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Gary Horton: Response to homelessness needed in SCV

Posted: October 24, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 24, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Homelessness and its associated social ills aren’t improving; they’re getting worse and more obvious day by day.

As economic ills mount and public resources fatigue, what falls out in the cracks of social economic reality is homelessness, despair and crime. Santa Clarita’s commerce-driven policy has long been to minimize and hope homelessness away. As it isn’t Awesometowny, it’s not good for commerce, it doesn’t sell homes, and even talking about homelessness gives people the willies and discourages their drive to shop.

I dislike seeing beggars on street corners and folks “shopping cart camping” as much as anyone else. A view we all share is that we don’t want to see these things in our town.

Yet in more thoughtful moments we realize we don’t just want the evidence of homelessness vanished — we’d rather the problem actually be cured.

Just because we might be able to push the homeless out of sight and therefore mostly out of mind doesn’t mean the homeless aren’t out there somewhere.

They still exist, even when we effectively push them into riverbeds or perform mental magic tricks to make them disappear in our thoughts.

Two Sundays back, no mental trick would disappear what I saw on the southwest corner of McBean Parkway and Singing Hills Drive.

I was driving on Singing Hills, 10 minutes late to church, when I stopped for the light at McBean.

Across the intersection I saw a figure covered with a white blanket crumpled on the sidewalk. It took a double take to confirm what I first thought I saw: a lady, curled up and covered, motionless, directly on the corner.

It was 8:15 a.m. on Sunday, and the street was already busy with early shoppers and churchgoers passing by. The figure remained motionless despite the sound of passing vehicles.

There’s no use going to church to learn about the Good Samaritan after ignoring such a scene. I pulled over and approached the woman. She appeared to be in her mid-30s. I asked her a few questions and she responded with a slur that indicated she was somehow impaired.

She carried a Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital bag, and her blanket was a hospital blanket. She said she’d been released by the hospital earlier that morning.

She said she walked the half-mile to the corner but her foot and leg pain forced her to lay down. She didn’t have a home. Her car was parked up in Canyon Country.

She had a friend in Simi Valley. I suspect she’d been living in her car. Would she like help? I asked her. “Yes.”

I checked and called the Santa Clarita Valley homeless shelter, but it does not open until later this year. I didn’t have the shelter’s 24-hour hotline handy, which might have gotten the woman a referral to a Sylmar shelter.

I called another number for local emergency homeless services but got an answering machine.

I finally called the Sheriff’s Station, as collapsed on a street corner isn’t a safe situation for anyone. They came out quickly and spoke with the woman.

She’d been picked up the prior day on a DUI. They’d taken her to the hospital. Now, early in the morning, she was back out, but with nowhere to go.

They were likely going to take her back to Henry Mayo as she complained of the pain keeping her from walking.

I don’t know what circumstances led to the woman with the injured legs and feet to the DUI, to the hospital and ultimately to our corner at McBean and Singing Hills.

Maybe “she brought this all upon herself.” Maybe she’s an alcoholic. Maybe she’s a drug user. Maybe she was OK until she lost a job, lost a house and became desperate.

There are more avenues to homelessness than to new model-home sites. The point is, the woman was collapsed on our sidewalk with nowhere to go, and now “What are we going to do about that?”

She may have caused her problem, the economy might have started it, but here she is, and short of busing her out to Sylmar or pushing her into the riverbed, she’s here, with more like her coming.

The police took her to the hospital, the hospital treated, and now she was heading back to the hospital again.

What’s the cost of police and emergency medical care and jails and prisons instead of reasonable social services to help desperate folks? I suspect social service response is much less expensive than law enforcement and hospital stays.

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, thinks he can throw his weight behind some fundraising for the SCV homeless shelter. That’s a small but good start and I hope to push it along.

We can choose to face it pro-actively, or face it crumpled on our street corners, but homelessness isn’t going away.

It will test our civic and personal courage to face it pro-actively and properly.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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