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Officials at the Center at Blessed Sacrament have launched a capital campaign to fill a $200,000 funding gap in their attempt to renovate the nonprofit’s headquarters at 6636 Selma Ave. in Hollywood.
The project budget is $2 million, and the group has secured $1.5 million in funding from the Community Redevelopment Agency, Los Angeles, though the money was put in jeopardy when the agency dissolved.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District, has authorized the allocation of $300,000 in discretionary funds toward the project, but that is contingent on the center raising the remaining $200,000 by Aug. 15.
“This is a beautiful opportunity for whomever is investing a substantial amount of money in the community to … help end homelessness and manage it,” said Dirk Degraeve, president of the center’s board of directors.
He said the renovation plans for the two-story, 5,000-square-foot building have changed since the redevelopment agency approved the funding, as center officials have altered their mission “dramatically” to help end homelessness in Hollywood over the last few years.
As opposed to offering clothing and food — which may have been enabling homelessness — the center has moved toward providing programs in which participants can be actively involved in re-establishing their own identities, Degraeve said.
He said advocates cannot end homelessness unless their clients make a conscious decision to no longer accept it. Therefore, the center is looking to help participants establish “a value of self-worth,” Degraeve said.
“It’s a very simple program we provide, but it is essential to create this metamorphosis,” he said, mentioning some former alcoholics who have become sober and are now helping others recover. “To be honest with you, we strongly believe that we have progressively evolved and constructively evolved in putting forward a blueprint on how to deal with homelessness, how to end homelessness.”
Degraeve referenced a morning session that the center hosts called Morning Mindset. The self-exploration exercise involves mulling the meanings of famous quotes and participating in breathing and relaxation activities. Degraeve said it is “just amazing” to see people who have been deemed inept by society formulate deep and intelligent opinions on phrases by famous people. He said the social interaction is key.
“It’s like a catalyst,” Degraeve said, adding that clients typically begin to participate in other services as a result. He said the services are geared toward showing participants that they can evolve.
When the redevelopment agency initially offered the center funding, officials planned to create a large kitchen and dining area. Now that the mission has changed, the project will put more emphasis on meeting space, Degraeve said. He said the renovations are crucial.
“It’s essential for the survival of this emerging blueprint, which will be a blueprint for the nation to battle homelessness, to make it happen,” Degraeve added. “Ending homelessness is a matter of the sustainability of the programs that support people and maintain housing.”
Without the programs, people fall back into homelessness, he said.
“Providing this community center for people to meet and talk and continue to grow and develop … is the essential component,” the board president said.
He said architectural plans were drawn several years ago, but the center is preparing to send a letter of engagement to the architectural firm to draw up new plans. Degraeve said officials hope to begin construction this fall, and it will be completed within approximately five months.
Yaroslavsky said he was pleased to support the effort, which will give the county a chance to fill in the missing piece between helping the chronically homeless get housing and successfully enabling them to stay off the street.
“The old ‘three hots and a cot’ drop-in shower and shelter model doesn’t work long-term; only permanent supportive housing does, with on-site social services offering residents a sense of ongoing stability,” he said in a statement. “What’s unique about the center’s program is that it creates opportunities through shared activities and relationships for homeless clients to become re-socialized, develop a sense of belonging in their community and learn to live with others in a mutually respectful, cooperative and harmonious setting.”
Additionally, the center has become the lead agency in Hollywood for the United Way’s Coordinated Entry System, which connects people who are homeless with organizations that provide housing in a systematic fashion.
The goal is to match available housing with the people in the greatest need, as opposed to providing housing resources to people who passed a certain standard. Officials plan to determine which clients are the most vulnerable and prioritize their needs — like a triage model.
So far in 2014, 62 formerly homeless individuals in Hollywood have moved into housing, center representatives said.
For information or to donate, visit www.thecenterinhollywood.org.
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