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City Officials Wary of Proposed Shelter for the Homeless : Services: Citizens group wants to start the east Newhall project by offering free showers to help transients spruce up for job interviews.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In an effort to cope with what some say is a problem overlooked by authorities, a citizens group hopes to open the city’s first full-time homeless facility next summer in a vacant building in east Newhall.

But city officials believe existing programs that provide temporary help are enough to meet the needs of the area’s limited homeless population, and they worry that a permanent facility might lure transients here from other cities.

There are 50 to 300 homeless living in Santa Clarita, many in east Newhall, said Tim Davis, one of 18 members on the Santa Clarita Shelter Committee.

He bases that number on figures that he has seen in city studies that discuss the homeless.

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But city and law enforcement officials dispute the figure, saying the area’s permanent homeless population, if one does exist, is much lower. Only after the Jan. 17 earthquake did homelessness dramatically rise, but that condition has since been alleviated.

Lt. Tim Peters of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station said homeless are occasionally seen in east Newhall, but there does not appear to be an ongoing problem.

The shelter committee wants to offer free showers for the homeless in a 5,000-square-foot, single-story brick building at San Fernando Road and Pine Street, Davis said. The group has not yet raised the funds to purchase the building, valued at $500,000 to $600,000, and has not obtained the required city permits for the showers.

“If an individual is trying to go out and get a job, and he looks bad and possibly smells bad, the likelihood of that individual getting a job is diminished,” Davis said.

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Additional services such as clothing lockers, meals, beds and job placement services are longer-term goals.

Santa Clarita Mayor Jo Anne Darcy said she has not seen the proposal. But her initial reaction to a shelter was unfavorable, since city officials hope to turn the aging downtown Newhall area into a retail attraction with an Old West-Victorian era theme.

“We’re hoping to change the look of downtown Newhall by changing it into a theme, and that doesn’t fit in with the theme,” she said.

But Davis said the proposed facility is several blocks from the downtown buildings and is surrounded by industrial businesses such as a recycling center and auto repair shops.

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Davis said it would take about $90,000 a year to maintain the facility. He said the committee hopes it can be funded through private and government grants. No substantial grants have yet been awarded to the group yet.

“We’re looking right now for people with a few hours a week to spend researching those possibilities,” he said.

Nearby merchants said they occasionally see a few transients, but were generally indifferent to the idea of a homeless shelter.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t care,” said Sam Hanna, owner of J&S; Auto Supply next to the proposed facility. “It won’t make any difference for us one way or another. . . . They don’t come in here.”

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The city already provides food and vouchers for temporary housing in motels through organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry, Darcy said. She does not believe there are enough homeless people here to warrant a full-time shelter and worries it could attract transients from other areas.

“If there is a need here, I have an open mind on the subject,” she said. “If it’s going to be used as a magnet, I wouldn’t be too pleased with that.”

George Pederson, a Santa Clarita city councilman, said he does not object to a full-fledged shelter, but the proposed shower-only facility would be a nuisance because it would leave people wandering on the street. He also disputes the idea that the problem is as serious as Davis contends.

The city has taken a hard-line stance to discourage homeless people in the past, including cleaning out three homeless camps in undeveloped areas near the Saugus Metrolink station in March, 1993. The cleanup was prompted by complaints from riders and nearby businesses that the makeshift shelters and trash were an eyesore.

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