As Bridge to Home works toward building the Santa Clarita Valley’s first permanent homeless shelter, volunteers have been hard at work, ensuring that current shelter facilities are ready for the return of residents.
Global Prep Academy students had volunteered at the shelter previously and seen firsthand the living conditions, so when the shelter moved operations to the Newhall Community Center in the midst of the pandemic, they thought it was the perfect opportunity to liven the place up.
“Everyone deserves and has a right to be able to live somewhere that they feel comfortable and have something of a home, so essentially, what we wanted to do was to just find a way to make the place as comfortable and as home-like as we could,” GPA teacher Jonah Shah said.
GPA student Amanda Fine, who led the group’s efforts, knew from close friends and families the struggles that come with a lack of housing or financial stability and was inspired to lend a hand.
“I wanted to reach out to my community and see if anyone near me needed any help because I didn’t want to sit on my hands when I know that I have the privilege of seeing both sides through my family and friends and learning about their experiences and their perspective,” she said. “My goal is to help people on a personal level as much as I can and give them resources and services that are tangible.”
Since last summer, Fine and other GPA students have been hard at work, volunteering their weekends to repaint almost every room in bright, vibrant colors, as well as clean and install bulletin boards, bike racks and new blinds throughout, with the assistance of donations from local businesses, like Budget Blinds. All of these renovated rooms are modular buildings that will be moved to the new temporary shelter while the permanent shelter is built, according to shelter manager Nicole Feast-Williams.
“It was really nice to just get out and spend time putting my efforts into something for other people, other than myself, and do something with my summer,” added GPA student Caitlin Ong. “I hope that they are able to settle down and find a safe haven in this new place.”
While it took about eight months to finally complete the renovations due to delays, Shah said he was impressed with the students’ dedication to get it done.
“For me, it’s a personal thing about never wanting to leave something unfinished,” GPA student Eric Luo said, adding that it was hearing the residents’ stories that continued to drive him.
“These kids are selfless,” Shah added. “They’re willing to give up their weekend and the entire day to get in there, get their hands dirty, and try and make something happen.”
Likewise, Feast-Williams applauded the teens for wanting to educate themselves on homelessness and be involved.
“I think them coming in and wanting to be involved and to learn about it was just amazing,” she said, “and they did such a great job.”
In the past 18 months, Bridge to Home has permanently housed 179 households, totaling 326 people, and hopes to continue those efforts as construction begins on the permanent shelter, which is expected to accommodate up to 92 individuals, with up to 32 of those in eight attached single-family apartment-style units.
“It’s been constructed in a really exciting way where we can have both programs on the same campus in a very safe way,” Executive Director Mike Foley said. “We’re going to continue with our Access Center separate from the shelter complex, but it will, together, be a place where any person who’s experiencing homelessness can find the resources they need to become housed.”
While funds from Los Angeles County’s Measure H, the quarter-cent sales tax for homelessness services, along with funds donated by the city of Santa Clarita, are expected to be the major source of revenue to build this new campus, Bridge to Home has launched a capital campaign to raise the last $2.5 million from the community before the county will release funds to begin construction.
“The goal is to help bridge the gap between housing and security and the potential of empowering others to make transitional decisions toward the goal of owning a home or just to have that security versus living on the streets and being alone out there in the world,” added Diana Moreno, board member.
Moreno has struggled with housing and knows the importance of a strong support system, hoping the shelter will give people just that, as well as a sense of strength, encouragement and empowerment.
For more information on Bridge to Home’s capital campaign, visit btohome.org/capital.