I read with interest Mr. Parry’s blog post regarding the homeless in Library Park. Mr. Parry provided a very honest assessment of the mix of compassion and concern that he experienced when visiting Library Park and being confronted with the uncomfortable reality of homelessness in Monrovia. Yes, there are homeless people in our community and they are not just confined to Library Park. And, the City is paying attention to this issue and trying to address the problems that arise from the presence of homeless persons in our community.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority conducts a County-wide biennial count of homeless individuals. The last count was conducted last January and the results of that effort were released earlier this summer. The results were sadly that homelessness in Los Angeles County, including the San Gabriel Valley, is increasing. The homeless population in Los Angeles County increased by 16%. Here in the San Gabriel Valley, the population increased by over 11%. According to LAHSA, the causes of homelessness include lingering effects of the recession exacerbated by the region’s high unemployment rate, a reduction in state and federal funding to provide housing, lack of affordable housing, increasing numbers of probationers released as a result of prison realignment, and the in-migration of homeless people from other parts of the country.
As noted by several of the commenters in this thread, there a several reasons that the City of Monrovia attracts homeless people. First, we are compassionate. Our community supports a number of very successful service providers such as the Unity Center, San Anita Family Services and Pacific Clinics. In addition, many of our local churches minister to and provide goods and services to the homeless to offer a measure of comfort and dignity to their lives. I am grateful that these services are provided to our community, but the presence of these providers provides a reason for homeless people to stay. Second, we are a safe community. Homeless people, like everyone else, want to be in an environment where they feel safe. In Monrovia, with our low crime rate, even individuals without the security of shelter are not subject to violent crime or fear of bodily harm. And, third, our climate, like much of Southern California, is more comfortable than most areas for being outdoors.
Many of those who commented want the City to do something. Well, we have been taking many steps to address these concerns. However, it isn’t a crime to be mentally ill, or to lay on a blanket or sleeping bag in a public park. It is a crime to harass or threaten people, to vandalize property or to deal drugs, and Monrovia Police Officers have devoted a substantial amount of time arresting many of the homeless persons who engage in those activities. Many of these people have been arrested multiple times. However, the Los Angeles County Superior Court system doesn’t have the capacity to incarcerate any but the most violent offenders, so most of those arrested return by the next day. MPD has had some success in securing restraining orders against some of the most problematic offenders, and when those orders are violated our officers have re-arrested those individuals. Our officers patrol throughout the Old Town area, including Library Park. However, the City doesn’t have the capability of assigning an officer to be at the park at all times.
In addition to the enforcement actions that we have taken, the City has added and repaired lighting around the Community Center, secured areas where homeless people occupied at night, modified operations at the Community Center and the Library to deter loitering, and worked with the property management company at the Pavilions’ shopping center to address homeless activities at that location.
The causes for homelessness are varied and so must be the solutions. MPD will continue to devote resources to addressing the public safety concerns and we will work with local service providers to find ways to transition as many as possible from homelessness to safe and supportive housing.