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SCV Emergency Winter Shelter: A home for the homeless

Posted: December 20, 2008 7:04 p.m.
Updated: December 21, 2008 4:59 a.m.

Larry McElvany, 55, waits for dinner at the SCV Emergency Winter Shelter Thursday. McElvany usually sleeps in a tent in a local wash. This is the first year he has stayed at the shelter.

If it weren't for the Santa Clarita Valley Emergency Winter Shelter, Larry McElvany would have spent another Thursday night in a makeshift tent in a Canyon Country wash.

"I enjoy the hell out of it (here)," he said sitting inside the shelter's warm portable building. "It's better than sleeping out in the cold on the ground."

It's his first season at the shelter, but for nearly a week, McElvany, 55, found a spot at the homeless center's Canyon Country location, eating hot meals and enjoying support from the shelter staff as he tries to beat his drug addiction.

But McElvany isn't the only client at the shelter.

Homeless people lined up outside the shelter's hilltop location recently, checking in with the security guard before stepping into the warm building to snack on brownies and sip coffee until volunteers prepared dinner.

Some chatted with each other while others watched "Remember the Titans" on TV.

Since the shelter opened for the season on Dec. 1, about 14 clients stayed each night, said shelter manager Annette Guzman.

But as this week's winter storm rolled into the valley, bringing frigid temperatures and rain, the shelter population doubled.

"If it gets really cold or really wet, the numbers jump up," said Tim Davis, executive director of the Santa Clarita Community Development Corp., which operates the shelter.

While a majority of the clients are men, the women's dorm is quickly filling up, Guzman said.

The shelter, which has a capacity of about 40 and stays open until mid-March, had three families show up Wednesday night. Two were new this season, she said.

Clients who show up to the shelter with a child under the age of 16 are put up in a local motel with Family Assistance Program funding.

With more clients expected, money for the vouchers could be tight.

"That's the one overall thing that worries me the most," Davis said, adding that an early 2009 fundraiser could be a possibility if more families show up.

The clients, a majority from the Santa Clarita Valley, share similar stories of job loss and eviction notices, Guzman said.

Without the shelter, home to the homeless is under bridges and in tents, cars and washes all over the valley, she said.

Despite a rough economy, a generous community once again stepped up to take care of its homeless, Davis said.

"It's a really nice city we're in," he said.

Shelter volunteers shared stories about the community support.

There was a young girl who asked party guests to bring donations for the shelter instead of birthday presents for herself. Church members, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops show up nightly to cook meals (which eventually become leftovers) for the clients. Another volunteer cooks a complete Saturday morning breakfast. A local company loaned a van for the nightly pickups while another company plans to install lights on the shelter's Golden Valley Road sign.

"It's been a big help," Davis said.

Volunteers and shelter staff saw a significant increase in the donations of toiletries and clothing.

"It's the best we've ever been," Davis said, adding they remain well-stocked for the time being.

And the phone calls keep coming in.

"We get probably 10, 15 calls a day from people asking how they can help out," Davis said.


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