LANCASTER – Downtown Los Angeles is actually sending transient individuals via Metrolink to access homeless services and resources from the city of Lancaster, council members argued at Tuesday’s meeting.
And in response, city officials have called for staff to study closing the Lancaster Metrolink Station.
“I’m thinking it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that 67 homeless people a day are being shipped from downtown to us,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said, expressing his exasperation over not only the city’s inadequate funding for its own growing population of homeless, but the apparent overflow of transitory homeless from other areas who are tapping into Lancaster’s own homeless resources.
“We are the most underfunded, underloved, undersupported area in the entire state,” Parris said. “What is happening in this city and in this area because of the absolute criminal neglect by LA County is intolerable.”
Lee D’Errico, Lancaster’s Public Safety Manager, told the council that he formed a recent evaluation team to study Metrolink riders whose destination was Lancaster. On one particular day he encountered “over 67 individuals that were coming here for transitory services to be provided,” D’Errico said. “They indicated to us that the train was their main mechanism for moving throughout communities to obtain those services.”
D’Errico said an “overabundance of transitory homelessness” was using up Lancaster’s local services intended for its own homeless population. The bottom line, he said, is Metrolink’s end of the line station.
“A majority of the individuals that we found in [Lancaster’s] downtown area were not our local homeless population but were of that transitory group that comes here, and their primary mode of transportation in our community was the Metrolink train.”
Concern over the station’s impact on the city’s homeless resources was only part of the conservation. Vice Mayor Marvin Crist also voiced concern with the security problems connected with the Metrolink station and a growing population of transients, which are not only affecting local businesses on The BLVD, but “our entire community.”
D’Errico agreed, attributing a great part of the transient problem to Metrolink’s inability to police its own ridership.
“The only place in LA County where Metrolink actually ensures that individuals are ticketed to ride that train is at the main service station,” he said. “Beyond that there is none – no security whatsoever – other than to ensure that nothing occurs at the station itself.”
Getting straight to the point, Mayor Parris asked city staff if the council could vote to close the station – “today.”
“No,” Lancaster City Attorney Allison Burns replied, “we need to do some analyses before we can do that – particularly in regard to the environment[al] impacts. Closing the station – that would be a discretionary action. It would require CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) compliance, and we’re undertaking those efforts now.”
Vice Mayor Crist wanted to be clear that such an action would not be based upon the city’s own homeless population – but on the population that is being “shipped up here.”
“We’ll take care of our own,” Crist said. “But if they want to ship them up here, they need to give us the funding for it. We’re not getting our proper funding that we should receive right now. We’re getting 2 percent when we should be getting 12 percent of [the county’s] total population. Skid Row gets $4,500 per person – we get $279 per person. So we’re grossly underfunded.”
The city’s inadequate funding for its homeless population continues to be a pressing issue with many on the council. Members are critical of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority regarding the city’s disproportionate funding. LAHSA provides Lancaster homeless service organizations with only about 2 percent of its total funding even though the Antelope Valley accounts for nearly 13 percent of the county’s homeless population.
If the city does close the station, Crist said Lancaster would provide more affordable bus connections through the AVTA to accommodate those commuters who are currently using the city’s Metrolink station to reach other destinations. Crist also added that average daily ridership at the Lancaster station was trending downward from 416 last year to 373 this year.
Councilwoman Sandra Johnson said she was onboard with taking steps toward closing the station, saying it was certainly in the council’s ability to do so.
“I agree that we need to be very proactive, and we have council members here who aren’t scared to speak up,” she said. “We’ve proven many times in this city that when we all come together as a community, we are heard, and people do react.”