Courtesy Photo

Neighbors say they've seen sex acts in cars and women who appear to be prostitutes soliciting around the Pacoima shelter.

Illicit drug sales, prostitution, robberies and a general sense of uneasiness are problems surrounding a Pacoima homeless shelter, according to neighborhood residents.

“People don’t feel safe anymore,” said Ana, who lives on Norris Avenue, close to the Greater Community Missionary Baptist Church, where the emergency winter shelter operates from November through March.

The shelter, with capacity for 100 people, opened in December of 2014 to provide a safe and clean place for homeless individuals to spend the cold winter nights. But neighbors say it has also attracted other problems to their residential enclave.

“It was planned in a very busy, residential area, usually where a homeless shelter shouldn’t be,” said Ana, who did not want to give her last name.

Located at 11066 Norris Avenue, the shelter operates from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. But neighbors say many of those who seek refuge there during the night, spend the days hanging around the area and — residents claim — some of the people do drugs or sell them. Others engage in prostitution, and the clusters of men and women simply scare them.

“I don’t feel comfortable walking to the 7-Eleven (at the corner of Norris and Van Nuys)”, Ana said.

“Now, you have to drive less than a block to avoid all this,” she added.

No Notification

Ana said they were never notified about the opening of the shelter and the problems surfaced soon after.

She said she’s seen people having sex in cars, smoking crack in an alley behind the shelter, and other kinds of unsavory acts.

“Lewd acts and drug dealing have become the normal now,” she added.

Isabel (who did not give her last name), another neighbor in the area, concurs.

“You can’t even walk around here anymore,” she said. “It’s unbearable.”

Isabel said she’s called the police at least 20 times, reporting illegal activity in the area. She added that even though the shelter closed in March, many of the people simply remained in the neighborhood and never left.

“Sinc  they opened in November, things have gotten worse,” she claimed. “They go and sleep at the shelter, but they hang around here all day.”

Isabel said some of the people have even entered their home and stolen things.

Both Isabel and Ana emphasize they want the place shut down and moved somewhere else.

“A Couple Bad Apples”

The shelter is run by the nonprofit organization Hope of the Valley based in Sun Valley. They’re also in charge of another homeless shelter at the National Guard Armory, in Sylmar.

Founder Ken Craft told the San Fernando Valley Sun/ El Sol he spoke with Ana after learning of the problems, but he had never heard of these complaints before.

“This is the first I hear of any issues,” he noted.

He said that there are security guards at the entrance to the shelter to make sure that those who go in don’t have any drugs or drug paraphernalia with them.

Officials also pick up other homeless individuals at certain places around the Valley to take to the shelter, but “they are transported back to the places where they were picked up by our vans,” Craft said.

According to Craft, the majority of the population served by the shelter are women between 40- and 60-years-old, and that there are strict rules for those who come into the shelter not to disturb neighbors.

Those who come to the shelter receive a hot shower, dinner, breakfast and a sack lunch. No shopping carts are allowed in the facility, and each guest can only bring one bag, which is checked thoroughly.  All guests must leave by 7 a.m.

Social workers and volunteers are onsite to connect the homeless with services.

“I honestly don’t think these people (creating trouble) are from the shelter,” said Craft, adding he would work with neighbors and shelter staff to address any concerns they may have.

“I don’t want to let a couple of bad apples ruin this for everybody. This is a lifeline, especially with El Niño now,” Craft said.