LANCASTER — A homeless encampment on 20th Street West north of Avenue H was red-tagged on Nov. 20, two days before Thanksgiving.
The residents have until Dec. 11 to move themselves and their belongings. Any property not moved by that date will be considered abandoned and discarded. Any people who have not moved from the area by that date may be arrested or cited.
There are about 37 individual tents or trailers housing up to 50 people and stretching up to Avenue G. The population includes senior citizens, the mentally ill, and the disabled. Many of those who live there say they were forced to move there after a crackdown by city officials who didn’t want them near the revitalized downtown.
“They’re telling them to move north of (Avenue) G in the middle of nowhere,” homeless advocate Cheryl Holbrook said to a motorist who drove down the dirt road and asked how he could help.
Alicia Ybanez, 68, has lived in the desert for nearly two years.
“They told us to come out here. They didn’t want us living in town, living here and there, so we came out here. Now they’re telling us to get out of here,” Ybanez said.
Asked where they were told to go, Ybanez turned and pointed north.
“That way,” she said.
Ybanez added some people have lived in the area for 10 years without any trouble.
“We’re trying to make best of what we have,” she said.
Ybanez has multiple ailments including diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. She lives in a trailer and has two dogs, an Akita-border collie mix named Samuel L. Jackson, and a Great Dane-German Shepherd mix named Elvis Presley.
“If I didn’t have Samuel I’d probably be dead,” Ybanez said, adding that the dog helped protect her when she first moved to the desert.
Ybanez added she has been unable to get the help she needs.
“You know what the problem is the minute you go homeless — you’re no longer a human being,” Ybanez said.
Lori Wesolowski and her husband Michael moved to the desert area after their belongings were bulldozed from a previous encampment.
“Now they’re telling us we have to move again,” Lori said. “None of us actually said, ‘We want to be homeless, let us move out to the desert.”
Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger initiated the opening last year of a 24-hour shelter in Lancaster, which provides bridge housing support and other critical service in conjunction with the Salvation Army. The shelter is at the former High Desert Hospital at 60th Street West and Avenue I.
Asked if she would move there, Lori Wesolowski said there is a waiting list. She also does not want to be separated from her husband.
“We’ve been married 30 years,” she said.
Another complication is the couple’s dog. Lori said they do not want to give up their dog.
The couple have lived in the desert for five years next month. Michael, who is a house painter, lost his job when the economy bottomed out.
“We don’t want to be homeless,” Lori said.
Matthew Labelle, 44, has been homeless for 10 or 12 years.
“I’ve been pretty much out here on my own since my dad passed away in 2006,” Labelle said.
Gary Foss, 59, who is also homeless, said he moved to the area after he was told to relocate from behind Desert Vineyard Christian Fellowship in east Lancaster off Avenue I and Challenger Way.
“If I could go back to a race team I would. But I’m too old to be able to jump over a wall and change a tire,” Foss said.
Foss added he is a former member of the late NASCAR race car driver Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s pit crew.
“All five championships. I was there. We still hold the record, 11.9 seconds,” Foss said.
Ed and Celeste Johnson have been homeless for five months. They have been married for 22 years.
“I don’t want to get used to living out here,” Ed said as he was being filmed for a Facebook live stream.
The couple lost their apartment after a flood. They bought a motor home that needs to be fixed. They were initially towed to Walmart on Valley Central Way, thinking it would be OK to park there. But they were asked to leave because of the Burlington retail store under construction.
“We bought the motor home …” Ed started.
“But we had no clue what we were doing,” Celeste said.
The seller removed the generator. Ed said he didn’t know they would need one.
“We didn’t plan to drive it as much as we had to. It’s a ‘76 and everything in it is ‘76, believe me,” Ed said. “When I think of homeless I think of people living in a park. I never thought.”
Ruth Sanchez, president of the American Civil Liberties Union Antelope Valley Chapter, said they fed five different camps in the area recently.
“We’re afraid if they get pushed another four miles in we won’t be able to take them any resources so they’re going to die in this weather,” Sanchez said.
The encampment is off a dirt road that is littered with trash. Most of the trash and furniture was illegally dumped. .
“They don’t go buy furniture; they don’t go buy TVs. They’re definitely not playing the piano,” Sanchez said, adding they do make a mess.
Holbrook said the people who live there take down license plate numbers and report it. But nothing is done about it.
“If they find something that they can recycle out they’ll collect and recycle and get money off of it, so they clean up the desert,” Holbrook said.
Holbrook organized a rally in support of the homeless Friday afternoon. Shelly Dilick, of Shelly’s Kitchen, brought food to feed the homeless.
“It’s my house,” Dilick said.
Dilick serves more than 200 meals three times a week.
Holbrook makes regular welfare checks of the people who live there. She said many of those who live in the desert want to move to Kensington Campus — a 14-acre facility that will provide housing and support services for the homeless —when it opens next year. The facility, which is under construction at 32nd Street West and Avenue I, will incorporate 102 units of permanent supportive housing, bridge housing for 156 individuals, 20,000 square feet of wraparound supportive services space, and a 12,000 square-foot enterprise job creation building.
“I’ve got SSI people; I’ve got people on GR, which is only $198 a month, plus the SSI, I’m not sure how much they get because that’s none of my business,” Holbrook said.
“But still, the $600 that you get from Social Security is not going to pay rent at all. You’re required to make three times as much; they’re not going to be able to do it,” Sanchez said.
Holbrook did much of her work on her own. She recently connected with Sanchez from the ACLU, and said some church groups are also assisting.
Sanchez said they have been talking with Valley Oasis and the Sophia Elizabeth Foundation. The ACLU’s Antelope Valley Chapter has been trying to feed the homeless and provide them with resources.
“Some of them, they want to get to a job but they need gas,” Sanchez said. “Something’s wrong with their vehicle, they don’t have the clothing, to take a shower, different things like that,” Sanchez said.
Other supporters also showed up for the rally.
“I’ve been helping some, but I’m mostly someone that brings up information to other people, letting other people in the community know what’s going on, keeping an eye on the city,” said Melissa Guevara, a member of the Antelope Valley Homeless Coalition.
Vice Mayor Marvin Crist said Friday he does not know for certain if the people who live there were asked to move by the city.
“It sounds like it’s reasonable. I would think we would want to relocate the homeless as far away from neighborhoods as possible,” Crist said.
Crist said there is space at 60th Street West and Avenue I, but couple will be segregated.
‘We need to do something about the homeless, and what they’re telling you is they don’t want to abide by the rules,” Crist said.
If 60th Street West and Avenue I gets, full the city could possibly reopen the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds for the winter.
“There’s plans in the work and there’s things that we do,” he said.
He added Kensington Place is coming along. “Like everything it’s a process; it can’t happen overnight,” he said.
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