By LUCY GUANUNA
HIGHLAND PARK — Many of the pews at All Saints Episcopal Church have been filled every night after being converted to beds for the homeless. But those pews are a problem for a county homeless agency, which says they are not suitable for sleeping. As a result, Northeast L.A.’s only homeless shelter won’t be able to receive $75,000 in city funding it requested to stay open during the winter.
Following inspections last week, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority determined that the shelter was not up to their standards, citing the narrow church pews as one of the reasons, according to City Council officials and shelter organizers. That decision prevents the Northeast Los Angeles Winter Access Center, as the shelter is called, from receiving funding from the city, according to shelter organizers.
“They have concerns about people sleeping in pews and potentially rolling over, falling and hurting themselves,” said Fredy Ceja, spokesman for 1st District Councilman Gil Cedillo.
The shelter is at capacity and is currently run by volunteers and funded by donations. Recycled Resources, the local homeless support group operating the shelter, was hoping to receive about $75,000 in funds from the $12.4 million in emergency homeless relief funding the City Council approved last week. Those funds included money for an additional 650 winter shelter beds.
Now some local officials are scrambling to open a winter shelter in NELA. During a visit to the Highland Park shelter on Tuesday night, 14th District Councilman Jose Huizar offered between $15,000 to $25,000 of his office’s discretionary funding to help keep the shelter open.
“Irrespective of what LAHSA does, we are going to get some money here so that the center continues to operate for the winter,” said Huizar, calling on the importance of the shelter to stay open in light of the anticipated storms of El Nino.
Councilman Cedillo introduced a motion to open up the Bridewell Armory in Highland Park to be used as an emergency winter shelter and also asked the homeless authority to reconsider its decision about the existing shelter. But Rebecca Prine, founder and director of Recycled Resources said the armory needs much fixing and wouldn’t be ready in time for the winter.
Monica Alcaraz, president of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council and a shelter organizer, said that “we have to move forward. We can’t stop just because they’re not going to give us funding when they haven’t been giving us funding.”
UPDATE @ 6:49 pm: The city will go ahead and help fund the Highland Park shelter despite the concerns of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, according Ceja at Council District 1. The City Council today approved two motions by Cedillo that will provide funding for the shelter at All Saints Episcopal and also open the Bridewell Armory as shelter space.
Separately, the City Council also approved a motion by Councilman Huizar to use $20,000 of his discretionary funds for the Highland Park shelter.
Lucy Guanuna is a freelance reporter who has covered a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.
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