Ascencia, a nonprofit homeless services agency and emergency shelter located in Glendale, launched their Summer of Hope Campaign with a goal of raising $40,000 to cover increased demands for the summer months.
Camille Guerrero, director of development at Ascencia, spoke to the News-Press about why the summer months are especially challenging for both Ascencia and those experiencing homelessness.
“We cannot do everything that we’re doing with minimal resources. We desperately need the resources to fund our programs … to be able to put fuel in our vans, to be able to pay our staff, to be able to expand our programs, especially with the uptick of need during the summer months, which are a very scary time for the homeless because they’re dealing with dehydration and severe heat,” Guerrero said, adding that there are fewer volunteers during the summer with kids being out of school and people going on vacations.
With seven street outreach agency vans going to communities including Glendale, West Hollywood, Los Feliz and the L.A. River, Ascencia is “active, rather than passive. We don’t wait for people to come to us; we go to them,” said Guerrero. “The only way to really mitigate the homeless situation is by going out boots on the ground to get the help to the actual epicenter of the problem.”
Ascencia’s street outreach team works five days a week beginning at 7 a.m. and travels to homeless encampments, passing out snack packs and hygiene products while telling people about the services and care Ascencia provides.
Once someone moves into Ascencia’s facility, which currently has 45 beds, they are provided with three meals a day, laundry facilities, trauma therapy, psychiatric care, occupational therapy workshops on issues like financial literacy and self-care, and more. Ascencia works with clients to prepare them to live on their own, but the care doesn’t stop there.
“We have a 98% retention rate because we stay connected with our clients after they’re permanently housed for the very purpose of preventing them from getting back out on the street and becoming homeless again,” Guerrero said. Ascencia serves around 1,200 people a year.
Alfred Hernandez, Ascencia’s lead outreach case manager, has been with the agency since 2003 when they were called Project Achieve. The role of a case manager is to work with clients on finding available housing, applying for identification documents and/or health benefits, receiving parent and prenatal care, family reunification, drug rehabilitation, mental health services and employment support.
Hernandez spoke to the News-Press about the importance of building rapport with clients and digging deep into the circumstances that led to their homelessness.
He told the story of a man he met while doing street outreach nearly a decade ago. The man was a successful attorney who was happily married with a baby on the way. When his wife went into labor, there were complications and she and the baby died. Two weeks later, the man’s mother was run over by a car and killed.
“It broke his spirit. He couldn’t get out of that grief,” Hernandez said. “A homeless person could be anybody.”
Hernandez and Guerrero went on to discuss financial stress and lack of affordable housing.
“A common misconception is that people experiencing homelessness are primarily drug addicts,” Guerrero said. “But right now, the way the economy is, the way affordable housing is, all it takes is for one person in a household to become sick and knock out one income. And that immediately causes a vulnerability in that household.”
Another way in which Ascencia reaches the homeless community is through partnerships with local hospitals — Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, USC Arcadia Hospital, Glendale Memorial Hospital, Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and BHC Alhambra Hospital — who pipeline patients experiencing homelessness directly to the agency.
While there are many ways to get involved as a volunteer at Ascencia, Guerrero highlighted one vital program in particular for which the nonprofit especially needs volunteers right now: the Guest Chef Program. At Ascencia, no one goes hungry, but the cost of supplying meals is a major financial strain, according to Guerrero, who said it costs more than $500 per night to serve dinner to everyone at the agency.
Through volunteering in the Guest Chef Program, a group of five or six volunteers purchase the ingredients and prepare meals for everyone staying at the shelter. They can either come into the kitchen at Ascencia to prepare meals, bring in food prepared at home or bring in catering from local restaurants.
As of Friday, the Summer of Hope Campaign has raised $15,920 out of its $40,000 goal that was set in May. Guerrero said the funding the campaign generates is vital to the “virtue of the wraparound care Ascencia provides.” Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glendale has pledged to match Summer of Hope Campaign donations dollar to dollar up to $10,000.
While the work of a street outreach case manager can be emotionally challenging, Hernandez said the little moments of success make it all worthwhile, sharing the story of a client who couldn’t believe he finally had a home.
“When I was [doing a wellness check] on a recently housed client, next to his bed that Ascencia purchased for him was a shopping cart with all kinds of stuff in it,” Hernandez said. “It took him three months to process that he didn’t need that cart anymore. It’s the little things like that.”
To donate to the Summer of Hope Campaign, visit classy.org/campaign/summer-of-hope/c487738.
First published in the July 1 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.