Big­ger, bet­ter, homier

New shel­ter plans a warm welcome for home­less Val­ley fam­i­lies

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Hai­ley Bran­son- Potts hai­ley. bran­son@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ hai­ley­bran­son

A year af­ter its North Hol­ly­wood home­less shel­ter burned to the ground, the San Fer­nando Val­ley Res­cue Mis­sion is open­ing a new 90- bed fam­ily shel­ter in Northridge.

The Canby Av­enue fa­cil­ity, called Home Again, has triple the ca­pac­ity of the one that burned and will pro­vide pri­vate fam­ily bed­rooms, a com­puter cen­ter, a com­mon din­ing room and class­rooms for the mis­sion’s life skills pro­grams. Fam­i­lies are ex­pected to be­gin mov­ing in next month.

For­merly a shut­tered pri­vate school, the new shel­ter sits on a tree- lined street sur­rounded by apart­ment build­ings. Res­i­dents pass f lower beds and a play­ground be­fore en­ter­ing a liv­ing room with plush arm­chairs and board games. It’s meant to feel like a home, not a shel­ter, said Wade Trim­mer, the mis­sion’s di­rec­tor.

“Ev­ery­thing we do runs through the lens of, ‘ Does it en­hance dig­nity?’” Trim­mer said. “Im­me­di­ately, they feel the streets are be­hind them.”

The res­cue mis­sion’s for­mer fam­ily shel­ter on Sati­coy Street in North Hol­ly­wood was a to­tal loss af­ter the May 2014 blaze. The overnight f ire started at an ad­ja­cent wood pal­let ware­house and spread to the shel­ter, where more than two dozen peo­ple were stay­ing. Res­i­dents f led in their pa­ja­mas.

Los An­ge­les Fire Depart­ment spokesman Brian Humphrey said this week that the f ire re­mained un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and that the cause was un­de­ter­mined. The f ire also de­stroyed the mis­sion’s cloth­ing and food ware­house, as well as por­ta­ble showers and ve­hi­cles used to de­liver meals.

The new $ 6- mil­lion Northridge fa­cil­ity — for which money is still be­ing raised — had been in the works be­fore the f ire ac­cel­er­ated the need for it, Trim­mer said.

Fam­ily home­less­ness is on the rise in the Val­ley, he said, and the North Hol­ly­wood shel­ter usu­ally had a wait­ing list of 45 to 60 fam­i­lies. For years, most of the peo­ple who have stayed at the mis­sion’s shel­ter — Trim­mer calls them guests — have been chil­dren.

“Home­less­ness is start­ing to look more and more like a fam­ily por­trait” as af­ford­able hous­ing be­comes more scarce, Trim­mer said. The Val­ley, he said, has a higher con­cen­tra­tion of home­less fam­i­lies than other parts of the city, and they of­ten are hid­den, sleep­ing in cars and parks.

Trim­mer said it’s com­mon for home­less chil­dren to try to do their home­work in fast- food restau­rants, where they also bathe in the bath­room sink and dry off with pa­per tow­els. It was with that sce­nario in mind that he re­quested that all of the new shel­ter’s re­strooms have full bath­tubs.

Ge­orgina Ro­driguez, a curly­haired 15- year- old, lives with her par­ents and two sis­ters in the mis­sion’s tem­po­rary shel­ter — a stop­gap be­fore the new one opens. The fam­ily, which lived for a time in the back of a U- Haul truck af­ter los­ing their home, was present the night of the f ire and ran from the f lames.

Ge­orgina has been help­ing shel­ter vol­un­teers un­pack boxes and set up fur­ni­ture. She plans to vol­un­teer a lot, greet­ing new fam­i­lies to make them feel as welcome as peo­ple made her feel.

“It’s like a re­lief here,” she said, sit­ting in the new shel­ter’s front room. “We’d never been in a shel­ter be­fore. I was re­ally scared. But I see all the vol­un­teers who cared and do so much for us, and I’m like, I want to be like that.”

On Wed­nes­day, Mirna Navarro, 36, vis­ited the new fa­cil­ity with her three young chil­dren. She be­came teary- eyed look­ing at the build­ing.

Navarro was eight months preg­nant when she and her two sons went to the North Hol­ly­wood shel­ter in 2012. Her hus­band had been de­ported to Mexico, and af­ter strug­gling to find a job, she lost her home. At f irst she was too em­bar­rassed to go to a shel­ter, but the fam­ily be­came des­per­ate.

“When they hear the word ‘ home­less,’ peo­ple think some­thing ’s wrong with you,” Navarro said. “But I try to tell peo­ple to not be afraid. A shel­ter’s not as bad as you think.”

Now Navarro works in a fast­food res­tau­rant and stud­ies sign lan­guage. She has landed a Panorama City apart­ment, but was liv­ing at the North Hol­ly­wood shel­ter when she gave birth.

As her now 2- year- old daugh­ter, Camila, peered around the new shel­ter’s liv­ing room, Navarro gave her a hug.

Her hope, she said, is that the fam­i­lies who stay here will not be ashamed of their sit­u­a­tion. And that they’ll find joy.

Pho­tog r aphs by Katie Falkenberg Los An­ge­les Times

MIRNA NAVARRO, with daugh­ter Camila Gon­za­lez, has an apart­ment now but lived at the old shel­ter dur­ing last year’s f ire. “A shel­ter’s not as bad as you think,” she as­sures those in need.

HOME AGAIN, the San Fer­nando Val­ley Res­cue Mis­sion’s fam­ily- friendly shel­ter in Northridge, opens next month with 90 beds.

“EV­ERY­THING WE DO runs through the lens of, ‘ Does it en­hance dig­nity?’ ” says di­rec­tor Wade Trim­mer, in the liv­ing area.

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