A number of local pastors and elected officials converged recently in Lancaster to call upon the County of Los Angeles to aid the nearly 3,000 veterans, families and other members of the homeless community in the Antelope Valley who will be in need of shelter this winter. County leaders were urged to begin conversion of the vacant High Desert Medical Center in Lancaster into an emergency shelter.

The County will have to grant access to the facility to ensure that it will be available by Dec. 1 before the usual harsh winter temperatures begin and the anticipated El Nino storms takes place. Temperatures in the Antelope Valley often drop to the teens during the winter months; emergency shelters are opened each year by the local faith community with the support of the city of Lancaster. The Antelope Valley Fairgrounds hosted the winter shelter in 2014.

It has been increasingly difficult to provide adequate resources for the homeless population not only locally, but throughout the county. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) last spring reported that the homeless population has grown an astounding 100 percent since 2013; the Antelope Valley Service Planning Area is now estimated to be home to more than 2,800 homeless persons, 40 percent of which are reported to be veterans. Despite having grown to 7 percent of the county’s homeless population, the Antelope Valley receives only 2 percent of LAHSA funding. Downtown Los Angeles receives 50 percent of this money to assist a reported 28 percent of the county’s total homeless population.

“We have repeatedly taken a stand against these injustices, and with the help of the faith-based community, we have always managed to pool our limited local resources in order to find a way to come through for our homeless population,” said Lancaster Vice Mayor Marvin Crist. “We have once again pooled all of our resources for this coming winter season, but our resources alone are not enough. A significantly disproportionate number of our homeless population needs a place to stay this winter. A bigger homeless shelter facility is really our only option.”

The vacant High Desert Medical Center at 60th Street West and Avenue I can reportedly house between 294 and 384 persons which would be a 284-percent increase over the number of persons that Grace Resource facilities can host. Steve Baker, executive director at Grace Resources, likes the idea of transforming the old hospital into a shelter for homeless persons. Grace Resources is a volunteer organization that provides residents with social services and skills training.

“We have a wonderful opportunity to turn this facility, which is currently serving no purpose, into a space which can soon provide opportunities for a day center, life-skill classes, access to social services and—at the very least—a warm place for hundreds of homeless veterans, families and individuals to call home this winter,” Baker said. “We are ready to go. We simply need the county to give us access to the buildings, and we need county staff to understand how critical it is for this to happen immediately.”

For more information about homeless assistance in the Antelope Valley, call Grace Resources at (661) 940-5272 or call the office of Los Angeles County Mayor Michael Antonovich at (213) 974-5555.