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Op-ed from City of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris: Homeless Encampments Pose Public Safety Risks

Post Date:03/07/2019 3:30 PM

Public safety is the City of Lancaster’s highest obligation. Our taxpayers have entrusted us to provide a safe and clean community for them to enjoy.

That is now being jeopardized by the many homeless encampments across our community.

These encampments harbor public health risks that the city does not have the resources to manage. Recently, we’ve found human waste and used needles inside these encampments, which poses a major risk for communicable diseases like hepatitis A. As you may recall, there was a major hepatitis A outbreak in 2017 that warranted a state of emergency across California.  Public Health officials have alerted us to the extreme danger these camps pose to all of us.

Last year, a fire inside a concrete tunnel at one of these encampments burned for nearly 12 hours, posing yet another public safety risk. Beyond that, the encampments have other far-reaching environmental impacts. In 2018 alone, the city removed two million pounds of trash from these sites.

Simply put, these encampments threaten the high-quality community that Lancaster taxpayers expect and deserve from us.

We have therefore closed many of these encampments per state and federal laws. Though we are only legally required to give a 74-hour notice, we have gone above and beyond—providing a two-week notice. Prior to the cleanup of any given site, Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) representatives in coordination with various social services organizations visit each camp to assist with placement, treatment, and advocacy where possible.

We fully realize that closing these encampments is not a long-term solution. That is why we are committed to our ongoing collaboration with LAHSA, which does have the resources to address this complex issue. By working with the LAHSA and other organizations equipped to help, we are steadily building a sustainable solution.

Most recently, a co-ed 50-bed, wintertime homeless shelter opened at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. This was possible thanks to a partnership with LAHSA, the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, Grace Resources, the Salvation Army, Hope of the Valley, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

Addressing this issue in the long term, we are eager to open the state of the art Kensington Campus, a 14-acre development designed to house, employ, and rehabilitate the local homeless population. Slated to open this summer, this public-private partnership made possible in collaboration with In Site Development and The People Concern will be an important step in the right direction.

The solution to homelessness is not a simple nor immediate one. But the City of Lancaster has a history of rising to the meet and overcome insurmountable challenges and we are committed to giving this challenge our very best efforts.

– City of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris

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