At Hubbard Street and Glenoaks Boulevard in Sylmar, two groups of people gathered on Sept. 16 at the same corner where a security guard was killed last month allegedly by a transient who was accused of stealing beer from a supermarket.
The more numerous were residents concerned by the growing insecurity they feel in Sylmar and who cite problems with the growing number of homeless on the streets on this corner in the northeast San Fernando Valley. “We want an increase in police, fire protection, sanitation, public works,” recited former San Fernando City Mayor Joanne Baltierrez-Fernandez, now with the Sylmar Advocacy Group that organized its demonstration and subsequent march.
Standing next to them was a smaller but also vocal group of people advocating providing more services to those without homes.
The members of this group represented the San Fernando Valley Greens, Sisters on the Streets and other people who defend the homeless. “People need help” is what they emphasized as they stood next to those wanting more security.
John DeVincent, a Reseda resident and member of San Fernando Valley Greens, said they support a plan to establish a year-round shelter at the National Guard Armory in Sylmar, which currently opens only during winter months.
Pastor Kathy Huck of Sisters on the Streets said she’s been working with those without a home for the past six years, and instead of protesting against the homeless on the streets it would be better to house them in a safe facility.
She took issue with some of the signs carried by those on the Safer Sylmar side, particularly those that made referencing to “dumping” and “clean-up.”
“They’re employing words like ‘dumping’ and ‘clean-up’ as if homeless were garbage. They’re human beings,” Huck said.
She added that in her experience, “most people want to leave the streets.”
“If we get people the right help, we’re going to help each other,” Huck said.
It’s the defining and determining what is “the right help” that was the divide of the gathering of grassroots organizations on the streets.
“It takes two hours to get to anyone when you call the police,” Fernandez said. “We have two police cars to patrol 12 square miles and 90,000 residents.”
While Fernandez noted their organization is not against the homeless, she and others in the Sylmar Advocacy Group admitted that the growing indigent population is not only an eyesore in the community, but a source of uneasiness.
“Transients come to our yards and use our hoses,” said Mary Gallardo, adding that she’s found them drinking and getting water there. Some are even washing themselves.
“(The homeless) are protected more than we are,” Gallardo said, among her gripes with this issue.
Gallardo also described an incident she said happened two months ago at the Vons Supermarket along Foothill Boulevard, near Hubbard Street.
“A man was chasing two girls with a knife. An employee tried to stop him and they called the police and arrested him,” she explained, and added the incident “shook her up.”
Other residents described streets filled with RVs, homeless encampments and aggressive panhandling.
Jose Diaz, a resident and group member, said he’s become an unofficial homeless outreach volunteer checking up on people who live on the streets, some of whom turn violent instead of thanking him.
“The goal is to inspire them to seek services,” he said of heading out onto the streets once a week. “But 99.9 percent of the time, they refuse services.”
He said what he often hears from those living on the streets is that they would rather not deal with shelter rules. They also don’t like nosey people.
“They get pissed off when you’re persistent,” Diaz said, describing incidents of being threatened by brass knuckles with blades on them.
Another time, a homeless person broke the windshield of Diaz’ car after he approached an RV parked along San Fernando Road, near Polk Street.
“People are scared. We’re scared for our lives,” Gallardo summarized.
Added Diaz, “Out there it’s just me, myself and God.”
The straw that broke the camel’s back for many is what happened on the afternoon of Aug. 6.
That day Santiago Madrigal, 24, of Sylmar, allegedly to stabbed Joe Lopez to death. Lopez, a security guard, tried to stop Madrigal after he came out of a Food 4 Less supermarket at the plaza on Glenoaks Boulevard and Hubbard Street for supposedly stealing beer from the business.
Madrigal — who some described as a transient, although others say he lived in a home nearby — remains in custody in lieu of $2 million bail.
Lopez, 28, was engaged to be married.
Gallardo, who had started shopping at Food 4 Less after witnessing the knife incident at the Vons supermarket, said she has stopped buying groceries in the neighborhood where she lives.
“I work in Canoga Park and I just stop and shop there, which is sad,” she said.
Homeless Not The Problem
Homelessness is such a growing problem throughout the region that both the City and the County of Los Angeles are trying to tackle it by raising funds through a sale tax and a bond. They hope to use the funds build housing and provide added services.
LAPD Officer Crawford from the Mission Station, one of two officers who showed up to check on the protest and keep the peace among the groups, acknowledged that homelessness “has become a crisis.”
“There’s a lot more,” he said, adding that they’ve also seen an “increase in calls” from residents complaining about this issue.
He said police try to respond to as many calls as they can, depending on the gravity of the situation.
Numbers from this year’s Los Angeles Homeless Count seem to support this view.
It found that there were 55,188 individuals living without a roof over their heads in the Los Angeles County, with 7,790 of them in the San Fernando Valley. That’s compared with 4,837 homeless recorded in the Valley in 2011.
Higher rents, the housing debacle from some years ago, mental health issues and even Proposition 47 — a ballot initiative passed by California voters in 2014 that reduced certain drug possession felonies to misdemeanors and led to prisoners being released — are some of the factors cited for this increase.
The Sylmar Advocacy Group plans to continue pushing for a safe and cleaner community, and has scheduled a town hall meeting where it expects to have representatives from the Los Angeles County and Los Angeles City Council.
The Town Hall will be held Saturday, Sept. 23, starting at 10 a.m. at the St. Didacus School, located at 14325 Astoria Street in Sylmar. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.