By LUCY GUANUNA
HIGHLAND PARK — For years, the homeless of Highland Park have had to travel to Glendale or Skid Row to find the nearest shelter. The long bus ride and the volatile environment of Skid Row had left many preferring to stay in Northeast L.A. and camp out in places like the Arroyo Seco and Sycamore Grove Park. But now they will not have to leave the neighborhood after All Saints Episcopal Church opened its doors this month as NELA’s only homeless shelter.
“Many of the homeless feel safer out here than in places like Skid Row,” said Monica Alcaraz, president of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council. “I’m not saying this place is safe, but this is their community and this is where they’re from.”
The Northeast Los Angeles Winter Access Center is currently housing 21 people but can provide shelter for up to 50 during the cold wet nights expected during El Niño. Those 50 spaces, however, are too few when compared to the 380 homeless living in Highland Park and more than 800 living across NELA, according to recent estimates.
Each night from now through March 1, the pews of All Saints on Monte Vista Street will be converted into beds that are covered with pads, sleeping bags and pillows the visitors receive when they arrive. The access center is open from 7 p.m. – 6 a.m.
Apart from a place to sleep, visitors will also be offered assistance to obtain permanent housing and social services.
Spearheaded by Recycled Resources, a local homeless support group, the shelter is currently run by volunteers and funded by donations from local businesses and the Eagle Rock and Highland Park neighborhood councils. More than $9,000 has also been raised on the crowdfunding website YouCaring.com.
“One of the concerns we’ve had is that we are right across from an elementary school, so everybody is out by 6 a.m. to make sure they don’t interfere with the kids being dropped off,” said Rebecca Prine, founder and director of Recycled Resources. “But the principal has been supportive and so have the neighbors next door and across the street.”
The Highland Park access center is requesting $75,000 from the city for operations and is seeking to hire Ascencia, a Glendale-based homeless services agency, to run the shelter. Officials with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and representatives from councilmen Gil Cedillo and Jose Huizar will inspect the site later this week to determine whether it’s up to code and would qualify for funding.
Long-time Highland Park resident Hope Torres is now staying at the church with her three sisters after being swept out of local parks.
“We were there when the sweeps happened in the Arroyo,” Torres said. “Then we moved to a hidden section in Sycamore Park where we thought we wouldn’t disturb anybody but the park rangers told us we had to leave. We stayed and went as far as hiding in the bathrooms. We had nowhere to go but in the street, so we were just waiting for this place to open.”
Prine said she hopes that her group will be able to turn the winter access center into a permanent facility that would be open 24 hours.
Lucy Guanuna is a freelance reporter who has covered a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.
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