Homelessness is no joke, but Claremont’s attitude about it is

by John Pixley

Remember Occupy Claremont?

Remember when there were people camping out in front of Claremont City Hall some 15 years ago? They were there in solidarity with other encampments in cities across the U.S., starting on Wall Street in New York City, protesting economic inequality. Remember?

The recent encampments protesting Israel’s war in Gaza reminded me of it. But I’m also reminded of it when I think about homeless people in Claremont.

I remember that during Occupy Claremont, in which some of the people camping were actually homeless and in which the participants were supported with meals and showers by Pilgrim Place residents, there was a fair amount of commentary, plenty of it negative, with not much sympathy for the cause. A typical letter in these pages said that the encampment made the Village “dangerous.”

There was a group of Claremonters — people who cared more about the poor and the unhoused than about what the Village looked like — who met at the time to discuss what could be done to help the homeless in Claremont. They knew there were more than five unhoused people in Claremont, or whatever ridiculous number offered up by the first homeless count here, which also took place at the time. They also found out, among other things, that many homeless people spend the night here, where they feel safe, and go to Pomona during the day for food, showers and other services. It was also known that a number of students in Claremont schools didn’t have homes, or at least ones where they stayed regularly.

The situation isn’t that much better today. For example, as I’ve heard from a few sources, there are two shelter beds in Pomona reserved for “Claremont’s homeless.”

Really? Two shelter beds for the homeless in Claremont? (There are no homeless shelters in Claremont.) Tell me I heard that wrong — please.

And, according to many of the homeless persons who hang out here, like those who use the Friday shower program at Saint Ambrose Church, the shelter in Pomona is dangerous, unclean, etc. No wonder they spend the night here.

That there are two shelter beds for the unhoused in Claremont, and they’re not in Claremont? What a joke! And not a funny one, never mind probably illegal.

At least for now, cities aren’t allowed to criminalize or drive out the homeless unless they have shelter or housing for them. Otherwise, the homeless have to be allowed to sleep in parks, in cars, or wherever they feel safe.

But it looks like Claremont wants to ignore this, would rather move the homeless along and act like they’re not here, like Claremont doesn’t have a homeless problem. Half the items in the police blotter in these pages are about homeless individuals (as if they can pay the fines!).

Like I said, a joke — and an unfunny one.

Look, I get why Village merchants complain about finding people sleeping or having urinated or defecated in their doorways. This is a bad, bad problem, no doubt about it. But punishing those who have nowhere to sleep or go to the bathroom and then acting like this isn’t a problem here isn’t a solution.

Locking the restrooms in Larkin Park and forcing the homeless to more or less use the grounds of the nearby Quaker meetinghouse, in which homeless people could spend the night for several years before the COVID-19 pandemic, as a toilet, driving the meeting to make the agonizing, unfriendly, unQuakerly decision to make trespassing on its property a crime, is also not a solution.

It’s a bad, bad joke.

Yes, Larkin Place, which will provide housing and services to homeless people, is being built next to the park and the Quaker meeting, but only after some fierce protesting by neighbors and others farther afield, and some resistance by the City Council. The fact is that, essentially, it’s the law that this facility and two or three others in Claremont are being built. It’s the law that more housing, more affordable housing, be available, including in Claremont.

But Larkin Place may not solve the homeless problem — yes, the homeless problem — here. Homeless people may still show up in Claremont. Claremont should get serious about this problem and realize it’s a problem, not a crime to sweep away.


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