A large group of community members, activists, religious leaders and political leaders gathered on a hot autumn day at the site of the old High Desert Hospital to encourage Los Angeles County Officials to have the site ready for the homeless before the onset of winter.
“This place is about hope, it’s a hotel of hope,” said Steve Baker, Executive Director for Grace Resource Center. “It’s gonna be a place where people can come and put their lives back together.”
Stacy Waddle, Director of Shelter Services for Grace Resources, said they hope to accommodate over 300 people when the property is fully operational over the next several years. The current shelter in Lancaster can hold 80 comfortably with a maximum of 120 people. The new site consists of 120,000 square feet of usable space consisting of a mix of modular outbuildings and the brick and mortar hospital located at 60th Street West and Avenue I in the Antelope Valley.
The outbuildings will be able to accommodate 65 men, 38 women and 14-17 families (60 people, half kids). Baker reported that officials have voted to start winters shelters six weeks early and have already appropriated the money to provide the shelters across the county. “Unofficially, they are making every effort possible to get this open as soon as possible,” he said.
With the potential wet winter the organization’s major concern is that the flooding will spread illness in the homeless community or that some homeless individuals might actually drown, so they are pushing for an early December move in date for the outbuildings but there are safety issues that need to be addressed. Waddle is also aware there might be concern over more homeless coming to the area from Los Angeles but that the priority needs to be providing shelter for the men, women and families that are currently homeless in the area.
“My greater concern is that we as a community do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do and let’s do the best that we can be as a community,” said Waddle. “And if an influx of people from out of the community come because community leaders are pushing them in this direction, than we’ll deal with it when it happens, but for right now I think we should just focus on the concerns of our own community and get better at what we do. “
As they begin to expand, they will constantly evaluate where they are at and decide on the best direction to go. “This is all so new in the process that that is going to be a stage by stage evaluation process. Because the bottom line is what’s best for the community and how do we do that,” added Waddle who hopes that the center will be a group effort with other churches and community organizations.
“What we’re hoping is that over time this area will be a collaborative effort of the community and that there will be, in a sense, a hub where the homeless community can find what they need at their fingertips,” said Waddle. “There’s no reason anyone should go hungry in Lancaster or Palmdale because churches and organizations have networked really well together to get food out there, so kudos to the Antelope Valley community that they do a really good job at that. “
According to Baker the major causes of homelessness are broken relationships, lack of finishing school and two-income families that lose one of their sources of income. He said the number of families has been increasing over the years due to the economy and foreclosures.
Currently at Grace participants are taught life skill classes, parenting classes and anger management classes and these will also be continued at the new location. “We have graduations all the time from our classes giving people the skills to get back to work to do better with their families and to make it work,” said Baker. The organization also does monitored visits with children in the court system. Last year they monitored 70 3-hour visits a month in the Lancaster neighborhood homes allowing parents and their children to spend quality time together preparing dinner and making cookies.
“It decreases unemployment, decreases homelessness, helps people get along,” said Baker of the center. “It becomes then a mecca of help for people.”
“We have had some movement in the direction of opening this facility, so you have been heard and we thank you for that,” said Lancaster Vice Mayor Marvin Crist to the waiting crowd.
According to Crist, there is a great disparity between the amount of money that is provided for the Antelope Valley Specific Provider Area (SPA 1) compared to the funds received by Los Angeles (SPA 4).
The AV receives only $270 per homeless person compared to $4500 per person for LA. The AV also received only $2.6 million in funding which is 2 percent of funds compared to $56 million in funding (42 percent) given to LA which has only 7 percent more homeless than the AV according to Crist.
“We were able to do it on our own for 25 years,” said Crist of the AVs homeless. “It has reached a point we can no longer do it on our own. All of you have stepped up, all of the elected officials have stepped up and we’ve said enough is enough and we need to stop this. We need to stop it for our homeless, we need to take care of our homeless. We will take care of our homeless but we will not import all of Southern California’s homeless to the city of Lancaster or to the Antelope Valley.”
Crist also asked ofLA County and LA City, “(b)efore they spend millions of dollars to bring the elite athletes of the world to Los Angeles, take care of our elite veterans.”
Rob Talbot, CEO for Keller Williams Realty AV, was present at the rally to lend his support. As a regular volunteer with Grace Resource and a real estate agent in the Antelope Valley it was important to him that real estate agents help bring this community shelter to fruition.
“We make a living on people having a home and sometimes we need to help others have a home as well,” said Talbot. “That’s why I’m so involved with Grace Resources…The shelter, what they do at the fairgrounds, all of this is taking people from the streets that don’t have anything and putting them under a roof and that’s what we do for a living.”