Shelter program opens quietly

About an hour into the first night of an experimental homeless shelter at Glendale’s National Guard Armory, volunteers and staff outnumbered clients about two to one.

“It’s smaller, way smaller,” said Steven Elliott, a 52-year-old homeless man who stayed at the armory last winter when people lined up at the door to take refuge from the cold.

The long lines and chaotic quarters have been replaced by a mostly empty armory due to a new shelter program sponsored by Glendale and Burbank — and Scott McLeod, a 52-year-old who normally sleeps under an awning outside a Glendale church, didn’t mind.

“The atmosphere is a little better,” he said.

For the next 90 days, Glendale and Burbank plan to run a 50-bed program limited to pre-selected clients that have community ties. The program has a budget of $150,000. Fourteen transients showed up on opening night Thursday, many fewer than the 150 people the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has housed in the past at its come-one, come-all shelter at the armory.

City officials have said they hope the smaller program will help transition some clients into temporary housing, as well as deter homeless people from outside the city from coming to Glendale. Homeless Services Coordinator Ivet Samvelyan said she expects to house about 15 households.

All clients receive photo ID cards and their personal information is entered into a system that can be accessed by local service providers. The program requires clients to return to the shelter every night and complete tasks assigned by case managers. If they don’t, they’re at risk of being cut from the program.

Homeless care groups in both cities are still contacting prospective clients who made the referral list in order to reach full capacity. In Glendale, officials began the outreach process in early December. But Burbank didn’t start contacting members of its homeless population until this week because the City Council hadn’t given final approval until Tuesday.

Twelve of the 14 clients on Thursday came from Glendale, the other two from Burbank, including a man who would only identify himself as Johnny. He said he didn’t know he could come until three hours before the shelter opened.

While critics of the smaller program feared homeless people would line up outside the armory expecting aid because of past regional shelters there, Glendale Police Sgt. John Gilkerson said he’s only seen a few transients pass by in recent weeks.

Large signs posted on the armory doors say the new program is for pre-selected clients only.

“There hasn’t been droves,” Gilkerson said.

That’s not the case in nearby cities. A 160-bed shelter in West Los Angeles opened more than a month early to meet high demand, and in Santa Clarita, a 54-bed shelter has surpassed capacity and is averaging 13 more clients each night than last year, operators said.

“We’ve had to put the overflow in the dining room,” said Tim Davis, executive director of Santa Clarita Community Development Corporation, which also runs a 125-bed shelter in Sylmar.

Although homeless advocates believe the new approach in Glendale is well intentioned, it has its critics, including those who say a cold weather shelter should be about getting as many transients off the streets as possible.

“It’s too little, too late,” said Rev. Andy Bales, president of the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles.

As for the clients, the jury is still out.

“These guys say they are going to try to help me — we’ll see,” Elliott said.

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