Bringing homeless in from the cold

Glendale officials and homeless advocates are gearing up to move from a county-run 150-bed facility to a significantly smaller city-operated 50-bed winter shelter program at the Glendale National Guard Armory, a move they say will be a challenging transition.

“We have people who are accustomed to just showing up and getting served,” said Natalie Komuro, executive director of the Glendale homeless advocacy group Ascencia. “Let me tell you, you’re going to still have people standing at the door.”

The city has been pushing for the smaller program for almost two years in the hope that downsizing will reduce the number of transients that come every winter. A smaller group can be more focused, officials said, and perhaps allow them to be more effective in transitioning more people out of homelessness. But the move to a smaller program has been met with concern from homeless officials worried that a 50-bed shelter will not meet needs.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has run the larger regional shelter for years. LAHSA officials said they did not want to give up the armory space, but when no group stepped up to manage the winter shelter, they felt they had little choice.

When that occurred, Glendale was able to use the facility for its smaller program, which will cost an estimated $151,000.

LAHSA Spokesman Peter Griffith said a $20-per-bed payment wasn’t enough to entice shelter managers, who, when more funding was available, could receive more money. In addition to reduced county aid, federal assistance also has been scaled back, Griffith said.

“We got a double whammy,” Griffith said. “At least 50 people getting housed is better than zero.”

Nonprofit providers of homeless services also have been hit with funding delays, making it harder to attract reputable managers of the service. Rev. Andy Bales of Union Rescue Mission said Eimago, its subsidiary that managed the armory shelter in the past, didn’t receive $305,000 of last year’s federal funds for work on multiple county shelters until a couple of weeks ago.

LAHSA will be providing 1,527 beds at shelters throughout the region, down from 1,653. A West Los Angeles shelter opened six weeks early because of high demand.

Glendale’s program, to run Dec. 15 through Mar. 15, will only accept people referred by aid agencies in Burbank and Glendale. Users must be Glendale or Burbank residents or have ties to the cities.

“The plan is to work very closely with our clients,” said Ivet Samvelyan, Glendale’s homeless coordinator, adding that some may receive transitional housing benefits after the program is over. The most vulnerable will be targeted, she said.

But Komuro said the program — which requires homeless clients to come every night and complete tasks assigned by case managers or get kicked out — may not work because the most vulnerable are often the least likely to be consistent.

“Our concern is that these most vulnerable people are going to be excluded from the one program that is supposed to protect them from the cold,” Komuro said.

Joe Colletti of Urban Initiatives, which will be managing the shelter, said case managers “are going to try to change their behavior.”

The city plans to have its list of participants by Dec. 5. Sex offenders and transients with criminal histories will be barred, and participants that get in trouble will be removed, Samvelyan said.

The city has taken the armory off several referral lists in an attempt to reduce demand, but public safety officials don’t think that’s enough.

“We’re going to have a flood of people sleeping on the grass in front of the library and Adult Recreation Center because that’s what’s going to happen,” said Glendale Police Officer Sue Shine.

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