Burb's Eye View: Decades of helping the homeless

When Barbara Howell interviewed for the job of directing Burbank’s aid center and food bank, the building looked lived-in and run down.

It needed help in a big way.

“I’m sitting there in the interview and I’m thinking, ‘How do I get out of this?’ The place was falling down around us,” Howell said.

Now 10 years later, the Burbank Temporary Aid Center is planning to expand into the building next door. Its case management program is helping families from becoming homeless. It is taking some of the burden of care and support off of the churches, schools and taxpayers that otherwise would fill the gap.

With seven staff members and more than 60 volunteers, the center is trying to turn things around for people who need help and ask for it.

“I have the best job in the world,” Howell now says.

On March 7, the Burbank Temporary Aid Center will celebrate its 40th anniversary with an annual gala that provides a boon to its operating expenses.

Its main service is the food pantry that runs out of its Magnolia Boulevard headquarters.

“Gold around here is peanut butter and cereal,” said client service manager Pedro Torres.

For five days a week, volunteers pack food orders for Burbank families. They also pack brown-bag lunches with sandwiches provided by local churches.

Though the center is not a faith-based organization, it was started in 1974 by the Ministerial Assn. and the Burbank Coordinating Council. Pastors and rabbis in Burbank had seen homeless all over the city asking for clothes, food and help with paying bills.

Today, the Burbank Temporary Aid Center distributes about $600,000 in food, plus $100,000 in assistance to about 10% of Burbank’s population — 3,000 households and about 300 homeless.

Many are longtime residents of Burbank, some are dream chasers who come to Hollywood and Burbank looking for the promise of stardom but end up living in their cars. Occasionally, the center pays for a bus ticket back home. If someone takes advantage of that, they can’t come back for further help from the center.

“It’s not like a travel agency,” Howell said.

Without the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, there would still be a need, Torres said. “Just not providing the resources doesn’t make the problem go away.”

The sack-lunch line is what people see when they drive by the center, but the case work is the facility’s holistic approach to solving problems. When people ask the Burbank Temporary Aid Center for assistance, its case managers make sure they know about every shelter program, every resource for which they qualify. The goal is to bring people out of poverty, not enable them to continue on the same track.

“It’s not realistic to get a homeless person re-housed in Burbank,” Howell said. “If we can prevent someone from becoming homeless, that’s a better success.”

This year, the Burbank Temporary Aid Center will expand into the building next door. With about $175,000 to $200,000 in grants and donations, it will expand its offices so it can hold more formal classes in money management, job hunting and other life skills.

The space will help the Burbank Temporary Aid Center continue to fill a gap and serve about 10,000 people in Burbank — the low-income people who don’t want to leave Burbank or the disabled people who can’t.

“Who knows what the next opportunity will be,” Howell said. “My board and I want to embrace the needs of the community.”

The center’s 2014 gala will take place at Castaway restaurant, 1250 Harvard Road, and will feature a dinner, silent auction and raffle. A reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. with dinner starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $110.

For more information, call (818) 848-2822, Ext. 110 or visit burbanktemporaryaidcenter.org.

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BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.

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