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Are we one kind of community or the other?

By John Pixley

Karl Hilgert, Mary Cooper and Andrew Mohr knew that what they were doing wouldn’t be easy.

When they got together with others from Pilgrim Place and the Claremont Quaker meeting last year, inspired by Occupy Claremont, to not just talk about the homeless in Claremont but to actually assist them, they knew that it wouldn’t be simple. In forming the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program (CHAP), they knew they were in for some hard work.

The idea behind CHAP and its “Summer to End Homelessness” was to pair volunteers with homeless individuals to help them go through the gauntlet of bureaucracies in order to get needed services. Such an endeavor included, at the very least, waiting in crowded rooms, sometimes for hours, and filling out lots of forms—challenging enough for those with stability in their lives.

This was difficult and frustrating and, no, the people in CHAP didn’t end homelessness in Claremont. They were under no illusions that they would, but at least they were trying and getting something done about an ugly and daunting problem. It’s a problem that many people don’t want to even think or talk about.

Now CHAP is doing something more. With the Claremont Quaker meeting providing space, the people in CHAP are giving overnight shelter to homeless people in Claremont. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Quaker meeting but not involved with CHAP.)

This is a huge and even scary undertaking. It has started off small with only a few men each night, but that still involves needing people to stay overnight as hosts and providing a simple breakfast each morning. This bold, hands-on leap had to be taken, Mr. Hilgert, Ms. Cooper, Mr. Mohr and the others in CHAP believe, because the nights are cold. As they see it, the question is: How can one try to assist the homeless and leave them to spend the night out on the street? The plan is that more homeless people—and not just men—will be able to stay at the shelter. There is hope that other faith communities in and around Claremont will get involved in this effort.

It is easy to say that this is too difficult and won’t last. It is easy to say that this shelter program isn’t enough or won’t work, even that it will cause trouble resulting in more homeless people to come to Claremont.

But, as its people well know, what CHAP is doing isn’t easy. CHAP is doing something hard. At the very least, the CHAP folks are trying, which is a lot when it looks like there are people in Claremont who don’t even want to think about trying.

Just as CHAP was getting set to open its overnight shelter for homeless people in Claremont, there was grumbling and all sorts of alarms being raised—again—about low-income housing in Claremont. Correct that: there have been people upset about the idea of low-income housing in Claremont.

We have seen this before. But in the past, the outcry has been over proposed projects, like the one several years ago just north of the 210 freeway. This time, the bruhaha is over a site that may—or may not—be used for low- and very low-income housing sometime in the future.

The city was only trying to identify land that could be used for such a project, as required by the state of California. However, when it came to a 5.9-acre parcel on Mills Avenue across from Chaparral Elementary School, there was confusion, with a good number of people thinking that a 100-unit low-income housing project was to be built there. This, as Kathryn Dunn reported in these pages on January 24, lead to a “backlash.”

According to Ms. Dunn’s reporting, “The city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment allocations require city staff to identify possible locations for future very low and low-income housing development. The city is not, however, required to actually build the units. This fact did little to assuage residents’ fears about the project. About 45 people showed up to the January 7 planning commission meeting citing concerns…”

Forty-five people showing up at a meeting to denounce a project that could possibly and is not required to happen sometime in the future is a lot. There were also letters and other pieces in these pages lamenting this low-income housing project that isn’t planned.

The backlash was such that City Manager Tony Ramos decided to send the Housing Element Update back to the planning commission for a second review, although it will most likely mean that the city will miss the state deadline. As Mr. Ramos explained, “We need to vet this more…to make sure all residents’ concerns are addressed.”

The city council agreed at its January 28 meeting, at which dozens of residents were present to again register these concerns.

The concerns and fears about this proposed low-income housing project that isn’t there include those voiced in previous years about low-income housing projects: traffic, quality of life, negative effects on surrounding property values and wildlife. Another familiar element of the complaints is that the site that they concern is north of Foothill Boulevard. It is interesting that I haven’t heard about complaints about two other sites on the list that are on Arrow Highway.

Why is low-income, high-density housing acceptable in the south area of Claremont, even next to the Village where it has turned out to be quite successful, and the mere possibility of it in north Claremont is met with strong opposition? Also, as for the argument that people with lower incomes shouldn’t be relegated to housing near a freeway, where it has been shown that the air quality is worse, the low-income housing projects and the Arrow Highway properties aren’t all that far from the 10 freeway. What’s more, I haven’t seen much of an outcry over the market-value housing projects being built near or even off the 210 freeway.

It has also been pointed out that the parcel on Mills Avenue is currently owned by Golden State Water Company, with a water well being operated on it. But surely the planning commission knew this when it made its recommendation. Isn’t there a creative, uniquely Claremont way to accommodate the well along with housing?

I can’t help wondering this when CHAP is trying and finding a way to do something to provide shelter for the homeless on these cold nights.

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