Lancaster is a city with a rapidly growing population. The city currently has about 160,000 residents. Lancaster is home to a variety of unique enterprises, including the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. The city is also the location of the Lancaster State Prison, the only state correctional facility in Los Angeles County, although the county accounts for 40 percent of the state inmate population.
Since Lancaster became the new end of the line for Metrolink commuter train service several years ago, the homeless population spiked upward. Some analysts attributed to what they called the train version of Greyhound therapy. Greyhound therapy is a practice in some communities of putting homeless people on a bus to transport them out of town.
There has also been a trend throughout Los Angeles County in which homeless people have been migrating from the core of the City of Los Angeles to other points across the area. This includes the growth of homeless encampments across the county in the past couple of years. Encampments have cropped up in locations that were never imagined even a few years ago – including in Lancaster. This trend towards the spread of homeless encampments is not expected to abate any time soon. Thus, Lancaster anticipates seeing not only an increase in the local homeless population but also in the incidence of homeless encampments in the city.
Getting a Grip on Homelessness in Lancaster
As will be discussed in greater detail in a moment, the City of Lancaster is working to get a better understanding of homelessness in the community. This includes the compilation of Lancaster specific data about homelessness in the community.
Right now, Lancaster extrapolates data about local homelessness based on the annual homeless census undertaken by the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority in January of each year. The countywide homeless population is estimated to be 57,794. Only about 14,966 are sheltered. The remainder, 42,828, live on the streets. Of this number, a growing percentage are gravitating to homeless encampments, including encampments that are beginning to appear even in communities like Lancaster.
Lancaster and Homeless Encampments
The City of Lancaster utilizes the standard definition of a homeless encampment. A homeless encampment is defined as a group of more than one homeless person or family. These groups oftentimes construct what commonly is referred to as a tent city. In reality, these so-called tents really are makeshift or lean-tos. A homeless encampment may consist of just a few people to over a hundred.
Homeless encampments can present issues involving biohazards, requiring homeless encampment cleanup or biohazard cleanup. An array of different types of biohazards can be found at Lancaster homeless encampments. These include:
- Human feces and urine
- Blood and other bodily fluids
- Contaminated sharps, specifically needles
Sharps represent a particular problem in and around homeless encampments. As a result, Lancaster, together with other Los Angeles communities, have joined with the county to better coordinate the safe disposal of sharps, particularly used needles. Towards this end, permanent collection centers exist for the disposal of needles and other sharps: Los Angeles Permanent Collection Centers.
Throughout the year, special sharps collection events occur. A resident of Lancaster can sign up to be on an email list to receive information about upcoming collection events: Los Angeles Collection Events.
Services for Homeless People in Lancaster
There are a number of services for homeless people in Lancaster. These include the Antelope Valley Rescue Mission. The facility is located at:
Antelope Valley Rescue Mission
44211 Yucca Avenue
Lancaster, California 93534
The Lancaster Community Homelessness Plan
Lancaster has launched the development of what the city government is calling the Lancaster Community Homelessness Plan. According to the City of Lancaster, the Lancaster Community Homelessness Plan is designed to:
“Engage service providers, volunteers, businesses, residents, and most importantly, individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Through a community-driven process, the Lancaster Community Homelessness Plan will provide a comprehensive look at homelessness and offer customized actions and strategies to combat it and strengthen our community.”
As mentioned previously, one of the objectives of the Plan is to get a clearer picture of the nature and extent of the homeless population in Lancaster. The Plan is also designed to inventory existing services that are available for homeless people in the community. In addition, the study is also intended to identify gaps in services in Lancaster for homeless people and to develop strategies to plug those gaps.
Part of the Plan will also be to develop sounder, more reliable ways to address homeless encampment cleanup, and associated biohazard cleanup. This is necessary to protect not only the health and welfare of the homeless population in Lancaster but the community at large.