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Northeast LA's Only Homeless Shelter Loses City Funding Over Dangerous Church Pews

As politicians grandstand about epic future plans to solve the city's growing homelessness problem, many of Los Angeles's most vulnerable citizens are facing a cold and damp winter without proper shelter. If they do find a shelter where they can stay, it could be located miles away from their home base and community, which could mean a costly bus trip to a potentially unknown and far-away neighborhood.

Northeast LA in particular has had a shelter shortage recently, forcing homeless residents there to commute to Skid Row or Glendale for a warm meal and bed. Luckily, the Northeast Los Angeles Winter Access Center opened up this month in the All Saints Episcopal Church as the only homeless shelter in Northeast LA. The overnight shelter has been using church pews as beds for up to 50 people. But in a sad twist, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has deemed those pews a potential safety hazard, which has disqualified the shelter from receiving emergency funding from the city. According to Eastsider LA, the Northeast Los Angeles Winter Access Center is losing out on about $75,000 in city funding due to the decision.

Officials with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority declared that the church pews being used as makeshift beds were too narrow, and could pose a safety risk. A spokesman for First District Councilmember Gil Cedillo said the LAHSA was concerned about people "potentially rolling over, falling, and hurting themselves."

When the city announced last week it would be setting aside $12.4 million in emergency funding for winter shelters, officials at Recycled Resources, the group operating the NELA shelter, hoped to receive $75,000 to maintain their operation through the long El Niño winter. Unfortunately the pew issue meant the shelter was not up to LAHSA standards, and now they will receive nothing. They had counted on that money to pay for food, bedding, and most importantly heat during the cold winter months. They will continue with or without the funding as long as they can. The shelter currently has a capacity to house 50 people for the night, but its resources will be stretched thinner as the 380 homeless in Highland Park and 800 total homeless in Northeast LA look for a warm place to sleep when the persistent rains begin.

Maintaining a homeless shelter in Northeast LA is important to many long-time residents. Though they may not have a home, the neighborhood is still their community. Monica Alcaraz, president of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council tells ELA that "this is their community and this is where they're from." Regularly commuting to a hostile or unfamiliar neighborhood Downtown can be an unnecessary stress in a life already impossibly stressful. Many of the homeless in Alcaraz's district "feel safer out here than in places like Skid Row."

Recycled Resources has not given up the fight, though. They've turned to crowdfunding to fill the financial gap made by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority's decision. Councilmember Jose Huizar of the Fourteenth District has also offered between $15,000 and $25,000 of discretionary funding to keep the shelter operating. Huizar thinks the shelter should remain open "irrespective of what LAHSA does." Even with Huizar's contribution, the shelter still needs tens of thousands of dollars to make up for the loss in city funding. Their crowdfunding campaign will be accepting donations until December 31.
· Winter Access Center Crowdfunding Campaign [YouCaring]
· Narrow church pews endanger city funding for Highland Park homeless shelter [Eastsider LA]
· Homeless find shelter in the pews of a Highland Park church [Eastsider LA]
· Los Angeles Seems to Have Abandoned Its Homelessness State of Emergency Already [Curbed LA]