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Natalie Profant Komuro led homeless organization Ascencia to growth in area

Natalie Profant Komuro led homeless organization Ascencia to growth in area
Ascencia executive director Natalie Profant Komuro, at the nonprofit's location in Glendale. Komuro will resign at the end of the month after 11 years at the helm and will begin work as deputy county executive officer - homelessness solutions for Riverside County. (Raul Roa / Glendale News-Press)

Natalie Profant Komuro, who, as executive director, led Ascencia to be a key community organization in Glendale, is leaving the organization after 11 years.

“This has been a real privilege,” Komuro said. “There’s absolutely stresses to this work, but the people here have made it really just a wonderful, professional experience.”

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Komuro’s last day will be Friday, after which she will be working in Riverside County, as the deputy executive officer for homelessness solutions.

Under her leadership, Ascencia, which also serves the Burbank area, underwent a successful rebranding and provided permanent housing for many homeless individuals and families through its shelter and services headquarters on Tyburn Street.

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The organization has also grown significantly, from 18 full-time employees to 30, and from nine board members to 21.

Debbie Hinckley, president of Ascencia’s board, said Komuro has been a great asset to the organization, greatly increasing its visibility in the community.

“When I first joined and people would ask me what I was involved in, I would say Ascencia, [and] no one knew who we were or what we do,” she said. “Now, if you mention Ascencia, people will know.”

In 2011, when PATH Achieve Glendale separated from its founders, a group called People Assisting the Homeless, Komuro rebranded the organization to Ascencia to establish itself as a local group that lifts people out of homelessness.

Ascencia has had 900 volunteers this year and has significantly reduced the number of homeless veterans, from 40 to about 12 currently.

The organization helped bring that number down to four at one point.

Komuro and her staff have also helped provide permanent housing for roughly 80 households — which were either individuals or families — so far this year, either at its nine-unit apartment building around the corner from its headquarters or apartments throughout Los Angeles.

Her tenure hasn’t been without challenges. The organization has struggled to find a location for its winter shelter and keep it running annually.

For years, the shelter was located at the Glendale Armory, but increased residential development in recent years has made it difficult to be good neighbors, Komuro said.

Due partly to complaints, the shelter was moved to other locations and, in 2014, there was no shelter.

For the past couple years, the shelter has been hosted in All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Highland Park.

She added it’s been difficult to use the shelter as a way to connect with homeless individuals and make a more permanent impact, because they often grow too large, going from serving 80 to 130 individuals per night.

“The people we see in winter shelter really need more individualized attention,” she said. “So I understand, at a minimum, keeping people safe, but it has not been my favorite program because it’s so minimal and it doesn’t really get us to really helping those folks move onto housing.”

Komuro said it can be disheartening and challenging to work in the nonprofit sector with homeless individuals, because some come back year after year unable or unwilling to make a change in their lives with Ascencia’s help.

But it has been immensely gratifying, she said.

She recalled a woman who the organization recently helped moved into an apartment in Whittier. The woman had been using Ascencia’s services since 2002.

“Finally, something clicked for her, and we were able to get things moving,” she said.

“That sort of story is really gratifying to me. They know we’re going to hang in there, and it may take them a few years, but they know we’re here for them,” she added.

Though it’s bittersweet, Komuro said she’s excited to get back into her original field of work. She has a degree from UCLA’s graduate school of architecture and urban planning and was the director of policy and planning at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority for 10 years before joining Ascencia.

“Natalie has made Ascencia a well-respected organization,” Hinckley said. “Of course we’re going to miss her. But she has a great opportunity for a job that really plays to her strengths, and we wish her best.”

Laura Duncan, director of Ascencia’s programs, is taking over as acting executive director while the board searches for Komuro’s replacement.

Duncan is an instructor for Title 22 regulations, which apply to community-care facilities regulated by the Community Care Licensing Division.

Previously, Duncan has worked at Goodwill Industries as programs director and grew its programs from $9 million to $21 million in three years.

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