Dozens of care providers offered a full-court press Thursday inside the gymnasium of the Newhall Community Center, surrounding the gym floor with booths to help those looking for information about what’s available in L.A. County for those who are homeless or in need of services.
With so many services available seeking to help the same population, a number of participants also found it an opportunity for professionals to network and share about how they’re reaching a community that can sometimes be challenging to reach due to access and mobility issues.
“We’re out here to help members of the community, collaborate with our community partners out here,” said Vanessa Gutierrez, community relations coordinator for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, “and just kind of networking and making sure we’re supporting the people that reside here.”
Resource fairs like Thursday’s are a great outreach opportunity for Bridge to Home, the center’s leading service provider for the Santa Clarita Valley’s homeless population, according to Chris Najarro, executive director for the organization.
This was the third year of the event because COVID-19 disrupted the last two years, she said, and with many of the services there with offices based in the city of Los Angeles, fairs like these were especially important in raising awareness and spreading information.
“(Homeless Connect Day) brings resources to the local community for free so they don’t have to go to all the different offices, and it’s a lot easier access to receive support,” Najarro said.
Genaro Urbina is in the process of trying to find permanent housing, and he received a ride to the event from his case manager. One of the programs there offered help establishing cellphone service, which he said would be a big help.
Magaly Rojas works with students in need at Mission College to help connect them with other resources, which made Thursday an informative opportunity for her as well.
The more she is aware of what’s out there, the better she can help students, whether it’s finding help with a smaller purchase like a phone or laptop charger that can make a big difference for someone who’s homeless to services that also help with housing.
“Most of the students I work with, they have a lack of internet, they don’t have a phone, they usually change numbers a lot,” Rojas said, “so even though sometimes we try to connect with them, they don’t have that email anymore. They don’t have that phone number anymore. … They don’t have enough money to keep up with the same number. Sometimes the email also requires authentication that refers them to their old numbers. … So, something simple like that becomes so much harder for them.”
These challenges are something Finally Family Homes knows well, working with a population — primarily foster youth who are aging out of the system — which in the SCV is especially at risk due to a relative dearth of services catering to their specific needs.
“The latest I’ve heard is that about 50% will become homeless within a couple of years (of aging out of the foster care system at 18 years old),” said Christina Dronen, executive director of Finally Family Homes. “For the young women, by age 21, over 70% have experienced a pregnancy and over 50% have at least one kid.”
One example of the unique situations their clients face is a teenage girl who came to her in April because her foster home kicked her out of the house when she turned 18. The foster parents’ decision left the now legal “adult” without a home with a month left to graduate.
The organization holds events like a June 1 graduation party for foster youth, which will offer fun and hopefully a message that attendees find inspirational from a former foster youth who’s now a successful entertainer.
“We are about caring for them personally and for their emotional (well-being),” Dronen said, “it’s a sense of being valued and valuable.”