, "but I'd like to respectfully say we're not trying to outsource or create difficulty for the citizens of Los Angeles."

Kellar, a retired Los Angeles police officer, said the city sought to relocate its homeless only after failing to find a suitable location for a winter shelter site, mainly because of neighborhood opposition to the location that had been used for two years.

At a spirited City Council meeting Tuesday evening, Kellar said some speakers wondered whether council members would be able to sleep after their unanimous vote to relocate the homeless.

"It's something all communities wrestle with on an ongoing basis, and we're no exception," he said. "We had a homeless shelter set up for many years, but it has been a challenge in meeting the needs and concerns of the entire community both pro and con on the matter."

Though Kellar said the city was continuing to explore its options, some community members complained that it had been less than enthusiastic in trying to find a new shelter site.

The city previously provided a building under renovation and then an isolated parking lot at the Via Princessa Metrolink station as a winter shelter. But city officials said neighbors at a residential complex near the station complained about trespassing and increased burglaries.

The winter shelter program, which is coordinated by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, operates about 2,000 beds from Dec. 1 through March 15 at 16 sites throughout the county and city of Los Angeles. The homeless are picked up at various sites and spend the night in the shelter, where they are given food and other services. Then they are dropped off at their original pickup points.

Mark Young, vice president of the Santa Clarita Community Development Corp., a nonprofit group that had operated the winter shelter, said his organization had found what it thought was a suitable permanent site a few years ago in a commercial strip, but the City Council denied a conditional use permit.

He said the city also refused to renew the lease at the Via Princessa site, although the Sheriff's Department reported no evidence of increased crime or other problems.

"Santa Clarita took care of its own for seven years, but due to a change in the attitude of the City Council, they are choosing to -- 'outsource' is good word -- choosing to get them out of the area," Young said.

He predicted that because of their ties to the city through employment or family, few of the 40 to 50 homeless people who used the winter shelter regularly would choose to leave.

Lutheran Social Services of Southern California, the agency chosen by the City Council to transport the Santa Clarita homeless, has been caught up in an unfortunate controversy, said Claire O'Garro, an agency official who is overseeing the Santa Clarita project.

The intention, she said, was to provide a more long-term solution for homeless people by taking them to permanent shelters with employment, drug and alcohol programs.

Now the agency, at the urging of county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, is working with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and another nonprofit to provide overnight winter shelter for Santa Clarita's homeless at a Sylmar armory about a dozen miles away.

"The controversial question is: 'Who is responsible?' and this doesn't solve that problem," O'Garro said.

"The ultimate answer would be a permanent shelter in Santa Clarita for Santa Clarita citizens."

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