Georgina Rodriguez will not soon forget the most terrifying night of her life.
The young girl and her family were awakened and evacuated from the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission’s homeless shelter in North Hollywood because of a fire on May 3, 2014. The fire destroyed the emergency family shelter, other buildings and most of the Mission’s vehicle fleet, in all causing $2.5 million in damage.
“It was absolutely terrifying. It was my first fire and it was so scary,” said Rodriguez, 15. As she and the other 14 evacuated families looked at the smoldering embers and charred remains of the buildings, each family having lost all or most of their remaining possessions, Rodriguez couldn’t help thinking to herself that night “if anything else could happen to me.”
Something good did come out of that awful night for Rodriguez and her family: a new, much bigger shelter in Northridge, known as “Home Again,” that was ceremoniously opened on Monday, June 29.
The two-story Family Resource Center, built upon 16,000 square feet, has a capacity of 90 beds — triple the amount at the North Hollywood shelter.Thirty of the beds are downstairs and comprise an emergency shelter. In addition there is a full-service, commercial kitchen and dining room; computer lab; laundry facilities; meeting rooms; family lounge; a playground, and garden.
Rodriguez and her family will be the only family burned out of the North Hollywood facility that will take up residence in the new shelter; the other families have gotten into their own apartments. But she believes her family will be ready to do the same very shortly.
“It’s an amazing experience. It is total amazing,” said Rodriguez, who will work as a volunteer at the new shelter. “There are so many people that care about you. It’s shocking that people care about you so much even though they don’t know you. They really want the best for you. It’s been an amazing experience.
“I’ve done so many things I probably wouldn’t have done if I’d never lived here, like going to Dodger Stadium and going on the field, after the fire.”
Mission Director Wade Trimmer said families won’t be moving into the new shelter for at least a couple of weeks. He said 30 families have been accepted initially, and there is a waiting list for other beds. “It makes sense to get used to the space first,” Trimmer said.
He said that families are allowed to stay in the emergency shelter for up to 90 days. Families assigned to the other beds can stay for up to 10 months. But, Trimmer said, families are also expected to get a job or jobs, and 80 percent of that income must be saved for when they have to eventually leave.
“In return, they get food and shelter, clothing if they need it — they get a lot of their needs taken care of,” Trimmer said. “And they also have to contribute while they’re here — not financially, but they work while they are here. They have chores to do. And that’s part of dignity.
“You can’t give people dignity by giving them everything. It actually strips them of dignity. When you get into a situation where you feel like a taker, where everything is given to you, it actually diminishes you as an individual. Your identity is stripped away. Everybody in the world is a giver. That’s the way we’re made.”
This will be the largest homeless shelter in the San Fernando Valley, Trimmer said. But lack of shelter and jobs remain pressing social issues in Los Angeles county. In May, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) released the results of its biennial Los Angeles Homeless Count conducted in January, saying collected data showed a 16 percent increase in the number of homeless men, women and children in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care (Los Angeles County excluding Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach) since 2013. It totaled 41,174 homeless persons in 2015, compared to 35,524 in 2013.
The LAHSA survey also said the number of homeless family members increased 12 percent, from 6,678 to 7,505, and that the number of tents, makeshift shelters and vehicles seen during the Count increased by 85 percent since 2013.
Los Angeles county isn’t the only place in the USA struggling to end homelessness.
John Ashmen, president of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (of which San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission is a member) said his association had 300 rescue missions trying to provide aid to homeless families.
“You’ll have an anomaly here and there but by and large every rescue mission is filled and overflowing every night,” Ashmen said. “Many cities have had 10-year plans to end homelessness. And when you go back and look at when they planned them, they’re revising them and revising them. It can be 20 years ago that they had a 10-year plan to end homelessness. Some of them are in their third decade now.”
Ninety beds won’t solve the problem in the Valley, much less L.A. county. And Trimmer and staff still have fundraising work to do. So far they have received $3 million in donations, about half of what’s needed to pay for the entire project.
But for lucky ones like Rodriguez and her family, there is a chance to get back on their feet.
“I am more than happy,” she said. “Words can not really explain how happy I am for this place. I’m so grateful for everything and to everyone who made it possible. This is amazing.”