Van Nuys is the latest — and 21st — location for the “bridge home” shelters being built to try and reduce homelessness in Los Angeles county.
The 70-bed trailer facility — known as the Aetna A Bridge shelter and constructed on a portion of the Metro Orange line parking lot on Aetna Street — can house 46 males and 24 females and begins its operation on Friday, Aug. 14. It includes a hygiene trailer with showers, restrooms and laundry service, an administrative trailer for case workers and one larger trailer for dorms, which will also provide space for residents’ pets. There is also an indoor community room. Outside, the site includes a storage area, a dining area and pet relief space.
Typical admission criteria for residents in bridge homes is based on eligibility screening, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) website. Those accepted must be experiencing homelessness, be ambulatory and self-care capable, and be in a state of or are at high-risk of chronic homelessness.
The Salvation Army will be the site’s service provider and offer case management service, including housing, substance abuse and mental health assistance. The residents will receive three meals a day.
“There is no corner in the San Fernando Valley or [Los Angeles] not experiencing or seeing someone homeless and living on our sidewalks and our neighborhoods,” said LA Council President Nury Martinez, in whose Sixth District the facility lies.
Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the shelter on Monday, Aug. 10, Martinez noted her district now has 310 temporary supportive units, the most in the Valley specifically built as shelter for those who are homeless.
“We are committed to building more through [Proposition] HHH and other programs,” the council member said. “And I want to thank the residents and the stakeholders of my district for their willingness to always be part of the solution. You will never see people protesting a housing project for those experiencing homelessness in my district. People have always been willing to help. And you see people in other council districts willing to step up and do the same thing.”
“We all win if we all participate in the solutions,” Martinez said. “A lot of the Brown and Black communities that are the low-income communities…sometimes have to bear the burden of having to carry all of the responsibility (of dealing with homelessness) on their own. We need to make sure every single community is doing their fair share, so these other communities can feel that other people are weighing in on solving the issue of homelessness.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the facility in Van Nuys was one of four new bridge-home projects that would be opened throughout Los Angeles and surrounding communities by the end of this week. Two more are planned for next month, and he expects to have 24 bridge homes open — “more than 1,800 beds” — by mid-December.
Construction for the $5 million site began in March and was completed in July, according to the Mayor’s office.
“This is really exciting — to take a space where you’d only imagined what it would look like, and to now come here and see the building of a shelter. From a hope to a home, that’s no small feat,” Garcetti said.
But homelessness — and reducing its numbers — continues to be a vexing problem to try and solve.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the 2020 count for the county homeless population taken in January totaled more than 66,400 people — a 12.7% increase from a year ago, and a figure that had grown for the fifth time in the past six years. This year’s count, the agency reported, revealed that two-thirds of the unsheltered adults experiencing homelessness were homeless for the first time last year, and 59% of them cited economic hardship as the cause.
And the homeless count was taken before the coronavirus pandemic began closing businesses and costing thousands of jobs.
The mayor reiterated that homelessness is “a public health crisis.”
“We know that Angelenos experiencing homelessness are more likely to die, more likely to get sick, more likely to get afflicted with poverty and other conditions that make their quality of life less than for other Angelenos who are housed,” Garcetti said.
“Long before COVID-19, we were confronting the moral and humanitarian crisis of our time. Housing ends homelessness — we know that. And shelters like this one are a first and critical step to a long-term road to permanent housing for people who today are living in tents, or in cars.”
Lt. Colonel John Chamness, divisional commander for The Salvation Army for California, South Division, said the shelter could provide “immediate relief” including food, showers, work-related services, and mental health services for clients.
“The goal is to make this a temporary stop on the way to permanent housing solutions,” Chamness said. “This shelter is an expansion of our San Fernando Valley Salvation Army that currently operates a food pantry, rapid rehousing services, and veteran employment services. We’re proud to be part of the solution to end homelessness in Van Nuys and the San Fernando Valley.”
Loyda Peraza, who was introduced as the facility program manager, said the needs of the homeless “have grown tremendously,” and that it was an honor to “be part of project and share what I have learned.”
City News Service contributed to this report.