While driving their minivans along the usual route from Starbucks to soccer practice, as the kids sit tight in the backseat glued to mobile devices, Santa Clarita residents are often shocked as they now see what has become a foreign concept to locals: homelessness. But is this issue more common in Santa Clarita or is it a mirage? Furthermore, can the root causes of homelessness be sorted out or should the problem be seen merely as inevitable?
Homelessness is a topic often mixed into a cocktail of politically fashionable issues to discuss at social events, in conjunction with race relations, wage inequality and global warming. The obvious problem with these types of conversations is that they rarely solve anything, except soothing the guilty consciences of the speaker. So in order to cut out the rhetoric and get to the issue at hand, facts must be examined.
Despite many studies on the national homeless population, it is obviously very difficult to count those who are not accounted for. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, in any given year, approximately 3.5 million Americans may experience homelessness. These statistics, though, are based on the amount of people who use service providers such as shelters, so the numbers may be skewed.
State statistics are slightly more concrete, with about 113, 952 homeless individuals in the state of California, and about 12,000 having been veterans. While this statistic may seem alarming, it is a mere percentage of California’s population.
Santa Clarita, though, has long been seen as a suburban sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. So when a lonely bearded man holding out a tin cup and a cardboard sign is spotted, city locals are justifiably surprised.
Erin Lay, the Housing Program Administrator in City Hall, deals with this subject on a daily basis. According to Lay, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) conducts a bi-annual survey of homeless people in the area. The Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing explains that there are about 612 homeless individuals in Santa Clarita.
The city’s sole homeless shelter, known as Bridge to Home, sits nestled in the middle of Canyon Country. It began in 1996, and operates during the winter months with a budget of $1 million, according to the organization’s website. They only provide assistance to homeless families with children, however.
“Not everyone knows that this is an existent problem in Santa Clarita,” said Aly Guevara, Bridge to Home employee. “We are just trying to make sure that resources exists, and that people are educated and know that this is a problem.”
So at last, when the statistics are sorted out and the paperwork filed, the question becomes why are these individuals on the streets? Guevara revealed her beliefs regarding the root causes of homelessness in the city, which she sees as being neither mental illness nor substance abuse, but wages earned. “If you try to calculate how much people make on minimum wage, which is common, and then try to live off that with a family of five or four, it’s very difficult,” she asserts. “It should be more like a living wage, associated with what the economy dictates for living expenses.”
Many Americans share this belief. Most economists agree, though, that when businesses are required to raise the minimum wage, they are unable to hire as many people. In a 1966 Newsweek article, Milton Friedman, one of the most eminent economists of the 20th century, stated that wage increases “will induce employers to replace such workers with other workers- either to do the same work…or to produce machinery to do the work.” (http://0055d26.netsolhost.com/friedman/pdfs/newsweek/NW.09.26.1966.pdf)
Moreover, in Spain, South Africa and Greece, minimum wage laws are extremely generous. It may shock certain readers to note that, according to CIA.gov, the rates of unemployment for each of these countries in 2014 were 24.3 percent, 25 percent, and 26.8 percent, respectively. Yet in Switzerland, a country that to this day does not have a federal minimum wage law, the 2014 unemployment rate was 3.2 percent.
Another sad fact is that the minimum wage laws likely contribute to the homelessness of minorities. According to economist Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at Stanford University, the most recent year the black unemployment rate was lower that that of whites was 1930. This also happened to be the final year in which there were no federal minimum wage laws.
Unemployment is certainly a primary concern to homeless people, yet recent wage increases may, in fact, fan the flames of homelessness, both throughout the world and even in Santa Clarita.
Unfortunately, as homeless statistics are tough to find, is difficult to determine whether or not homelessness has increased in the city of Santa Clarita in recent years. Most residents have begun to see homeless individuals pop up now and again around the city, so it is assumed that the number has increased.
In addition to the possibility that wage increases heighten concerns, on average, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 26 percent of homeless people in the country are mentally ill. This is most certainly a factor as well, and the issue of mental illness abuse may need to be addressed along with economic concerns.
It can be assumed that homelessness will probably remain an inevitable part of the American economic system as well as the world’s. The sound of a tin cup receiving a donation from the minivan driving to soccer practice may indeed become commonplace. It’s also clear that without Santa Clarita residents and, indeed, Americans addressing the issue of wage increases as well as mental illness, the problem will persist, from Skid Row to Old Town Newhall.