Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Castaic Turns Its Back on U.S. Tradition
Published in The Signal, 10-23-2005.

Darryl Manzer, 2005     I drove up to Baltimore last week, and along the way I passed various historical signs and monuments to our nation's history. Williamsburg and Jamestown, where the first English colonies were started. Yorktown, site of the end of the American Revolution. Cold Harbor, Fredericksburg, Manassas, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Mount Vernon, and many other sites and cities rich in the historical fabric of these United States.
    Each of the major towns you've read about in your history books had something in common — a "poorhouse" or "debtor's prison." Sometimes they were called "workhouses." They were the government-sponsored places to house the homeless. (Of course, many of those who were housed in such places were there because of non-payment of taxes to the government of the day).
    It shows that even from the colonial days of our country, some type of homeless shelter was offered.
    What kind of folks went to the colonial "homeless shelters"? Those in debt and those who had been afflicted with consumption of too much "demon rum" and gin. Sometimes it was due to homes being lost to fire and flood that turned out whole families, so that they had to seek government shelter.
    No matter how far down folks seemed to go, the colonial governments acted to provide the necessary minimum shelter. The work houses and debtor's prisons lasted well into the mid-1800s.
    For those of you who want our country to return to the "Christian principles" of the founding fathers, you should look at what they took for granted. Homeless shelters did not spring forth during the Great Depression of the 1930s. America has been, in some form, taking care of its homeless since the first years of the colonies. It was a government function.
    So I read that the Castaic Area Town Council has rejected a proposal to site a homeless shelter in the parking lot of the prison located in the township. Not even next to a prison do they want it.
    "Not in my back yard," the council said, in effect. Do they even know what is already in their back yard? It appears not.
    I've worked with and for alcoholics and other drug addicts for nearly 30 years. It is a vocation that has brought me limitless spiritual health. Many of those I've worked with were homeless. Nobody else wanted anything to do with them. Many times I've seen men (and women) who had been sleeping under bridges, return to a socially acceptable and productive life, all because someone cared enough to offer them shelter, a little food and some time being clean and sober.
    It was scary at times. I didn't know the history and background of the folks who came into our home. But they, for the most part, just wanted to get better. Giving them a hand to help them get back on their feet was all they needed.
    Of course, there were those who just used the system and didn't get better. It wasn't for me to try and determine which ones would work out and which ones wouldn't. I am charged with being the "keeper of my brother," and I must have faith that God, as I understand God, will do the rest.
    It was a risk that I was and still am willing to take. It is how I give back some small measure of my good fortune to a society that has given me so much.
    So, Castaic Area Town Council, are you willing to have that small measure of faith that no good deed goes unrewarded? Are you willing to learn from history that each and every man and woman is worth a place of shelter? Even outside the walls of a prison? Are you willing to return to the principles that guided the founding fathers of these United States of America?
    Your recent vote tells me you don't want to be guided by anyone or anything except your fear that "they" will not be "good citizens" in your community. They're already there. How about giving them a warm place to sleep and maybe some food?
    Oh, I didn't tell you about one guy who went to the poorhouse because of his debts and drinking. Someone cared enough to help him then — and because of him, and his ability to win battles in the Civil War, we still have these United States.
    His name was Ulysses S. Grant.

    Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.

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