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The Salvation Army has made an agreement to give the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition (GWHFC) a permanent home in Hollywood for its food distribution to the homeless.
The GWHFC will begin serving meals at the Salvation Army’s Hollywood Boulevard campus on Jan. 1. The agreement allows the coalition to serve meals at the site every Monday through Friday. Coalition administrators are searching for another site for the food distribution on weekends.
GWHFC co-president Sherry Bonanno said it will be the first time the coalition has had a building in which to serve meals since the program started 25 years ago. The coalition currently serves meals from a truck at Sycamore Avenue and Romaine Street.
“The goal is to not be on the street,” Bonanno said.
The GWHFC has been controversial because some residents in the Melrose District where the truck parks claim it attracts homeless people who stay in the community and sometimes cause quality of life issues. The past controversies have fueled new concerns about the arrangement in Hollywood. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce opposes the coalition’s move to the Salvation Army facility at 5941 Hollywood Blvd., near the Hollywood (101) Freeway.
“We feel it is the wrong location for a feeding program,” said Leron Gubler, president and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “We believe it will result in a big escalation of homeless people in the Hollywood central district. We think it will add to the problem.”
Gubler said the Salvation Army and the coalition did not seek input from the business community before making the arrangement. Other leaders, including Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, are also concerned about the potential impact the program will have on the community.
“[The GWHFC and Salvation Army] don’t perceive it will be much of a net increase of people coming to Hollywood, but we will have to see. I don’t necessarily buy that,” Morrison said. “The concern is not about the meal program, it’s what happens before and afterwards. When you are embarking on a project like this that is not self-contained, it is going to have implications for the surrounding neighborhood. We definitely will be watching. We will be tracking to see if there is any increase [in homeless people coming to Hollywood]. If we are 60 days into it and there is no impact, then we are golden.”
Morrison said recently statistics from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority show an increase in homeless individuals in Hollywood. It is estimated that there are approximately 1,200 homeless individuals living on the streets in the greater Hollywood area at any given time.
Pilar Buelna, director of social services for the Salvation Army, said steps are being taken to alleviate issues involving homeless people staying in the surrounding neighborhoods. Plans call for the individuals receiving meals to wait inside a building, eliminating lines forming outdoors. The meals will be served and eaten indoors.
The Salvation Army will also provide resources for the homeless, including referrals to permanent housing. The Salvation Army’s campus in Hollywood is home to the organization’s Weingart Youth Center, a church and other programs, giving homeless individuals more resources at one site.
“There is a misconception that it is just a feeding program. It is really a comprehensive program that starts with a meal,” Buelna said. “Originally, they had asked for us to just do it in a parking lot. But we said, ‘let’s do it indoors,’ because outdoors might be too disruptive.”
Meals will be served Monday through Friday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Salvation Army and GWHFC administrators anticipate that 50 to 200 individuals will use the service each day.
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, has fielded concerns about the new arrangement, and he is monitoring the situation.
“We have repeatedly stressed to the Salvation Army the necessity of community involvement and outreach before moving forward with their plan,” O’Farrell said. “We will continue to discuss this collaboration between the two organizations, and see what adjustments may be necessary to ensure a positive outcome.”
The Salvation Army and the GWHFC are holding a community open house to discuss the new program on Tuesday, Nov. 29 from 4 to 6 p.m. at 5941 Hollywood Blvd.
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