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Pomona looks to new shelter to tackle homelessness issue

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Layla Abbas
Assistant Editor

The number of unsheltered homeless people in Pomona has decreased almost 38 percent since the 2015 count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an agency that addresses homelessness in Los Angeles County.

The results of Pomona’s homeless count in January 2016 is not stopping the city from continuing to find ways to address the homelessness problem.

According to a press release from the city in response to the 2016 homeless report, “While this decrease in homeless numbers is good news, it does not reduce the urgency to continue to search for solutions to assist those who still remain on our streets, placing themselves at risk and visibly impacting the Pomona community.”

The new Pomona homeless service center will begin operating year round in August, with goals to reduce barriers for permanent housing and to provide necessary resources.

The center will be located at 1400 E. Mission St. in Pomona.

Benita DeFrank, neighborhood services director for Pomona, said the process to establish a homeless service center began in 2015.

“The city hosted a summit where we gathered together a group of stakeholders to talk about homelessness,” DeFrank said.

“We asked residents, nonprofits, churches and businesses to attend. We just wanted to bring people together and have a meaningful conversation about homelessness in Pomona.”

Four focus areas were developed as a result of the summit, DeFrank said.

The four goals developed by the Homeless Advisory Committee were: to reduce the number of Pomona’s unsheltered homeless, to reduce the negative impacts on community neighborhoods and public spaces through the coordination of services, to have an informed community regarding homelessness and homeless solutions and to balance the needs and rights of homeless persons and the larger community policies.

The Homeless Advisory Committee met once a month between November 2015 and July 2016 to develop the four goals and 30 strategies to support the goals.

The second goal, coordinating program of services, led the committee to develop a centralized service center to help mitigate common barriers homeless people experience.

“Sending people to this service provider and to this service provider was not really coordinated,” DeFrank said.

“And not taking into consideration that homeless people do not necessarily have cars or the means to get to one place to another and take their things with them.”

This concern developed the idea of having a service center that operated not only as a shelter, but also as a resource center.

“We wanted a centralized service center,” DeFrank said. “We wanted to have an area where you would have housing navigation, housing help and mental and behavioral health. So that became part of this site.”

The city council approved the Homeless Advisory Committee’s plan and the site plan for the center in January 2017.

The service center will operate under the Coordinated Entry System, a process developed to ensure all people experiencing a housing crisis have fair access.

The entry system will be available on site for people to join.

“To get into a bed, a person will have to go through the CES,” DeFrank said. “Once they fill out paperwork they are attached to a program.”

Those who do not want to use the shelter part, but want access to the mental and behavioral health staff and other resources on site will not have to fill out paperwork.

“The site will be open and no one will have to leave the site,” DeFrank said. “People might come to just use the medical facility or to come get something to eat and shower and then they leave. There may be people who do all that and then want to sign up for a shelter.”

Aside from the sheltering aspect, the center will provide services from the Tri-City Mental Health Services, which serves Pomona, Claremont and La Verne.

Toni Navarro, executive director of Tri-City Mental Health Services, will have an onsite office to provide outreach and engagement services.

“The purpose of the shelter is to really wrap services around folks who are homeless in order to help them get their lives more stabilized,” Navarro said. “Do they have an addiction that needs to be addressed and in addition how do we help them find more permanent and affordable housing.”

The center will have over 250 storage lockers available for people to use, even for those who do not occupy the shelter.

“People who are homeless and do not have a place for their things can utilize a 60 gallon locker at the center,” DeFrank said. “They can walk off site and come back the next day as long as they check in once a week.”

DeFrank said the lockers are a way to reduce common barriers homeless people come across.

“Trying to carry your life around with you is not always conducive to keeping doctors appointments or looking for housing and jobs.”

DeFrank said the main goal of the new center is to encourage and help people into permanent housing.

“Housing is the ultimate goal,” DeFrank said. “It is not necessarily someone who is responsible, someone who is sober or the other barriers to housing, but that housing is their ultimate goal.”

DeFrank added that the whole site is is to reduce the barriers of housing to help people move into housing.

Reggie Clark, program manager for Volunteers of America, will oversee and operate the service center along with the Tri-City Mental Health Services and the East Valley Health Partners.

Clark currently oversees eight programs under the Volunteer of America program, including the Pomona Armory.

The armory will shut down when the service center opens.

“The new center is not so much replacing the armory per se, because it is a different type of program,” Clark said. “I will be there with the same people. It will be a better suited place for them to move into the housing process.”

Clark said he will continue to help relocate people to permanent housing.

“The most satisfactory aspect of my job is seeing people with the keys in their hands to their housing,” Clark said. “My whole goal is putting people into houses and yes we go through the other stuff, but the primary purpose is get a homeless person into a home.”

As the percentage of homeless people in Pomona decreases, which is a good sign, they are still working to find a better and permanent solution.

They do not want to just positively impact the homeless persons who are being helped into shelters, but rather help the whole community.

Layla Abbas can be reached at layla.abbas@laverne.edu.

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