The letter “A” emblazoned on the San Gabriel Mountains represents the City of Azusa. Azusa is seeing an increase in its population in recent years and is approaching 50,000 people. Over the course of the past year, Azusa has also seen an increase in the number of homeless people in the community. According to the 2018 homeless headcount, an annual census that was released at the end of May 2018, Azusa and the San Gabriel Valley more generally saw an increase in homelessness of nearly 3 percent from the prior year.

This comes at a juncture at which the county as a whole has seen a slight dip in its homeless population for the first time in a long time. Based on the 2018 headcount, it appears that the total number of homeless people in Los Angeles County has dropped by about 3 percent.

Increase in Homeless Encampments

Azusa has seen an increase in the number of homeless encampments in the community during the past five years. There is no evidence as of this time that the number of homeless encampments is dropping.

One development associated with homeless encampments is that they are being found in parts of the community in which they previously were not seen. This is a trend that has taken root across Los Angeles County since about 2013 or 2014.

Direct Services for People in Azusa Homeless Encampments

Communities in the San Gabriel Valley, including Azusa, are striving to come up with strategies to deal with homeless encampments. Of course, the ultimate solution to getting rid of homeless encampments is the development of permanent housing solutions for people living in these types of makeshift environments.

One strategy being utilized in Azusa and elsewhere in the valley are homeless services fairs. The concept behind homeless services fairs is an appreciation that homeless people can have difficulties in getting to offices at which information on services and resources can be accessed. Recognizing this reality, in Azusa and other communities in the San Gabriel Valley, the services are being brought to those who can benefit from them.

The City of Azusa reports that the homeless service fairs are decently attended. Despite the increase in the homeless population in the city over the past year, organizers of the fairs have noted that attendance has dropped somewhat. Organizers note that may be a positive development. By that they mean since the fairs have been occurring, a decent percentage of the homeless community in Azusa may have already been reached.

Another example of bringing service to the homeless is the mobile shower. A mobile shower unit can be taken almost anywhere, including to the site of a homeless encampment.

The mobile shower concept is not without detractors. There are people in Azusa who advocate for pushing for an elimination of homeless encampments for a number of reasons (which are discussed later in this article). These community members worry that provide easily accessible services like a mobile shower at a homeless encampment may make residents of these sites less apt to seek long term solutions for their situations. Mobile or temporary toilet facilities are being met with the same skepticism in some quarters as well.

Hazards of Homeless Encampments

There are hazards inherent to homeless encampments that warrant notation. In the absence of accessible toilet facilities, people who live in homeless encampments in Azusa oftentimes are relegated to relieving themselves out of doors. This results in highly unsanitary conditions and true health hazards. Not only are people who live in homeless encampments exposed to these health hazards, but the community at large is as well.

Professional homeless encampment cleanup specialists have been active in attempting to eradicate these types of health threats from homeless encampments. The ordinances from Azusa to other communities in the San Gabriel Valley vary. This has resulted in a patchwork of what can and cannot be done in the way of homeless encampment cleanup. Uniform rules in this regard are likely not coming any time soon.

Another reality of Azuda homeless encampments is that the crime rate in the area around these sites increases. The types of crimes most likely to increase at or around homeless encampments include:

  • Theft
  • Drug crimes (illegal use and sales)
  • Assault
  • Public intoxication
  • Public urination (and defecation, for that matter)
  • Prostitution

As homeless encampments crop up in neighborhoods that have been largely free of this type of criminal activity, businesses owner and residents alike are highly concerned and call out for action from the municipal and county governments.

Image Courtesy of Mr.TinDC.