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Glendale’s homeless count works to make sure people feel they still matter

Sara Lerma interviewing Velda Batton for the annual Glendale homeless count on Wedneday, Jan. 22. Volunteers like Lerma spent the night traveling across the city talking to people like Batton in order to get an idea of how many unsheltered people are living in Glendale.
Sara Lerma interviews Velda Batton for the annual Glendale homeless count on Wedneday. Volunteers like Lerma spent the night traveling across the city talking to people like Batton in order to get an idea of how many unsheltered people are living in Glendale.
(Tim Berger/Glendale News-Press)

Be courteous, be kind and be loving.

Those were the directives given to a group of about 30 volunteers in Glendale as they spent Wednesday evening scouring local streets searching for the city’s homeless population.

With a mixture of community volunteers, city employees and officers from the Glendale Police Department, the group was split into several teams as they set out to areas in the city where homeless people are known to gather. The effort was part of an annual survey of the homeless population in Glendale to give city leaders an idea of how many unsheltered people live in the area and how social services can be better tailored.

Glendale’s count is similar to the one conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which was also held this week. Although separate from that count the city still submits the results from its own tally to the agency.

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The results won’t be known until sometime in May or June.

The previous count saw a 6.5% drop in the city’s homeless population, despite a 12% increase seen countywide. Last year, 243 homeless people were counted in Glendale compared to 260 people in 2018.

Despite the population decline, Ivet Samvelyan, the city’s community services manager, said the number is concerning, especially when, of the people counted, around 140 were living unsheltered.

“While we’re working on getting folks into housing and services, we still have a big gap in this community, whether it’s for emergency shelters or rapid rehousing,” she said.

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Samvelyan said it’ll take a collaborative effort with the city, nonprofit agencies, residents as well as state and federal government in order to address homelessness in the community.

Volunteers interview several homeless people standing in front of a 7-Eleven at the corner of Chevy Chase Drive and Glendale Avenue as part of the city’s annual homeless count.
Volunteers interview several homeless people standing in front of a 7-Eleven at the corner of Chevy Chase Drive and Glendale Avenue as part of the city’s annual homeless count.
(Tim Berger/Glendale News-Press)

At around 8 p.m., a group of volunteers were at a 7-Eleven on the corner of Chevy Chase Drive and Glendale Avenue talking to several homeless men standing in front of the store. They asked them a series of questions about their backgrounds including how long they’ve been homeless, how they got to be homeless and whether or not they had any long-term physical or mental health issues.

The survey is voluntary and people can offer as much or as little information as they want. Regardless of their participation, people are then offered a hygiene kit and a jacket or blanket.

They are also given a small pamphlet listing homeless organizations and programs they can contact.

One of the men, 46-year-old Carlos Orozco, had been living on and off in Glendale for the past 36 years but had become homeless in the last 12 months. He said he lost his job as an auto mechanic after the state took away his driver’s license because he suffered a seizure brought on by alcohol withdrawal.

“They took away my license because I’m considered a danger to society,” he said. “I can’t work anymore … because I can’t test drive cars. It’s a nightmare for me. I went to school for that.”

Because he lost his job, Orozco could no longer afford his rent. He said he now spends his nights either sleeping at a nearby church or in Palmer Park.

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Sara Lerma, a Chatsworth resident, said being able to volunteer for the count allowed her to help “re-humanize” people who have often been overlooked by society and to hear their stories. In addition to the count, Lerma said she also volunteers for a nonprofit called Compassion Through Action, which hands out clothes and meals to people living on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

“We’re all one tragedy away from being homeless,” she said. “Maybe one day, I’m going to need somebody to count me … I don’t think I’m better than any of these people at all.”

tn-gnp-me-glendale-homeless-count-20200121-5.Glendale Police Officer Daniel Lee and Community Services Manager Ivet Samvelyan take a blanket and bag of toiletries to a homeless man who had been interviewed for the city’s homeless count while at the Glendale Transportation Center on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
Glendale Police Officer Daniel Lee and Community Services Manager Ivet Samvelyan take a blanket and bag of toiletries to a homeless man who had been interviewed for the city’s homeless count while at the Glendale Transportation Center on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
(Tim Berger/Glendale News Press)

Another site the volunteers visited was the Glendale Transportation Center, where several people had taken refuge for the night in the ticketing area. They soon got to work conducting the surveys, passing out hygiene kits and offering blankets.

One of the people at the center was 55-year-old Velda Batton, who has been homeless for more than a decade and has been in Glendale since 2011. She’s unable to move around without the use of her walker and frequently spends her nights sleeping on the floor of the ticketing area.

A native of West Virginia, Batton said she met her now ex-husband at a shelter in Glendale and the two were able to save up enough money to move out to Lancaster. However, things soon took a bad turn.

“He gets a woman who works at a Pizza Hut pregnant more than once, and he throws me out,” she said. “Now I’m back to being homeless, and I don’t trust nobody.”

Despite her distrust, Batton said she still has to forgive people like her ex-husband and “lay it in God’s hand and let him sort it all out” in the end.

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