On Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, the morning after a cold and windy storm topped the San Gabriel mountains with snow, a group of residents from the Northeast San Fernando Valley gathered to aid those left in the cold.
The residents met at a homeless encampment near the train tracks on San Fernando Road and Branford Street to distribute warm clothes and food to those residing there.
Residents organized themselves through Facebook, and called the operation “Valentine’s Mission,” named after a Pacoima resident who brought the camp to the community’s attention.
While many homeless were encouraged to seek cover at the Sylmar shelter, volunteers handed out burritos prepared the night before, homemade tamales, doughnuts and water, as well as blankets, jackets, gloves, scarves, and socks to about ten people who remained at the camp.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found during its last count conducted in January that the homeless population had increased in the San Fernando Valley by 35 percent. That’s a noticeable difference compared to a 5.7 percent increase countywide.
“It’s worse than I’ve ever seen it,” Wade Trimmer, executive director of the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission, told media in when the report was released. He said homeless camps are popping up everywhere.
In Los Angeles City Council District 7 — which includes Pacoima, Sylmar, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, Shadow Hills, and Sunland-Tujunga — 1,206 people were counted living in vehicles, shelters, and tents.
Since the report was released in May, officials have taken small steps to alleviate the burden of homelessness by mostly seeking funds from the state and imposing new voter-approved taxes.
Felipe Fuentes, while still a councilmember, established a homeless agency in Sunland-Tujunga, which did not sit right with some residents after he evicted the neighborhood council from that space.
Currently, additional shelters have opened for the winter. But some say that is not enough. A local organization, Valley in Action, started an online petition asking officials to make a winter shelter in Sylmar a year-round facility.
Until then, local residents like those who came together on Christmas Eve, are doing what they can to help.
“It seems like bad place for me to be, but I’m very grateful to be alive and healthy,” said Barry, a thin man with a wide mustache and leather jacket who accepted some of the donations. He seemed preoccupied when he spoke, holding back tears as his voice cracked.
“A series of unfortunate events landed me outside. But I’m trying to fix that, I really am.”