Claire O'Garro, Area Director
Linda Malerba, SCV Program Director

Lutheran Social Services of Southern California

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Sunday, December 12, 2004
(Television interview conducted December 8, 2004)

Claire O'Garro - Linda Malerba     "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmakers are Area Director Claire O'Garro and SCV Program Director Linda Malerba of Lutheran Social Services of Southern California, which is operating under contract with the city of Santa Clarita to provide creative homeless services. The interview was conducted Wednesday. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: You've got the contract with the city of Santa Clarita to provide "creative homeless services." What does the contract entail?

O'Garro: Basically, the contract allows us to find shelter for persons who are residing in the Santa Clarita Valley. Our intent with the proposal originally was to provide rehabilitation services, primarily for those that are homeless and wanted to get relief from their state of being homeless.

Signal: Without a shelter in Santa Clarita, where would they go?

O'Garro: Part of the creative solution was, how do you find shelter for someone when there's not shelter in that immediate area? So our solution was to collaborate with programs, with other areas that have shelter programs, and be able to case-manage in that sense, work with the homeless families or individuals to find out what their needs are, and if it is appropriate for them to take advantage of shelter programs that exist in other areas, then we would be able to enroll them in those programs and transport them to receive the necessary services.

Signal: You're actually working one-on-one with homeless individuals?

Claire O'Garro
Claire O'Garro
O'Garro: Correct.

Signal: Are there different kinds of programs for different kinds of homeless people?

O'Garro: Absolutely. Because homelessness is such a complex issue. You have the chronic homeless who are not going to want to be rehabilitated. They have gotten used to their way of life, or they have developed paranoias that have prevented them from really reintegrating successfully into communities. And that's a whole venue to work with in itself.
    And then you have homeless families which ... typically are persons who, there was no safety net for them. They lost their job, there was an illness, they became homeless due to circumstances, and they want to get shelter and they want to work their way out of homelessness and be able to provide for their families. So you have many different types of homelessness.

Signal: Your proposal to the city of Santa Clarita indicated there were three shelters — two in the San Fernando Valley, and the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles — that had agreed in writing to accommodate people you referred to them. Is it just a matter of finding space, or do they offer different services?

Malerba: Well, Union Rescue is pretty much a full-service shelter. They have medical services, psychiatric services, dental services, transitional housing right there, long-term housing up to two years, employment incorporated right into the program right there onto the site, a bus system that picks up the school children who reside there and takes them to school, transports them right back to the shelter each day. So they have quite a bit of services that are available.

Signal: On Wednesday the Los Angeles City Council voted 15-0 to oppose any proposal that would result in homeless people from Santa Clarita, and any other city, being sent to a shelter in Los Angeles. Does that mess up your plan?

Malerba: The point of time that we're addressing for shelter is the cold, wet season, which is Dec. 1 to March 15. If we have a shelter here in Santa Clarita, there's the rest of the year to deal with. So if someone wants shelter March 16 here in Santa Clarita, even if we have a shelter here — with this (decision, they have) no place to go.
    If they want to really be rehabilitated, they want to get into a program where they can really be case-managed tightly, have a place to live, have food to eat, there's nothing in Santa Clarita that provides that.

Signal: Your plan is to offer services that go beyond temporary winter housing?

Linda Malerba
Linda Malerba
Malerba: The way the proposal was written, it is based on a 12-month program. Our whole goal is collaboration with other agencies, other nonprofits — even in Santa Clarita — and also being able to case-manage to hopefully rehabilitate.

O'Garro: I think you brought up a good point. We proposed working on a case-by-case basis, and going at length to find out what are the reasons for being homeless. If they're (suffering from) mental illness — where can we refer you to get the services, the medication, the psychiatric treatment that you need for mental illness? And so on, all the way down the line. That's a year-round situation.
    Our intent was to work with the homeless in that aspect rather than just give them a place to sleep at night, and the next day they're right back in that same situation.

Signal: The city of Santa Clarita got into the homeless services business seven years ago when it set aside space for the Santa Clarita Interfaith Council and then a separate nonprofit, the Santa Clarita Community Development Corp., to operate a winter shelter. Is what you're offering more in-depth?

Malerba: Well, CDC, to start, was doing the shelter. The winter shelter program. Their goal is to make a long-term shelter, have a transitional housing piece — I mean, really work up to rehabilitation. And there have been a lot of stumbling blocks. It wasn't that CDC hasn't been having a plan and working toward that plan; it's just — there's been roadblocks all along the way. That's one of the reasons they bade out of the proposal.

Signal: Which roadblocks?

Malerba: Well, difficulties in finding sites that were going to be acceptable to the city.

Signal: Linda, you're on the board of the CDC; this year it will be a cooperative effort between Lutheran Social Services and CDC, right?

Malerba: Definitely.

Signal: If L.A. won't accommodate Santa Clarita's homeless, will a potential county shelter off of Soledad Canyon Road near The Home Depot be sufficient?

O'Garro: Maybe it would help to distinguish, when we talk about the shelters.
    There's the shelter that's needed for the homeless persons who live in encampments, inappropriate places, parks or whatever, and they need a place to live, to be sheltered in the cold-weather season because the exposure is so high and they could die. So you have that as a "rescue" sort of a shelter, and those people who are chronic homeless would apply to that.
    Now, if you're operating that kind of shelter on a county level, then you're relieving the problem of — you know, you're doing the humane thing for the homeless so they're not vulnerable to the elements. But if you're talking about a shelter that works with those secondary types of homeless that we already identified — those who want to get out of their state of homelessness — then a shelter that just houses them for one night and puts them out on the street the next day — and you have children, and you have spouses, and combining the two might not be appropriate, either. Because then you have transients and vagrants and persons with criminal backgrounds or perpetrators that you don't know that are homeless on the street; you wouldn't put them in a shelter with children and women, trying to get them rehabilitated and back on track.

Signal: What is Lutheran Social Services' experience in providing homeless services?

O'Garro: Lutheran Social Services of Southern California ... is an agency that covers all of Southern California, so you have eight geographically determined areas, each run by area directors with its own types of programs and services.
    The program that started in the San Fernando Valley over 26 years ago, 27 years ago, was a response to the need after the earthquake for emergency assistance. So that's how it started. And from there, it started to do more than just provide emergency assistance; it wanted to provide long-term assistance to help persons get out of poverty and low income, into being contributing members of their community. It has done that in a variety of ways, through employment programs, through eviction prevention programs throughout the years, in different venues and avenues.
    Right now in the Santa Clarita Valley, where our response to the need came up was when the churches were contacting us and saying, "We're getting these homeless persons without resources, coming to our doorsteps and asking for help. We're not sure if we're handling this in an appropriate way by giving them money ... if they're taking advantage or whatever." So, we started a community care center in the Santa Clarita Valley in response to that, hoping that we'd be able to, like Linda said, case-manage these people and find out where they're coming from, what their difficulties are, how we can resolve their situation, and go forward from there.

Signal: When did you open the branch here in Santa Clarita?

Malerba: One year ago.

Signal: You operate out of Bethlehem Lutheran Church?

Both: Yeah.

Signal: What organizations here in Santa Clarita do you partner with to provide the various services?

Malerba: We partner with WorkSource; EDD refers us a lot of their people for more intensive services that maybe they're not able to do. We work with the Santa Clarita Pregnancy Center; the Food Pantry sends us people; a variety of different agencies here we work with. And also it's been publicized pretty heavily to other agencies out in Santa Clarita that we are available, the services that we provide. The (county) Department of Health — we also get frequent referrals from there, and Henry Mayo Hospital sends us (people) —

O'Garro: (To Malerba) And you've also established a coalition of faith-based and community-based organizations, and I think the number is about 13 at present?

Malerba: Right. We've got about 13. Once a month we meet and discuss community issues, see where we can work together as a collaborative, and I've found that it's better to work in a group than singly.

Signal: It seems you're indicating that people aren't merely homeless; they might need of a lot of different kinds of services — which you also provide.

Malerba: Another thing is how many people (there are) here in Santa Clarita who look great, great house, great kids; should they lose their job tomorrow, they don't have the reserve to keep them in their home for two months, three months —

O'Garro: Or lose a spouse —

Malerba: Right. Or people who go through a divorce, the whole thing changes. Somebody loses a job or is sick or is out of work for a week, for six weeks, because of their illness; there are lots of reasons people have this strong need.

Signal: In your proposal to the city, you refer to an estimated 96 homeless adults in Santa Clarita. How did you derive that figure?

O'Garro: We actually got that number from the city of Santa Clarita. They provided those numbers for us.

Signal: There are homeless children as well —

O'Garro: Well, those numbers were based on the experience of the Santa Clarita Community Development Corp. in operating the cold-weather shelter in the previous years.

Malerba: And I think the number actually went up to 120 unduplicated clients who were homeless over the course of the cold, wet season last year.

Signal: How many people would use the Santa Clarita shelter on an average night last season?

Malerba: It could be anywhere from 25 to 40, and then we also had a voucher system for families with children, because it wasn't really appropriate for them to be staying —

Signal: Kids don't stay in the shelter.

Malerba: Right. So they would stay at a local motel.

Signal: Do you have local motels lined up to take families this year?

Malerba: We have one that's committed, but we're waiting for LAHSA to approve the funds for the motel vouchers.

O'Garro: And we do have some motel vouchers through the contract with the city of Santa Clarita.

Malerba: Right. A small amount.

Signal: Who is LAHSA and what do they have to do with anything?

Malerba: They have a lot do with everything —

O'Garro: They are Los Angeles Housing Services Authority. They are the main organization that addresses the issues of homelessness in the county of Los Angeles.

Signal: It's not exactly a county agency and its not exactly a city agency, right?

O'Garro: Not to my understanding. I mean, I understand that they receive funding from the county, and their exact relationship to the city (of Los Angeles), if they are city-operated or not —

Malerba: They also get city and state funds.

Signal: You've estimated it will cost $71,000 to provide your services in Santa Clarita?

Malerba: Well, the proposal was offering $36,000, OK?

Signal: $36,000 of a $71,000 program would be provided by the city of Santa Clarita?

O'Garro: In other words, that's what we would contribute to make it.

Signal: Who else the funds you?

O'Garro: We get funding from a variety of sources. From fund-raisers we get funding, from foundations we get funding, from government sources for certain programs — city, state, we also have federal funding for an unemployment program here in the Santa Clarita Valley — and individual donations.

Signal: With so many things up in the air right now, if somebody's homeless and comes to you today, do you have to turn them away?

O'Garro: It's interesting how this developed, because all of the time in case management in the San Fernando Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley, we always search out resources available for persons in need.
    If you have a specialty, and your specialty is housing the homeless, and we don't have a shelter, we're going to collaborate with you for the homeless that we do have. In return, we're going to manage those homeless and resources that the shelter may not provide, whether it's food, clothing, job leads, what have you. So in that sense, that's the way we have always managed persons who are in need of help, whether it's homelessness or employment. We may have employment services; we might provide job readiness training; but there may be another agency or one-stop agency — government, nonprofit, what have you — that has a specialization. We'll refer that person to that service because we don't want to duplicate what's already being done.
    So, in the regard that you're saying, what would we do if a person comes in? The same thing we always have done. On a case-by-case basis, we would find out what their needs are; we would provide what we can out of our resources; and if they need further assistance, we'll refer them or follow them to whomever can provide that.

Signal: There seems to be a perception on the part of the L.A. City Council that Santa Clarita just wants to ship its homeless to Los Angeles.

Malerba: And that's not true. That's not true. The bottom line is, in reading the "request for proposal" from the city (of Santa Clarita), they gave us stringent rules and limitations that we had to follow. No. 1, they were only willing to give $36,000. No. 2, getting this money did not ensure that they were going to give a use permit. So should we want to target it toward a shelter, that does not mean that they're going to give us the (permit to open a shelter in Santa Clarita). So, they also offered — this money can be used for transportation, counseling, case management, anything, but should you want to aim toward a shelter, it doesn't mean (they're) going to give us a use permit. So I hope that answers your question.

O'Garro: We had to work with what was available. We did the best we could to be creative and do something for the persons who were in need of shelter or rehabilitation.

Signal: Some local residents wanted the Santa Clarita City Council to reapprove a CDC-run winter shelter. How would you assess the way the city has chosen to deal with homelessness this year, through this bid process?

O'Garro: In a sense, I applaud the City Council (for) — land usage aside, and the permits and all the political issues with their not having provided the land usage that Santa Clarita Community Development Corp. had wanted all along — that aside, the fact that there wasn't a shelter for this year, at least they provided something that the homeless weren't going to go entirely without.
    This creative alternative solution is not the best — in any means — response to the homeless issue in Santa Clarita, don't get me wrong. But at least it had a large enough of a provision where the homeless weren't going to be left without anything, in light of the fact that there's no cold weather shelter.
    It doesn't address the need for a shelter in Santa Clarita in any way, and I think that's what you were talking about. And it wouldn't, for $36,000 anyway, you can't operate. The operating cost of a shelter is immense, which is one of the reasons places like L.A. Family Housing are no longer even taking walk-in services for homeless, because operating costs for the shelter are immense.

Signal: Your proposal had language to the effect that these were the things you were going to do until such time as Santa Clarita had a shelter. Would it benefit you to have a shelter in Santa Clarita?

O'Garro: Not us, but the homeless. Absolutely. Like Linda said, if you are homeless in Santa Clarita, and you identify yourself from Santa Clarita and of Santa Clarita, you really don't want to be removed from your community where you may have established ties, or at least have become familiar with — you don't want to do that.

Malerba: And the thing is, some of the families that are homeless — I just had one the other day, they had several children, they were registered in the schools in Santa Clarita. I offered them — I said, I'm going to get something for you in North Hollywood; that's the closest we can get today. And they said, "We really want to stay in Santa Clarita. The kids are going to school here, my husband has a job here, we just had some unfortunate circumstances. We've used the last bit of our money for our motel, and what can you do?"

Signal: If there's to be a shelter in Santa Clarita, is it proper for the city to fund it, or for the county, or does it matter, or should everybody kick in?

O'Garro: I think everybody should kick in. I really believe that. And I think it takes everybody kicking in, and that includes mental health services, too. Everybody, absolutely.

Signal: After Mayor Bob Kellar supposedly told an L.A. Times columnist to "go talk to Santa Monica" about what can go wrong when a city throws open its doors to the homeless, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom replied in a letter saying, "Other cities don't do their share to address the tragic regional problem of homelessness. I urge Santa Clarita and other cities in the county to stop depending on the city next door and instead participate in 'Bring L.A. Home,' a multipartner effort to end homelessness in our region within the next 10 years." Tell us about multi-city efforts. What is the ultimate answer for ending the cycle of homelessness?

O'Garro: Well, there is a 10-year plan to end homelessness, and I have participated in some of the planning committees that go into that. It is huge and it is complex, because the whole homeless issue is so huge and complex. And the fact they're saying that it takes 10 years — you can imagine, with all of the resources, and all of the coming together to provide that, that's exactly what it is. It's getting a plan, a comprehensive plan, using all of the areas and the resources of that area to try and end homelessness as we know it. But it's just not that easy. It's very involved.

Signal: If 70 percent of the homeless suffer from some sort of mental illness, and others who used to be one paycheck away are now homeless, is it realistic to think there's some magic way to make homelessness go away altogether?

Malerba: I don't think so.

O'Garro: If you were talking about ending homelessness as we know it by making every person become self-sufficient and being able to have the income to have a place to live off of their own means, I think that that would be too idealistic.
    There are those who are always going to be, for whatever reasons — mental reasons, whatever they developed, post traumatic syndrome — whatever those things are that prevent them from being able to hold jobs or assimilate into society in meaningful ways. They are going to need shelter. So you can end homelessness by sheltering them, but that's not so easy, either, because then they don't get along with each other, or there all kinds of difficulties with that, too.

Malerba: My feeling is that when you look at statistics of people who are homeless, it has been said that 70 percent of homeless people were in foster care. So if you really want to go back — you know, the chicken-or-the-egg thing — we need to start with the kids. We need start with them and get them to a healthy place where they can function in society, where they can have support and be able to go to the right places, have family, go to school, have a college degree or some kind of a certificate where they can make a decent living. Because living in Santa Clarita — the rents aren't cheap, and working at Denny's, you're going to be living with a few families in an apartment —

O'Garro: It's a really good point. I think the best way to end homelessness is to prevent homelessness, and the programs for the city of Santa Clarita, for any city — you look at eviction protection programs, you look at those safety-net programs that can keep the families from being homeless.
    What do you do? The family comes in, their rent has increased 400 percent and they don't have an increase in income, and to that extent they're — next month, two months away, 60-day notice — going to be homeless. So, those kinds of resources and programs would be extremely valuable, as well.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

©2004 SCVTV.
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