City Council’s comments on local homeless raise concerns

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By Gabrielle Moreira

Residents, staff and volunteers of the Samaritan Center and people who are homeless or have experienced homelessness packed the City Council chambers Monday night to voice their displeasure about comments made by Simi Valley’s governing body regarding the local homeless population.

On Jan. 13, the council adopted solutions to fight against panhandlers and remove homeless encampments throughout the city. The solutions were recommended by the Task Force on Homelessness.

While the decision received both praise and criticism from those who attended that meeting, it was the council’s comments on the “criminal element” of the homeless population that upset residents.

Some people within the homeless community said Monday the City Council generalizes the homeless and assumes all of them are “drug addicts” and “criminals.”

Christopher Congelos, who is currently homeless, suggested the City Council figure out ways to help the homeless be productive rather than condemning them.

“You have to stop targeting the homeless,” Congelos said. “There are criminals in all walks of life, and this is something you guys have to consider. There’s a lot that can be done that isn’t very expensive.”

Councilmember Keith Mashburn said he’s not against the entire homeless population and he wants to help those in need.

“There’s been some misinformation going around about what I’ve said,” he said. “I always said I’m more than willing to help those who want to help themselves. I don’t want to help criminals.”

Simi Valley resident Colleen Abenante spoke to the council about how she became homeless six years ago, turned to drugs and committed crimes before she turned her life around.

“I have a home here. I have a wonderful car and a great job making approximately $40,000 a year,” she said. “I want to give hope to people who are homeless that with help they can get back on their feet.”

Abenante and other residents who spoke said they volunteer at the Samaritan Center, which provides meals and resources for homeless people in the area.

At the last two council meetings, some residents criticized the Samaritan Center for being part of the reason for the homeless population’s growth.

Betty Eskey, executive director of the center, and Rene Frumpkin, case manager at the center, spoke at those meetings and said that anyone who does not understand what the Samaritan Center does should spend a few hours at the facility to see what it’s like.

Mayor Bob Huber and Councilmember Mike Judge said they visited the Samaritan Center and know Eskey and her staff work hard to help those in need.

Since 2009, the number of homeless people served by the center has tripled, while the number of staff members is unchanged. Frumpkin said she is actively working on 268 homeless cases. Eskey said the center now works with other organizations to handle the large demand.

June-Marie von Osinski, a member of the city’s Task Force on Homelessness, said the two solutions adopted by the council on Jan. 13 were a good start for the city and people need to understand the council isn’t targeting everyone who is homeless.

“I know that this is the habitual, criminal element of the homeless that we are trying to get rid of and make our city safe,” she said. “There’s help for people who are unfortunately homeless and want to help themselves.”

The problem the city faces, von Osinski continued, is “the ones who don’t want help are panhandling and don’t reside in Simi Valley.”

2014-02-07 / Front Page

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