“I didn’t think it would be this nice.” “I thought it would be smelly.” “Is that where the children sleep?”
We get many reactions from visitors to our Access Center and shelter, if not openly positive, dismay that we are not at all what they expected.
When I think about Los Angeles County’s coming challenges in expanding homeless services, I think about the perception many people still have about what a shelter or homeless service center looks like. I worry that for all the energy spent to plan for improved systems, we have not done enough to engage the communities where those systems ultimately need to live.
Our building is not huge. In a neighborhood mixed with bungalows, apartment buildings and smaller warehouses, we fit in. There are no encampments in our neighborhood, and if people do linger, we talk to them and give them other options.
We have three key rules at Ascencia;
- Be Safe
- Be Helpful
- Be Considerate
Those rules apply not just inside the building, but also to how we conduct ourselves as neighbors. As Measures H and HHH begin to roll out their programs, this will be crucially important. Program expansion that is badly needed will require neighborhoods to accept us. Those neighbors have every right to expect that new housing and new services will be well managed.
We are in the midst of a stark housing crisis that will not go away in the foreseeable future. Even as we work to house people who are homeless today, there will be others who become homeless tomorrow. This is the future for which we need to plan and prepare.
Services for people experiencing crises must be as integral to our communities as the neighborhood fire or police station.