Members of The Sylmar Neighborhood Council gave this account of their experience when counting the homeless in their community.
Fifty volunteers showed up Thursday night, January 29, for Sylmar’s part in the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, which is organized by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) as part of a nationwide effort. Two volunteers were formerly homeless themselves. The purpose of the event is to ensure that Federal, State, County and City funds are fairly distributed for programs that provide shelter, housing and services to homeless persons in Los Angeles City and County. This was the first time that Sylmar had opted in to the count and was the first time for most of those participating. Peggy Courtney volunteered to be the Sylmar Coordinator and Ann Job volunteered to be the Trainer. Both are on the board of the Sylmar Neighborhood Council. Concordia Jr./Sr. High School, a local Christian school, volunteered the campus to be the deployment site.
The night started out clear and cold, becoming increasingly drizzly as the evening progressed. Volunteers signed in 8:00 PM at Concordia Jr./Sr. High School and assembled for training. Teams of three and four were deployed at 9:00 PM having been assigned one of 15 specific census areas of Sylmar. We all headed out on our missions to scour the streets, alleys, parks, and shopping centers of our designated areas looking for and counting individuals and families as well as cars, campers, vans and encampments where we found them to be living. There was to be no intentional interaction with homeless individuals and we were to be as unobtrusive as possible during the process.
At about 11:00 PM, we reported back to Concordia, As other teams straggled in from the cold, we compared our experiences over pizza, donated by the Sylmar Neighborhood Council. Volunteers familiar with the area were not surprised to find homeless, but the large number was disturbing. There were homeless found in each and every census area. There was no doubt that this point-in-time count was important to our community.
101 homeless individuals were counted during these few hours and many more were found sleeping in vehicles, trailers, vacant buildings, and make-shift shelters. Many were found huddled, along with shopping carts filled with their possessions, amongst the shrubbery or walls blending into the dark. According to volunteer and local business owner Bonnie Bernard, the largest concentrations were found in “tent cities” between the foothills and the 210 freeway and along some of our residential streets, as well as behind shopping centers. Laurie Fadness from the Sylmar Neighborhood Council, reported finding thirty homeless in their team’s area, and of helping one homeless man receive the medical attention he needed for a dog bite.
The unofficial numbers, as reported by the volunteers were:
• 101 individuals
• 1 family of four: a mom and 3 kids
• 17 cars / 6 vans
• 48 campers or RVs
• 15 tents (some make-shift)
• 8 make-shift shelters
• 125 in the winter shelter (Sylmar Armory)
Volunteers came from a number of local organizations such as the Sylmar Neighborhood Council, Councilman Fuentes’ Office, Flowers4You, Fresh & Easy, Graffiti Busters, Light and Life Christian Fellowship, New Song Foursquare Church, parents and alumni of Concordia Schools, North East Valley Health Corporation, Redemption Church of the Foothills, and St. Germaine Flowers. Each counted because they care.
Though Sylmar’s homeless count was truly a team effort Peggy Courtney and Ann Job deserve special thanks for their hard work and leadership. All the volunteers received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Homeless Services Authority and a T-shirt as a thank you for their contribution to the count. Judging by the smiles on others’ faces, I am pretty confident that I speak not only for myself when I say that the real reward was knowing that together we counted the whole of Sylmar, and our homeless neighbors will be receiving their fair share of help in the future. It was indeed a time for those of us who participated to feel a sense of community and service. The experience left us all in high spirits saying, “Let’s do this again in 2017!”