The Social Services Center at Church of the Blessed Sacrament, which has become a central hub for agencies helping Hollywood's homeless population, is set to receive $2 million in funding for renovations this summer.
Supported by the California Redevelopment Agency, the project has been three years in the making, said Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Entertainment District.
HED, a state-designated business improvement district, leads the coalition known as Hollywood 4WRD (Four Walls, A Roof And A Door) that works by partnering with organizations, including the Social Services Center, to find permanent housing for those in need.
“The cure for homelessness is a home," Morrison said. "Our intention was to energize business owners not to sit around and wait for the government to solve the homeless problem in Hollywood.”
Morrison said Blessed Sacrament began running the Social Services Center 10 years ago, offering food and showers to the homeless. That’s when she and other key members of the business community saw the opportunity to turn the center into a secular non-profit organization eligible for funding.
Morrison said Rev. Michael Mandala agreed, and five years later they were able to get funding from the California Redevelopment Agency (CRA).
Morrison hopes construction will begin in August. The center will close for at least six months while construction is underway, she said.
The staff is working out how it will continue providing services to the community in the interim.
“We may be putting large construction trailers on the lot so we can keep doing what we need to do," she said.
Morrison said the funds are protected from current budget cuts and bids are out to contractors for the project to start this summer.
Morrison, who many recognize as the driving force of Hollywood 4WRD, said the coalition has placed 15 of the 400 registered homeless people in homes this year and another 25 are in the process of moving.
“We really need the community to step up," Morrison said. "For instance, we are looking for somebody who can organize a project to acquire and store donated household goods for our newly-placed clients that don’t have anything but the clothes on their backs."
“They need cups, plates, silverware and towels – things that people have in their garages and would love to get rid of. We also need men's extra-large clothing and shoes,” she said.
John Ladner, a board member of GettLove, a homeless services organization that has worked with Hollywood 4WRD, said he has seen the homeless outreach effort grow within the community.
Hollywood 4WRD started by hitting the streets to register the homeless, take surveys and photos, he said. The coalition then attracted more groups, which had previously worked separately, to work together using their particular strengths, to assist the community’s homeless.
Ladner said there may be as many as a two dozen groups active in the coalition right now and at the Social Service Center. GettLove works with three groups, Step Up on Second, Housing Works and PATH on a daily basis.
“We recognize the homeless as part of the fabric of the community," Ladner said. "Far too long our neighbors have been living on the streets. We embrace them and further our efforts through companionship-based service. We use our relationship to help with (Veterans Affairs), housing and employment."
Alex Salazar has worked for the church in a variety of jobs for the last 10 years. Salazar said the nuns there made it clear they needed more help so he stepped up. He said he had witnessed what a disaster it was when the police kicked the homeless out of Skid Row a few years back.
“I’ve lived here 25 years," Salazar told Patch as he made his way around the sitting area greeting all the clients of the day by name. "This is my community and I care about these people. Some of them I went to school with. I show them love and care. That’s what they truly need. But it’s a mutual thing. I feel good that they appreciate us.”
Tina Colbertson, the cook at the Social Services Center was just finishing breakfast service and starting to make three-bean firehouse chili with corn bread for lunch. She said she doesn’t like to be called “chef,” but she creates the menu and cooks 150 to 350 meals per day. She said she prides herself on being resourceful using donated fruits and vegetables from the farmers market every week.
“They are some of the most honest people in the world and I really respect their opinion about my food," Colbertson said. "They will tell me if they don’t like something so I’m really happy when they tell me they do like my food."
Keegan Hornbeck, outreach and housing assistant for GettLove, said the best part of the coalition is the cooperation.
"It is unprecedented to have all these groups sitting at the same table and we are using the best each agency has to offer," Hornbeck said.
Myran Moskovic said he has been homeless a long time. He has been living in an abandoned house, but said it is too dangerous and would love to find a home. He has been coming to the Social Services Center for two years to get his medication, showers and clothes.
“I have two brothers in Los Angeles, Sammy and Steve, but I lost them when my parents died," Moskovic said. "They don’t know I’m homeless. This place has good people, delicious food. Shelters are dirty and noisy."
Javier Ortega said he has been living on the streets for eight years since his diagnosis of schizophrenia. He said he sleeps on sidewalks and sometimes at the criminal court building because it’s safe there.
“It's either that or the Greyhound bus station," Ortega said. "I can take showers, get my mail and it’s good to get this contact with people. I think about getting a home."