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Tim Myers: Afraid of the homeless?

Myers' Musings

Posted: April 4, 2009 11:12 p.m.
Updated: April 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Fred Turner, of Kern County, gets his bed ready at the Santa Clarita Homeless Shelter.

 
Councilmember Kellar: I attended the Santa Clarita City Council meeting March 24 with the Boy Scouts of the Phoenix Patrol of Troop 2 so they could fulfill one of the requirements for their Citizenship in the Community merit badge.

I had not graced the council chambers since election night in spring 2008, when I exited early with my projections clearly showing my candidate held the election firmly in hand.

This council meeting gave the Scouts a good flavor of the workings of local government - something of which many of their adult brethren hold only a vague sense.

The meeting included the obligatory community trumpeting of sports teams and community-organization recognition (a part one spectator cynically referred to as "The sun always shines in Santa Clarita"), but then it was down to business with a vote on a new zoning regulation required by state law.

SB2 requires cities to adopt zoning regulations for homeless shelters no more onerous than those for other undertakings within the same zone. This requirement provides two salutary effects for homeless advocates like myself.

First, no city or other municipal entity can outright ban a homeless shelter within its boundaries. Second, a city cannot arbitrarily make the requirements for a homeless shelter so onerous that those requirements result in an outright ban.

I find the punishment for the failure to act quite novel and effective: If a city will not provide reasonable requirements for the siting of a homeless shelter, a private or public entity can place one anywhere in the city without restriction or regulation.

Now I must say the discussion concerning this issue marked a complete turnaround from 12-odd years ago when the private nonprofit Santa Clarita Community Development Corporation first opened the emergency winter shelter, primarily with funding from the county of Los Angeles.

At that time, hostility to the homeless ran so high that Congressmen Howard P. "Buck" McKeon nearly had to break elected Republican arms of then-City Council members to obtain approval.

SB2 will provide a framework whereby the Santa Clarita Community Development Corporation can move to build a permanent homeless shelter, long overdue in the city. But the response appeared quite muted, with two local activists probably against the permanent shelter providing some stream-of-consciousness incoherence that basically showed their fear of demonizing the homeless.

(A wise move, since the Community Development Corporation estimates that 3,000 local volunteers, mainly through the faith community, touch the emergency shelter in some way every year.)

Most people got used to the idea of a homeless shelter, since it opened many years ago and the earth did not open up to claim us all. It did dismay me the only hostility came from you, Councilman Kellar, when you called SB2 an unconscionable, unfunded state mandate and pooh-poohed a 300-foot buffer around public schools and parks, equating the homeless with pedophiles and child stealers.

Now I feel a great deal of respect for you, Councilman Kellar, for several reasons.

The primary reason? You hold no ambition for higher public office, so you inform your views by rational reflection and study rather than the slogan that might appeal to the crowd of the day.

I know you do this because you make hard decisions after study, including your principled opposition to the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital expansion and your courageous vote on the waste-hauling contract which saved the citizens of Santa Clarita a collective $2 million per year.

So I find myself curious concerning your hostility to the homeless, since it must come from some reflection and study.

An apocryphal story circulates locally that during your time on the LAPD, a homeless man assaulted your partner with a knife, and that experience informs your feelings to this day. I personally find this hard to believe.

You also served the United States in the armed forces in Vietnam (thank you for your service), when many Vietnamese people tried their best to kill you and your comrades, and I know you overcame that extremely difficult experience and cannot bear hostility toward the 13,000 Santa Claritans of Asian descent, some of whom must hail from Vietnam.

Councilman Kellar, if you are afraid, I suggest you come down to the emergency shelter during its time of operation. I, my children and my grandchild all went there, and while I initially admit I felt nervous, nothing that occurred could provide rational fear.

Actual knowledge defeats all manner of fear.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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