Local

Antelope Valley to supervisor candidates: More homeless funding, please

Victoria Burton, 44, has been homeless in the Antelope Valley since October. Burton waits in line for shelter on Tuesday afternoon, May 31, 2016 at Grace Resource Center's Lancaster Community Homeless Shelter.
Victoria Burton, 44, has been homeless in the Antelope Valley since October. Burton waits in line for shelter on Tuesday afternoon, May 31, 2016 at Grace Resource Center's Lancaster Community Homeless Shelter.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

On a recent afternoon, men and women form two separate lines outside the Lancaster Community Homeless Shelter. They're waiting to find out if there will be room for them to spend the night.

The 110-bed shelter is the only one in Lancaster; when there are too many men or women, a lottery determines who gets in. 

On this day, the news that there is room for all of the women is greeted by cheers. The men are forced into a lottery, and about a half dozen lose out. One of them is a veteran who says he'll try to sleep in a park.

Paula Carey, 63, has been staying in this shelter since March. She’s been homeless off and on since her mother died three years ago. She hates to see anyone turned away.

"That’s heartbreaking for the people who work here and for us, watching our friends walk off and not knowing where they are going to be," she says.

Officials and activists in the Antelope Valley, which includes Lancaster and Palmdale, say they're not receiving enough money from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to deal with their rising homeless population. The candidates running in Tuesday's election to represent the area on the County Board of Supervisors agree, while saying local cities also need to share the burden of addressing the problem.

In this year’s homeless count, L.A. County found about 3,000 people in the Antelope Valley. Local officials and activists say they believe the real number is more than double that, the result of a sharp increase in the last three years.

"We think [the Homeless Services Authority] undercounts," says Jeremy Johnson, chief operating officer of Grace Resource Center, which runs the Lancaster shelter. 

Unlike single people, families are allowed to leave their belongings at Grace Resource Center's homeless shelter in Lancaster during the day.
Unlike single people, families are allowed to leave their belongings at Grace Resource Center's homeless shelter in Lancaster during the day.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Johnson and Lancaster city officials have pegged the number of Antelope Valley homeless at closer to 7,000. But even using the county’s numbers, officials here say this area should be getting a larger share of the money given out by the Homeless Services Authority.

The 3,000 figure would give the Antelope Valley about 7 percent of the county's homeless population, but the area only receives 2 percent of the Homeless Services Authority funding each year, says Johnson, who believes part of the problem is geography.

"A lot of it is out of sight out of mind," he says. "For many years this was a much smaller community, and in the last 10 years this community has really blossomed and grown in population, and I don’t think the county funding has matched that growth."

The Homeless Services Authority is an independent agency set up by the county and city of L.A. to coordinate federal, state and local homeless funding. A spokeswoman says she cannot immediately provide a specific figure for how much the agency provides to the Antelope Valley, because the organization's budget is organized by project, not by region.

The Antelope Valley is in the 5th supervisorial district, which also includes much of the San Gabriel Valley, Canoga Park and Chatsworth.

All but one of the eight candidates running to represent the area on the board of supervisors responded to KPCC's request for comment on the Antelope Valley's homeless funding issue.

Each candidate echoes L.A. city councilman Mitch Englander, who says the region's homeless "have not gotten their fair share for years and years, if not decades. They’ve been neglected."

Katheryn Barger, chief of staff for outgoing 5th District Supervisor Michael Antonovich, says homelessness is not just an issue for L.A.’s Skid Row.

"It’s within all 88 cities," she says. "The challenge we face, and I face, in the 5th district, is  ensuring that the resources are allocated across the board to address it on a regional basis."

All of the candidates interviewed say the county and cities need to help provide money for housing, shelters and services like job training.

Three candidates - Englander, State Sen. Bob Huff and author Darrell Park - endorse the "Housing First" approach.

This model, which Park says has been successful in Ottawa, Canada and Utah, focuses on finding the homeless individual a place to live, and then providing him with other kinds of support to help him get back on his feet.

Englander says the county and cities have a role to play in helping developers make Housing First work.

"We’ve really got to dig our heels in to streamline the process to allow affordable housing to be built," he says.

The other candidates in the race are Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, Altadena Town Councilman Billy Malone, businessman Raj Kahlon and county prosecutor Elan Carr.