Burbank looks to help the homeless

BURBANK — As Burbank’s temporary winter homeless shelter begins to wrap up seasonal operations at the National Guard Armory, city officials are considering ways to keep providing services to the area’s transient population.

The Burbank City Council on Tuesday supported forming a subcommittee to provide long-term homeless services in a city that has never provided such assistance.

“It’s time for us to take a look at what we’re doing in the homeless arena, including what funding is available and what programs we can provide,” said Councilman Dave Golonski, who pushed the council to consider the subcommittee nearly a month ago. “I believe it’s in our community’s best interest to provide a higher level of service that helps them transition out of homelessness.”

Burbank has never provided shelter for transients and was pressed to do so in the face of construction going on this winter at Glendale’s National Guard Armory, which usually houses the homeless from Dec. 1 to March 15.

The Union Rescue Mission stepped in to run the shelter, and the Burbank City Council approved the armory as an acceptable location after a contentious Dec. 4 debate.

While Burbank is new to providing services to the homeless, Glendale has been in the business nearly 15 years.

Glendale has been providing homeless services since 1994 and has been helping to run a winter shelter program from its armory for more than 10 years, said Jess Duran, Glendale’s assistant director of community development for housing.

Last year, Glendale received $2.1 million in federal Housing and Urban Development funds and used more than $1 million in Los Angeles County funds to operate year-round centers and provide transitional programs, Duran said.

“Glendale is the standard,” Golonski said. “Their approach is the model.”

To help get a homeless service program off the ground, Burbank could apply for federal funds that are doled out through the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Last year, the authority received nearly $68 million from the federal agency, a portion of which Burbank could compete for against other cities in Los Angeles County that are considering similar homeless service projects, said funding manager David Howden.

In addition to federal funds, Burbank might access some of its redevelopment agency money for transitional housing programs, Golonski said.

A homeless subcommittee would consist of two council members and city staff members to help coordinate services in the future, City Manager Mary Alvord said.“A task force, that would make it more efficient,” she said.

On Tuesday night, Councilwoman Anja Reinke said she would serve on the panel along with Golonski.

“Clearly, Glendale was shouldering the burden, and I think it’s time to do our part,” she said. “If there is funding available, we should grab some of that to do our part.”

But Councilman David Gordon, who was alone in his dissent of a subcommittee, opted for a more open panel that is visible to the community.

“This issue is so important that this is an idea that should be in a study session with staff bringing back proposals,” he said. “There should be notices given to the community that, if we get an overwhelming response, would help us make an appropriate decision. As worthy as this may be, I think this should be done completely and entirely in an open session.”

Still, others see a subcommittee as a way of getting resources to the homeless. The subcommittee could make it easier for organizations to contribute goods and services to the homeless, said Kathleen Hosie, a graduate student at UCLA’s school of public policy who, along with Eunie Kim, is compiling a report about Burbank’s homeless for a school project and is concurrently working with the city on ways Burbank can provide more permanent services to the area’s transients.

“It would be a good opportunity for service providers to continue to reach out to a captive audience,” she said. “The faith-based community has been key. I have seen people from Christian churches, synagogues and Mormon communities. Typically they sponsor a meal, prepare it and serve it. More than that, I would increase case management as much as possible, provide workshops and bring in the community.”

The idea of a subcommittee was welcomed by some service providers in Burbank, whose workload has increased since the shelter opened.

“It makes sense to do this,” said Barbara Howell, executive director of the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, which providesassistance to homeless and low-income residents.

Since the temporary winter shelter opened on Dec. 12, Howell has seen a marked increase in the number of people using the aid centers’ services.

“Regularly, we get between 150 and 200 people a week,” she said. “Now we get 300 on a regular basis every week. We’ve been serving 50% more lunches, providing 50% more showers and have been really busy. “[A subcommittee] would give us a wonderful opportunity to explore what services we might be able to offer to the community, including providing budget classes and transitional housing.”

Estimates of Burbank’s homeless population range from 50 to 200, Hosie said, while Glendale’s homeless population is nearly 300, Duran said.

City staff members will now bring back details for the subcommittee at a future meeting.

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