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Sylmar armory to be converted to year-round housing for homeless women

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to convert an armory in Sylmar, long used as an emergency winter shelter, into a year-round facility for homeless women.

The repurposed armory, which could open as soon as December, will provide “bridge housing,” consisting of shelter and support services to help transition women into permanent housing.

Its creation comes amid a shortage of shelter beds and a debate in the county over whether to provide short-term shelter beds or long-term housing.

The board also passed a motion, partly in response to a recent Times article about the shortage of shelter beds, directing the county’s chief executive office and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to come up with a comprehensive plan to use Measure H funds to quickly increase shelter capacity in the county.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whose district includes Sylmar, introduced the armory motion with Supervisor Kathryn Barger of neighboring District 5 after months of community input.

“Women desperately need housing and services,” Kuehl said in a statement. “I am very grateful to the community leaders in Sylmar who worked so diligently with my office to develop this proposal.”

The armory, which is owned by the National Guard, has operated as a drop-in overnight shelter during the winter for more than 20 years. Kuehl introduced a motion in February to explore leasing the armory and using it for round-the-clock housing.

Under the motion approved Tuesday, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority will use Measure H funding to contract with L.A. Family Housing to operate an 85-bed program for women.

Kuehl’s office said it decided not to award the contract through a competitive process at the request of community members who wanted reassurance that the facility would be operated by an established provider with a strong track record.

L.A. Family Housing operates a similar program in North Hollywood.

“People shouldn’t be sleeping outside ever, and people need more than a dry place to sleep in,” Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, L.A. Family Housing’s chief executive, said in an interview. “Bridge housing links our neighbors up to the right resources that they need to permanently end homelessness in their life.”

The facility was originally envisioned as a “navigation center” for men and women. Kuehl and L.A. Family Housing changed course after hearing from area residents and businesses and receiving a report examining homelessness among women in the San Fernando Valley.

The August report from the Homeless Services Authority, which analyzed data from the county’s annual homeless count, found that there were 2,762 unsheltered women in the San Fernando Valley. It also found that unsheltered women were far more likely than men to have been victims of violence and sex trafficking.

Although women make up 31% of the homeless population, only 17% of the emergency housing beds available to individuals in the county are specifically allocated for them, the report said.

“For many women, coming indoors where men also are living becomes a barrier,” Klasky-Gamer said.

L.A. Family Housing said it was committed to working with clients for as long as it takes to find them a permanent home.

The supervisors’ motion also directs the Homeless Services Authority to include funding for 24-hour security at the facility and in the immediate area.

“Anything that happens around some of these businesses will be monitored,” said Bonnie Bernard, who owns a flower shop about a mile from the armory.

Two years ago Bernard successfully campaigned to get armed guards to protect the shopping complex where her store is located.

Bernard said she was happy with the solution reached Tuesday.

“We can absorb this a lot easier in the community than the shelter that’s been there,” she said.

nina.agrawal@latimes.com

Twitter: @AgrawalNina

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