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Our View: Tough times call for year-round help

the signal editorial board

Posted: March 5, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: March 5, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Lolly Leathers serves clients at the Santa Clarita Emergency Winter Shelter in Saugus on Tuesday night. Shelter officials said recently that tough economic conditions leave the facility’s beds near capacity every night.

 

We at The Signal are proud and humbled by the annual outpouring of help from local churches, volunteers and organizations for the homeless in our community.

The December-through-March Santa Clarita Valley Emergency Winter Shelter has been operating since 1997 at different locations, successful largely because of the community support it’s received.

But a wintertime-only shelter isn’t enough for the Santa Clarita Valley anymore.

According to Tim Davis, executive director of the Santa Clarita Community Development Corp., which runs the winter shelter, our community has more than 1,000 homeless people.

And the homeless aren’t who you might think.

The homeless in our community are our friends and neighbors. They are people who, often through no fault of their own, have simply fallen upon hard times.

The truth is, any one of us could easily find ourselves homeless. All it might take would be the loss of a job or a devastating illness.

So why should we help the homeless with a year-round shelter? Because, according to Hunt Braly, a member of the Community Development Corp. board and a local businessman, the homeless problem is always there.

“The need does not end artificially on March 16 (when the shelter closes each year),” he said. “Clearly, there is a need throughout the year.”

Without a year-round shelter, Davis said, “we don’t have the ability to track or continue to work with people. We know there are homeless during the summer months. It would be appropriate to find help for them.”

Another reason for reaching out to our homeless is simple economics. Santa Clarita’s Emergency Winter Shelter does more than just feed and house the homeless in our community. The shelter coordinates with the Northeast Valley Health Corp.

Davis said volunteer nurses help screen clients, and if necessary, help set up an appointment with a doctor. That means fewer visits to local emergency rooms, where that care would cost significantly more.

The shelter works to help find clients permanent, affordable housing and steady employment. In the long run, that means less money spent on social services.

So opening a year-round shelter is a significant cost-saving measure in the long term.

Of course, Braly admits that not everyone is in favor of a year-round shelter in Santa Clarita.

“People who are opposed (to a year-round shelter) believe that the homeless detract from our community and attract homeless from other areas,” he said. “That is not the case. The vast majority of our clients come from Santa Clarita.”

A full-time shelter would improve the community, Braly said, by “taking the homeless off the streets and out of the river.”

Fortunately for the homeless in our community, efforts are currently under way to create a year-round shelter.

In December, an initiative known as 100 Business Friends was launched to help raise funds for a year-round shelter and to provide support services.

We strongly urge any local business that can help and who hasn’t signed on to 100 Business Friends yet to do so. Santa Clarita’s homeless shelter needs about $250,000 a year to operate.

Of that, only about 40 percent comes from government agencies, with the rest coming from donations. By signing on with 100 Business Friends, the shelter would become less dependent on government funding and have a steady source of income.

In the long run, Braly said, the success of a year-round shelter won’t depend on whether the homeless problem in our community is ultimately solved.

“You don’t judge the success of a program by whether you totally solve the problem,” he said. “Many nights, we are at capacity. That’s success.”

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