Burbank's 'homeless plan' will be a group effort

Several city of Burbank departments as well as local residents are banding together to start developing ways to address homelessness in the city.

Officials from the Community Development, Library Services, Parks and Recreation Department as well as the Burbank Police Department said they recognize that it is going to take more than one group to come up with a solution to the homeless issue in Burbank, surrounding cities and region.

Understanding that, the City Council unanimously voted last week to have city staff start working on ways to address all the aspects of homelessness and to draft a "Homeless Plan" by September.

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"I think it is important for all of us to understand that this is the beginning of what will be an ongoing dialogue," said Judie Wilke, parks and recreation director. "We can't rush to judgment or solutions or think we will have a quick fix. From the onset, I think it's best to be honest and say that there is no single or easy answer that will fix homelessness in our community, because if there were, homelessness would have been solved by now."

Wilke said the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported a 5.7% rise in the homeless population in L.A. County, from 44,439 in 2015 to 46,874 in 2016.

There is also some indication that the homeless population in Burbank, which Wilke said is about 168 people on any given night, is increasing.

In January, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center and Burbank officials conducted a homeless count. The data from the outing will not be available until this spring. However, officials are predicting the population will have grown by about 20%, according to a city staff report.

Some of the contributing factors in the homeless population's growth in Burbank and across the country are dwindling federal, state and city resources to address the issue, a shortage of housing, increasing rents and more people showing a lack of willingness to help, Wilke said.

"Burbank is an affluent city that does not have a lot of housing, and the housing we have is very expensive," she said.

When it comes to homeless people sleeping in parks, Wilke said that if the city bans tents and canopies in public areas, then no one can use them because it would be discriminatory against the homeless.

Additionally, if a city asks a homeless person to leave a location where he or she is sleeping and has nowhere else to stay, the city must provide that person with an alternate location to go, Wilke said.

"In the past, the city had a winter shelter and then later financially participated with a shelter in Glendale," she said. "However, the city is not hosting or supporting a winter shelter this year, and the closest shelter is in Sylmar, which requires transportation to and from the facility."

Burbank Police Capt. Denis Cremins said about 12% of the police department's calls for service are about homelessness around the city, mainly due to fear.

"Sometimes [a resident] will look at a homeless individual based upon their physical appearance, and it just evokes some type of inherent fear," he said. "It may be due to their hygiene, they may be viewed as a lawbreaker or assume they are a lawbreaker or worse."

Marcos Gonzales, grants coordinator for the city's Community Development Department, outlined the programs and funds to which the homeless have access to or can apply.

Gonzales said the city recently received a $452,000 allocation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide 20 permanent, supportive housing units.

"That is something that's worth mentioning, due to the fact that we have a very long waiting list for Section 8 housing," he said. "We have a lack of affordable housing in Burbank, and these funds can be targeted to the folks that are most vulnerable and in need of housing."

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Anthony Clark Carpio, anthonyclark.carpio@latimes.com

Twitter: @acocarpio

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