A more typical winter homeless shelter operation returns, and so do the clients

Elaine Popkin took off her shoes and poured herself a cup of hot coffee -- milky brown from all the cream -- after claiming a cot at Glendale’s winter shelter earlier this week.

“Let’s put it this way -- it’s home. For me, this is home,” said the 61-year-old dressed in a purple, fuzzy sweater pulled over her greasy hair.

Popkin has spent winter after winter at the National Guard Armory on Colorado Boulevard and has seen the shelter change over the years. It once had 150 beds, but there were times when 200 people would seek refuge, some sleeping on the floor. Then last year, Glendale and Burbank pulled out of Los Angeles County’s regional winter shelter system and set up a 50-bed program for locals only.

Out of money this year, the cities could no longer go their own way, and so on Dec. 1, the armory returned to a first come, first serve shelter operation, but with just 80 beds.

Despite the rain, the shelter saw less than 50 people on opening weekend, but officials expected attendance to jump this weekend. Although it was open to anyone, most of the inhabitants hailed from Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, said Ron Cercedes, who works for Ascencia, Glendale’s largest homeless services provider, which took over running the shelter for the first time.

Still, some homeless clients got there early, worried they wouldn’t get a bed because of the fewer number of beds compared to years past. One of them was Mylan Trivanovich, who showed up at 5 p.m. on Monday, an hour before opening to stand in line with a handful of others. When the shelter did open, about 30 people were already in line, some arriving later due to work or school.

“I was sort of worried if I didn’t get in early, I wouldn’t get in,” 65-year-old Trivanovich said.

If he didn’t make the cut, he’d have to find a place outdoors. When it rains, or he can’t find a safe place, he said he rides county buses all night long.

The hardest part of being homeless is finding a place to sleep, said William Coleman, who’s lived outdoors in Glendale and Burbank for the last 16 years.

Coleman, 55, was able to climb out of homelessness in the 1970s, but he’s stuck on the streets now because he’s unemployed and sick with shingles.

Coleman is what service providers call chronically homeless, someone with a disabling condition that has lived without a home for more than a year. Many of the people at the shelter Monday night were also long-timers and Coleman knew them well. They tend to travel in a group, going to the same churches for a free lunch.

But then there are people like Brooke Clemens and her fiancée — two 18-year-olds with nowhere to go. Her fiancée, who sat in a wheelchair as he ate dinner donated by volunteers, didn’t want to give his name because their path to homelessness started with drugs.

The couple, originally from Nebraska, traveled around the country before settling in El Monte. There they lived for about five months — sometimes with a drug dealer — while using meth, weed, ecstasy and other drugs. Tired of ruining their minds and their bodies, the two gave up meth and got out of El Monte.

They migrated to Hollywood about two weeks ago in search of a better life. Now they’re sleeping at the Glendale shelter.

But they don’t plan on being homeless for long. Clemens hopes to get a job at a restaurant, she said, and the couple is giving themselves a month and a half to get a permanent place to live.

“It was rough, it got good, now it’s really hard,” she said.

-- Brittany Levine, Times Community News

Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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