More single men and women and families have checked into the Santa Clarita Valley’s Bridge to Home winter shelter in the first two weeks than in any of its previous 14 years, and the nonprofit shelter’s Board of Directors met Thursday night to develop a plan to bridge an impending budget gap of $20,000-$25,000 in its family voucher program.
At the present rate, the $7,500 budgeted for emergency family housing from Dec. 1 through the shelter’s close in mid-March would be depleted after the first month, leaving January, February and half of March unfunded, according to statistics released by the board Thursday morning.
“We’d like to see how we can go forward and not have to turn anyone away and continue to house folks even though we are over our capacity,” said Annette Guzman, the shelter’s on-site manager, prior to the meeting. Historically, the shelter has never turned away anyone — individuals or families — who has sought help there.
Instead of putting a cap on the number of people served and sending overflow clients elsewhere, board members decided Thursday night to implement a three-part plan to cover the additional operating expenses resulting from the surge in families seeking aid.
“We allocated a contribution we’d received of approximately $2,800 and dedicated that to the voucher program,” said Hunt Braly, vice president of the Santa Clarita Community Development Corporation. “We then directed our executive director Tim Davis and staff to continue the (voucher) program at least through January, and committed general funds as a backup for any expenditures. And the third item is that we tasked our fundraising committee to develop a program for raising additional funding specifically for this program, and to do that in January.”
Meanwhile, Braly said, “Anybody who wants to help us at this stage and wants to dedicate donations to the family voucher program can do that now by going on our website and making a donation, or sending it to our mailing address.”
Up to 60 single men and women can stay at the Bridge to Home shelter, located on Drayton Street in Newhall, while as many as five families are provided vouchers to stay temporarily at a local motel because children younger than 18 cannot be lodged at the shelter.
As the board met Thursday night, the shelter overflowed as another record number of people showed up at the Drayton Street facility.
“Last night, for the first time, we had to turn away homeless clients seeking shelter,” Tim Davis, Bridge to Home executive director, wrote in an email Friday afternoon. “We ran out of beds for men. Consequently five men were turned away…two single female clients declined to stay when their partners were turned away. We sheltered 59 single clients last night. Separately, we also had four families, with seven adults and nine children, sheltered in the motel.
“The Board of Directors, the shelter staff and I are now working to find a solution to this issue in hopes of never again turning a client away from our door,” Davis wrote.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) had provided to Bridge to Home $7,500 to fund the family program for the entire three-and-a-half-month season. But no more money is available this year from LAHSA, a joint Los Angeles County/City of Los Angeles agency, Braly said.
The spike in the number of people seeking aid this season over last was apparent from the first night Bridge to Home opened, Dec. 1, just as high winds and cold temperatures hit the region. Thirty-two men and women and three families (four adults and five children) signed in, a new opening night record, according to the SCCDC statistics released Thursday.
On opening night 2010, 27 men and women stayed at Bridge to Home, and no families sought assistance. That compared to 19 single clients and no families on opening night 2009. In 2010, the first family to check in arrived on Dec. 9, the ninth day of operations, and the average for December was one-to-two families.
For the season’s first two weeks, Dec. 1-14, the nightly average has been 45 men and women, compared to an average of 29 the same period last year, and the number of families has ranged from three to five each night so far this year.
On Wednesday night, Dec. 14, the shelter almost hit its capacity as 59 men and women checked in, compared to 36 the same night last year.
Guzman pointed to two factors contributing to the current upsurge at Bridge to Home. “Folks are continuing to look for jobs and employment so they can get a continual income to provide housing for themselves,” she said. “We’re also aware that some other agencies (including the Union Rescue Mission and the Glendale Armory) were unable to open or cut back their services this season, so some folks are looking outside of their regular area for housing.”
The Bridge to Home shelter provides hot meals, a safe environment and important job and medical resources to homeless people and others in need in the SCV during the coldest months of the year.
Along with addressing the impending shortfall for this season, the SCCDC’s primary goal is to expand from winter-only to year-round services. The organization’s recently launched “Friends of the Shelter” program invites local residents and business owners to contribute $10 or more a month to help cover the costs of keeping the shelter open and providing assistance to families year-round.
The local situation is a microcosm of what’s happening in the rest of the country. In the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 2011 survey of hunger and homelessness published Thursday, all but four of the 29 cities surveyed reported an increase in requests for emergency food assistance between September 2010 and August 2011.
The survey showed that half the requests came from families, 26 percent came from people with low-paying jobs, 19 percent from the elderly, and 11 percent from people identifying themselves as homeless.
A record 49.1 million Americans were living in poverty in 2010, according to government data.
Unemployment, poverty, low wages and high housing costs were cited by the mayors as primary causes for the increase in requests for assistance, even though the Great Recession officially ended two and a half years ago.
For more information about the SCV winter shelter, Bridge to Home, the family voucher program, the Friends of the Shelter program, and how to make donations, email Tim Davis, executive director, at firstname.lastname@example.org, call the shelter hotline at 661-259-1298 or visit www.btohome.com, where a list of current needs is also posted.