By Galen Patterson
The city of Arcadia is seeing a drastic increase in homelessness compared to recent years. Certain areas of the city, specifically Downtown Arcadia and Arcadia Park have seen the most rapid increase in homeless activity, largely due to the Gold Line, light rail extension that opened in early 2016.
Transients, according to the Arcadia Police Department are people who appear homeless and exhibit homeless behavior. In 2016, Arcadia PD responded to 652 transient-related calls in the city. By 2017, that number has increased to 954, resulting in 46 percent more transient calls for the police to deal with.
Transient calls usually come from businesses and people passing by. An employee of a liquor store near the Gold Line station in Arcadia told Arcadia Weekly about his experiences with homelessness in the area. One man, the employee explains, soiled himself, disrobed and used a hose to clean himself and his pants near the train platform. The police responded and presented the man with new pants and sent him on his way, according to the employee, who wishes to remain nameless.
The employee is sympathetic to the plight of the homeless. “I don’t see it as a homeless issue,” he says, “I see it as a mental health issue.” According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at least 25 percent of homeless people suffer from mental illness nationwide. However, in areas with ever-rising cost of living and sky-rocketing property value, homelessness may be more of an economic barometer rather than mental illness.
On a sunny, January afternoon in Arcadia Park, three homeless men sat around a warm bench in direct sunlight near the peacock fountain. Two of the men occupied every square inch of the bench with their belongings resting safely beside them, while the other sat across from them, one-legged and wheelchair bound. Two of the men ate while the third delicately scratched the removable paint from a lottery ticket.
Pete, the man in the wheelchair and Ray, the man with the scratch-off, explain that they used to work for the Santa Anita Racetrack, with the horses. Both of them became homeless at different times and declined to explain why. The third man, they called Lupe, sings a song about living on a large ranch in Spanish. Lupe does not say much, but Ray and Pete describe Lupe as having grown up around horses and is a skilled horse trainer. Lupe, however does not confirm the praise and sits silently with a smile on his face. All three of the men no longer work at the racetrack, but before long are joined by their friend and formerly-homeless woman, who was able to get back on her feet.
The men talk about why they selected Arcadia as a good place to be homeless, because it is quiet and the police do not bother them. With the opening of the Gold Line, things changed. That’s when the “bad homeless,” according to Pete began coming around.
The employee at the liquor store near the station said something similar. He believes the homeless come in from Los Angeles, spend the night out in the suburbs and move about freely during the day. “If you can hop on a train, go out to the suburbs where no one would bother you…I would do it too if I was homeless,” he said.
An increase of 46 percent in under two years is remarkable and it has not gone unnoticed. On Jan. 16, City Councilman Tom Beck delivered a heartfelt argument about how the city could do more for the homeless in Arcadia. Councilwoman April Verlato openly voiced her observations of increasing homeless numbers in the area. “It’s a very difficult problem and it’s hard to identify exactly what is going to help fix that problem,” she said.