Ontario’s Once Burgeoning Homeless Camp Depopulated

Ontario’s homeless encampment, which began as a group of about 20 ragtag squatters who occupied open property just west of Ontario Airport without authorization in 2007 and then grew to become a shantytown of roughly 400 that was quasi-sanctioned by city officials, is now defunct.
When two of the Sentinel’s writers drove through the area near State Street west of Grove Avenue on January 13, the area was empty.
“I do not get updates on it every day like I was before,” Ontario Mayor Paul Leon told the Sentinel. “I know there were fewer than 15 people there a while ago. We have been ramping it down for years. We now have a very sophisticated homeless support program that has replaced it.”
The encampment spontaneously emerged in 2007, as growing numbers of people were displaced by the stagnating economy and many found themselves living on the streets after a round of foreclosures. The homeless began congregating in the area and a tent city formed that Ontario officials at first resisted but in time reluctantly grew to accept. City officials began providing water hookups, sanitation facilities and other basic services to those living there. That official acceptance generated publicity, which in turn resulted in larger numbers of homeless flocking there.
In 2008, the city drew the line, disallowing outsiders living in mobile homes from occupying the area and then instituting a policy of having those accepted there show proof that they had lived or otherwise originated in Ontario to receive the limited services the city was providing.
Since that time, the city, as Leon said, has been seeking to substitute in other services to discourage the homeless from taking up residence in the area.
The city now offers short-term rental or rental arrears assistance for up to two months, utility payment for up to two months, the provision of security deposits for would-be renters along with utility deposits to city residents who have been evicted and who are under the 2010 state annual income limits, which range from $26,000 for a household of two to $42,900 for a household of eight.
A partially city sponsored program, Mercy House, is the city’s first line of offense in the war on homelessness. Mercy House is located at the corner of Bon View and Holt.
Leon said he has faith Mercy House is making inroads on the problem.
“I believe we have a very good program with Mercy House,” Leon said. “Someone on the street can walk in there and they will put him up in a motel or hotel and get him entered into a program that would turn him back into a productive member of the community. I checked it out myself. Just to see what they would do, I took someone in there myself. I tried to make it so the people with Mercy House had no idea who I was. I wore a hat that I pulled down as low as I could. I wore sunglasses and had on just a T-shirt and a pair of old jeans. I took this guy in there and said to them, ‘This is somebody who needs your help.’ I can tell you they did a good job. They got him off the street.”
The Mercy House phone number is (909) 988-4562.
Ontario’s secondary  lines of offense against homelessness include the House of Ruth, which provides services for battered women and their children, reachable at (909) 988-5559; the Foothill Family Shelter, at (909) 920-5568; the SOVA Food Bank, at (909) 391-4882; the 211-United Way, which can be reached by dialing 211 for assistance; the county of San Bernardino Department of Veteran Services, at (909) 465-5241; and the Kids Come First Clinic, which provides free/low cost medical care for children 0-18 years, at (909) 673-9125.

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