Even with the number of winter shelter beds available to the homeless in Burbank drastically reduced this year, city officials say the end result could be better since the quality of services will be higher. That viewpoint is getting mixed reviews from those who work with that community, however.
In deciding to leave the Los Angeles County-funded winter shelter program this year and go it alone, Glendale — which serves homeless clients in Burbank — will offer just 50 beds, down from about 150 last year.
But those who do get a bed will be flushed with social services and counseling to move them from a temporary shelter to transitional housing and on the path to self-sufficiency.
“We believe we can provide a greater level of service for those who do come,” said Councilman Dave Golonski, who sits on the Burbank Homeless Task Force.
The concept has been lauded by some as a noble effort to make lasting change, and criticized by others, who say the goal should be to get as many transients as possible out of the potentially deadly winter conditions.
Tim Davis, executive director of Santa Clarita Community Development Corp., which operates shelters in Sylmar and Santa Clarita Valley, said he has been working with officials in Glendale since August, but has mixed feelings about the change.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Davis said. “The national idea is showing very good results, financially and in its humaneness, when you provide a maximum effort to get people into homes as soon as possible. I respect that and appreciate it.
“But on the other side, because it’s…limited to 50 clients, that’s 150 to 200 people that normally use it and don’t have shelter.”
Andy Bales, president of the Union Rescue Mission — which had operated the county-funded shelter under its secular subsidiary, EIMAGO — said there’s “not just concern on the part of other cities, there’s panic.”
There are a lot more people than beds available, and when temperatures drop below 40 degrees, along with rain, the combination could be deadly, Bales said.
“I think it’s irresponsible to be turning people away,” Bales said. “The whole reason for the winter shelter was to save peoples’ lives. If you turn people away, you may be turning people away to their deaths.”
Burbank Deputy Housing and Redevelopment Manager Maribel Leyland said last year, 38 transients from the city used the winter shelter in Glendale.
But more than 200 people were counted as homeless in Burbank in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
And whereas the county winter shelter program has traditionally started on Dec. 1, the new Glendale operation at the National Guard Armory won’t start accepting clients until Dec. 15.
Barbara Howell, executive director of Burbank Temporary Aid Center, said there were homeless people in Burbank who had refused to go to the winter shelter even when it was local.
“They couldn’t bring their possessions in, there was no parking or there were substance abuse problems,” Howell said.
She added that while there would be fewer beds this year, it was the only shelter available in the area.
“I’m feeling that 50 more people [are going to be] sheltered than would’ve been,” Howell said.
The Burbank Temporary Aid Center would do its best to refer clients to other shelters, she said, including in Santa Clarita and Sylmar, where organizers are already preparing for more people.
Pasadena is also bracing for more homeless clients as a result of the smaller Glendale operation.
Golonski said the homeless task force looked at the numbers and felt the new shelter would be able to accommodate Burbank and Glendale transients.
Still, while their intentions may be honorable, Bales said, “you don’t do that by leaving everyone else out in the cold.”