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Learning Matters: Nonprofits, agencies trying even harder to stem the tide of homelessness, lend a hand to those on the edge of losing their housing

Learning Matters: Nonprofits, agencies trying even harder to stem the tide of homelessness, lend a hand to those on the edge of losing their housing
Glendale Police Department homeless outreach officer Steve Koszis checks an area where homeless people have been seen in 2018. (File Photo)

“If you’re not homeless, I can’t help you.”

That’s the sympathetic but honest answer a Glendale resident and U.S. Navy veteran received last year when he sought advice from a social worker at the Glendale Downtown Central Library.

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I’d suggested he speak with her about his prospects for entry into veterans housing — or any other low-income, subsidized housing that would offer more stability than he felt in his current circumstances.

Like many current residents in our area’s shrinking inventory of low-rent housing, my friend is living on a fixed income. His is about $900 a month, and he’s worried about his next rent increase.

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He’s already on the waiting list for a Section 8 rental subsidy, a federal program funded and administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but he’s far down on the list.

According to the city of Glendale’s website, there are currently 2,300 names on the list, and there aren’t enough apartments available even for some of the folks toward the top.

My friend came away from his visit to the library with a conclusion that becoming homeless might be his best bet; it would move him up the list.

With points for being a veteran and for having a disability, he figures he’ll have a better chance of finding affordable housing once he’s no longer housed.

Soon after he shared his story with me, I called Natalie Komuro, who was then the executive director of Ascencia, Glendale’s 45-bed year-round shelter. She confirmed the answer my friend had received.

Ascencia is funded to provide services to homeless individuals and families, she said, and it must comply with the terms and goals of its funding sources. As much as she wished she could help those at risk of homelessness, there was little Ascencia could do.

Once individuals have entered the system, agencies such as Ascencia and other partners in the city’s homeless-services continuum of care can and do continue to provide supportive services to help clients maintain stability, but Komuro acknowledged the challenge of homeless prevention.

I’m happy to report there are signs of movement in this “Catch 22” system. Language is appearing in local emergency-housing measures and state bills that would allow more funds to be used for homeless prevention.

Ascencia and others are continually working on ways to lower the numbers of individuals on our streets, with outreach workers and police working together to steer people to services.

But as difficult as it is to reach people already on the streets, it’s even harder to get information about services to people who aren’t homeless yet — individuals like my friend, who has a room today but worries he won’t have one a few months from now, or families with parents working two jobs while trying to keep their children in school.

Many of those families don’t have time to look for help for an emergency that hasn’t happened yet.

So I’m also happy to report an effort underway to spread the word about programs and services available to individuals before a housing emergency happens.

Glendale Communitas Initiative, a local nonprofit formed four years ago to address poverty prevention and recovery, is partnering with volunteers of the Sunday lunch program in a stepped-up effort to better equip volunteers with the information they need to help guide people to available community resources.

The Sunday lunch program, for the record, is a loose association of Glendale area churches that has been coordinating weekly lunches for homeless and marginally-housed individuals since 1995.

That was the year two former members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church formed the nonprofit Food for Body & Soul to offer a meal on the one day of the week the Salvation Army didn’t offer a free lunch.

Some years later, the Salvation Army ceased its weekday lunches, and sometime after that, Food for Body & Soul became inactive as a nonprofit. However, at the suggestion of St. Mark’s member and ever-ready volunteer Monique Poon, participating churches agreed to continue to support the Sunday lunches, with each church hosting lunches for one or two months a year.

La Crescenta Presbyterian, too far from downtown Glendale to host a lunch, faithfully sends a team of volunteers to cook and serve at the host churches one Sunday each month. Local agencies like the Glendale Central Library, the Verdugo Jobs Center, and the city’s Homeless Services Department, as well as the participating churches, distribute Sunday lunch schedules as needed.

Now, after many discussions among representatives of the participating churches, the volunteers in the Sunday lunch program agreed they want to offer more than a meal on Sundays. They’re planning to better equip their volunteers — and others who may be interested in stemming the tide of homelessness — to serve as resource guides to individuals seeking a way out of poverty.

They’re working with Communitas to schedule a series of volunteer training sessions.

Watch for training dates and other events on the Communitas website, glendalecommunitasinitiative.org.

Joylene Wagner volunteers with the Sunday lunch program and is a member of the board of Communitas and other local nonprofits. Email her at jkate4400@aol.com.

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