Planners Back Simi Shelter for Homeless


The Simi Valley Planning Commission has recommended changing a city ordinance to allow a daytime shelter for the homeless to operate in an industrial area of the city.

Before an audience of about 150 supporters of the shelter, the commission voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend the change to the City Council, clearing the first hurdle toward opening a centralized resource center for the city's homeless.

Backers envision that the center may be on Easy Street or in another industrial area of the city where large warehouses are available. The center's organizers are looking for a 5,000-square-foot space that could serve 80 to 100 people a day.

"The homeless aren't going to go away from Simi Valley, and the problem is going to grow with the unemployment we have," said Brent Brentnall, a spokesman for the group Public Action to Deliver Shelter, which is helping to organize the project.

The group estimates that there are 150 to 200 homeless people in Simi Valley.

The drop-in center, called the Simi Samaritan Center, would provide a place for the homeless and the needy to take showers, use telephones, have their clothes washed and get help finding jobs. It would also provide a mailing address for the homeless to give to prospective employers or to receive mail.

However, homeless people would not be permitted to sleep at the center overnight.

If approved, the amended ordinance would allow daytime shelters in general industrial areas to operate without special permits.

A permit would be needed to operate an overnight shelter in general industrial areas, officials said. As part of the same amendment, the commission also recommended allowing churches to operate in industrial zones with special permits.

The center, Brentnall said, is "a unique animal. It's not an overnight shelter or a recreational center, with pool tables or other recreational equipment. This is a place where you go to get help."

The center would probably be open from about 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and breakfast would be the only meal offered.

Many of the supporters who attended Wednesday's planning commission meeting were from a group of 16 Simi Valley churches that have banded together to help the homeless. The churches operate as the nonprofit Simi Valley Interfaith Coalition for the Homeless/Needy, the umbrella organization seeking to open the center.

"These people need us to help them," volunteer Richard Ostrich told planning commissioners. "How can you get a job if you don't have an address and you can't get mail?"

Of the 16 churches, seven provide overnight shelter for the homeless during the winter months, from Nov. 1 to April 1, said coordinator Elsa Carmen.

And five of the churches provide free dinners year-round for the needy. About 90 people showed up at a dinner last Friday that was provided by St. Rose of Lima Church, Brentnall said.

In addition to helping the homeless, the center could be used by the needy or the unemployed, Carmen said. "One of the first things you lose after you lose your job is your telephone," she said. Needy residents without phones could use the center to make or receive calls, she said.

Simi Valley homeless advocates said they hope that locating the center in a largely industrial area will cut down on the kind of neighborhood opposition that has killed similar projects in other parts of Ventura County.

A recent proposal to build a daytime shelter for the homeless in Thousand Oaks was defeated after opponents who live near the proposed site packed a Thousand Oaks City Council meeting in protest.

And plans for homeless shelters and low-income housing have also faced opposition in Ojai, Oxnard and Moorpark from residents who fear that proximity to the homeless can increase crime or lower property values.

But the lack of commercial or residential neighbors near the Simi Valley center may help minimize protest, organizers say.

The Planning Commission's recommendation will be discussed at a City Council public hearing in about a month, although an exact date has not been set, said senior planner Richard L. Braun.

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