M. Terry / SFVS

Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez (right) offers supples and advice to a motel resident in Van Nuys.

The nondescript motel along the Sepulveda corridor here in Van Nuys used to be known as a stop for prostitution. It is now being used to shelter homeless families, who pay for a temporary stay with vouchers.

Ivana Altamirano is currently residing at the motel. She said she and her family have been homeless for nine months, and the struggles to keep two kids fed and occupied while searching for a permanent residence are all-consuming.

“It’s hard to look for a place because we’re on a [tight] budget. We just gotta try harder,” Altamirano said. “And right now it’s kinda hard with everything going on. Our lives are kinda on pause. But we’re working with what we have.”

She and other residents there were being given a donated meal and hygienic supplies brought to them by the North Valley Caring Services based in North Hills. The nonprofit organization was delivering the food and supplies to two different motels, the one here in Van Nuys and another in North Hills.

“Things like this help,” Altamirano said.

Another resident, Julio Morataya, also received food and supplies. 

“We’re grateful for this organization, and all the organizations, that are feeding us and helping us through this rough time,” said Morataya, standing next to his daughter. “The pandemic has made our living situation harder. But organizations like these help ease our hearts and minds.”

Manny Flores, executive director of North Valley Caring Services, said the Van Nuys motel “is full of homeless families.There are other motels, like the next one we will go to, that are part homeless families and part rooms rented out for the day.”

He said the organization “comes here now 2-3 times a week,” and  that today’s meal was prepared by Chef Rob, an entertainment industry caterer based in Sun Valley. “Usually we cook all of our meals in-house. Right now it is a day off and a break for our chef.”

Between 75 – 100 meals were to be donated for both motels, along with the hygienic and personal supplies

Also on hand was LA City Council President Nury Martinez who, Flores said, has worked with the nonprofit organization “the last couple of years” in finding donors willing to provide funding or support for homeless families.

Both motels are in Martinez’s district, the Sixth District. At the Van Nuys motel, she and Flores knocked on doors and, when the residents inside the room opened the door, invited them to enjoy the meal and choose supplies. Martinez also helped to pass them out.

“We have almost 400 homeless families along the Sepulveda corridor,” Martinez told reporters. “Today we’re going to feed almost 100 families in my district. We first want to make sure first off they have a healthy meal today. We’re able to distribute food to these families. But there needs to be a long-term solution to ensure that these families can get out of these motels and into permanent, supported housing. That is the goal.”

Of course one meal only goes so far, as does a temporary shelter.  

It is unclear where the families here will go when the voucher runs out. And their situation continues to be compounded by a pandemic that has closed businesses, cost jobs, and could be on the verge of decimating upcoming city and county budgets.

“Anytime you have an economic crisis or the kind of pandemic we’re facing, the population that’s going to feel the biggest blow is going to be families like this, and families that live paycheck-to-paycheck,” Martinez said. “It’s our undocumented families who have no resources or jobs, and won’t see any stimulus money because they simply don’t qualify.”

“This is not normal. The status quo is not something we should be supporting. Instead, we need to figure out programs and continue to ask the federal government to assist programs like this, and [provide] job opportunities, and be able to use that stimulus money to put people to work. Because that’s what people are gonna need after all of this is done.”

Morataya clings to thoughts that there will eventually be a permanent relief for him and his daughter — not only from the pandemic, but also their  housing situation.

“I believe we’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.