Holidays offer hope for homeless at winter shelter

John Emery Johnston spent last Christmas sleeping in his Dodge Caravan. This Christmas, he sat eating waffles, bacon and a spinach quiche served by volunteers at a Glendale shelter.

“I never dreamed I’d be in that kind of plight,” said the 62-year-old Army veteran, who has been living for five months at a transitional housing center run by Ascencia, Glendale’s largest services homeless provider. Before that, he lived for a year in his car.

PHOTOS: Volunteers serve Christmas breakfast at Ascencia

Johnston — who spiraled into homelessness in 2011 after losing his job of 26 years as a library technician — and about 50 others were served breakfast by Skip 1, a nonprofit that asks people to skip one thing a day and use that money to help others. In addition to the meal, Skip 1 also doled out $50 gift cards to diners.

“We’re all one step away from saying yes, from helping someone else,” said Shelene Bryan, Skip 1’s founder.

That’s how Francisco Lovato feels, too. Even though he’s homeless, the 57-year-old spent last week helping others. He sang original Christmas songs he wrote as he collected money for the Salvation Army’s annual holiday fundraiser featuring red kettles.

“It was so heavy, I couldn’t pick it up,” said Lovato, a handyman who has been out of steady work for about a year. He lost his house in Van Nuys after his mortgage outpaced his earnings, despite working at a hardware store and cleaning pools on the side.

At the beginning of the month, Lovato was in line to sleep at Ascencia’s 80-bed emergency winter shelter on Fernando Court, but now he’s staying at the transitional shelter on Tyburn Street.

“I’m hoping and wishing the whole time that I can get my own studio,” Lovato said.

Elaine Popkin, a 62-year-old formerly homeless woman who was also at the breakfast, got an apartment two months ago thanks to Ascencia, which provides funding for rent through federal and state grants. Popkin had spent winter after winter at Glendale’s emergency shelter, which until this year had been at the National Guard Armory on Colorado Boulevard. She used to call the armory the only home she had, even though it was a temporary one, but that’s no longer the case.

Although she has her own place, Popkin still enjoys spending time at Ascencia’s headquarters and thought the bagels and cream cheese she had with a side of bacon on Christmas morning was delicious.

“The way I cope, I talk to people. I laugh at jokes. I try to forget about my problems,” Popkin said.


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


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