Rabbi Ahud Sela of Temple Ramat Zion, Rev. Steve Jerbi of the San Fernando Valley-based Interfaith Solidarity Network and Imam Suhail Mulla, a resident scholar of the Islamic Society of the West Valley, converse before speaking at an interfaith forum on homelessness at the Congregational Church of Chatsworth on Dec. 12.  The event was presented by the Interfaith Solidarity Network and the Everyone In campaign.

The impact of our recent storms on those who don’t have a dry, warm place to live has become a crisis.

LA Shelters quickly fill up even on days when the weather is calm. And in bad weather, when temperatures plummet, the numbers of people trying to find a place to get out of the rain and cold is overwhelming.

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, approximately 50,000 to 60,000 persons in 2019 may be found homeless on any given night in Los Angeles county, with more than 44,000 people living in makeshift tents and on the street.

The state of California is reported to have half of the nation’s homeless population and it’s difficult to overlook. Homeless people are visible now in nearly every community throughout Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, living under freeway overpasses and embankments, surrounding park spaces and openly sleeping on sidewalks.

Following the tragic deaths of two elderly homeless women — one died as a result of exposure, the other was hit by a car — the Interfaith Solidarity Network held an interfaith forum on homelessness last month in Chatsworth at the Congregational Church.

The forum, sponsored by the organizations A Voice, Everyone In and the Interfaith Solidarity Network attempted to bridge the community that has been divided by residents who oppose a proposal to build a five-story, 55-unit apartment building as supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness in this West San Fernando Valley neighborhood. The proposed housing has brought a backlash of fury from Chatsworth residents who have voiced concern about their property values and possible safety issues.

Brooke Carrillo, 48, speaking at the interfaith forum, pointed out that the notion that the homeless all come from outside the local community isn’t correct.

“I’m a longtime resident of Chatsworth, I graduated from high school at Chatsworth High…being homeless is hard, really hard — not to mention unsafe, unsanitary, unstable, unrealistic that you’re even out there, and to be from a community that you once were valued in to [now] shun you and to look down upon you, you can’t even imagine it.”

An unfortunate turn can cause anyone to become homeless she said. “Everyone in life struggles with situations and circumstances — some they can’t control. Some people have mental illness, some have physical illness, some have professional or personal (setbacks) but we can’t control that.”

Carrillo recently purchased an RV to sleep in, but parking enforcement and police have towed her vehicle even though it’s properly registered and insured. On one particular day, the electrical system failed and they weren’t able to move the vehicle in time to comply with street signs.

“We’ve borrowed, we’ve spent, we tried to get up and off the street by getting this RV and they just pushed us back down.

“Trying to do the right thing by complying with the police, with parking enforcement, with the rules — that’s even more difficult,” Carrillo explained.

“I wake up every night or stay up till 5:15 in the morning to move my vehicles to a safer spot temporarily just at 5:50 to be back in the same spot, because that’s my spot. It’s my safe spot — but that’s hard. My sleeping habits are off. My eating habits are off. I can’t think straight during the day. I can’t even get things done that need to be done normally because I have no sleep.

“There’s no place for me to rest my head on the street, in my vehicle, in this RV that we just purchased.”

When their vehicles that they depend on are towed, they are often distances away. In Carrillo’s case her RV was taken to Castaic, and being without transportation and needing to raise impound fees increased her problems.

Advocates for the homeless explain that without family members or others to help, one emergency can grow into a snowball of more problems when you can’t take care of the first problem properly.

One problem growing into another can push people into a deep hole without a lifeline and onto the street.

Members of the faith community offered their support. “The interfaith forum is a way to give hope and to spread love because we have a climate of discrimination and hate towards people experiencing homelessness throughout the city,” said Corinne Ho, field representative of the “Everyone In” campaign for the West San Fernando Valley.

“These are human beings who are entitled to have a roof over their heads, to have food and to get the services they need,” echoed Marsha Novak, co-founder of the Interfaith Solidarity Network.

The Christian faith is entwined with the homelessness issue,” noted Rev. Steve Jerbi, chair of the Interfaith Solidarity Network.

“The Holy Family stayed by a manger because the shelters were full and they had no family to stay with. All faiths call us to care for those pushed to the margins. For us, that has to include our unsheltered neighbors.”

This proposed housing, and everyone standing behind it, hopefully will change things, Carrillo said.

“The police and our government officials aren’t backing us the way they should. The [homeless] advocates back us more and they don’t get quite the appreciation they need,” she said. “I remember growing up when Chatsworth was a Christian town, a horse town with orange trees everywhere, people gave. Now it’s not like that.”

Next week, The San Fernando Valley Sun continues to share the stories from those who are without housing and ways that you can help.

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