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Shelters see significant rise in demand

December 12, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Homeless shelters are seeing many more people than they can handle. The problem only gets worse as the cold, rainy season arrives. Officials at a winter shelter in Burbank say they have seen a 1,000 percent increase in demand since their doors opened on Dec. 1. They blame it all on a very troubled economy.

As they are dealing with increased demand in the valley, shelters in Downtown Los Angeles are retrofitting offices to accommodate more families.

"I've been doing this nearly 23 years and I've never seen anything close to this," said Andy Bales, Union Rescue Mission.

Andy Bales runs the Union Rescue Mission on skid row in Los Angeles. He said homeless shelters like his are being inundated with young families.

"I believe that we're going to have to take emergency steps to make sure that no family and no children spends time on the streets and suffers the devastation of homelessness," said Bales.

"Once the motel hotel runs out, where do you go?" said Colin Kakiza, who lost his job at a luxury hotel and is now homeless.

After losing his job, Kakiza lost his home to foreclosure. So, he brought his family to the fifth floor of the Union Rescue Mission.

"I was kind of the guinea pig... for how do you deal with this new dynamic, which is, a professional family man with an intact family," said Kakiza.

If conventional wisdom says that most homeless are single males grappling with addiction, Colin said that's been replaced by young families who can't make ends meet in the current economy.

"The realities of this current financial crisis is really manifesting itself - in particular - the middle class," said Kakiza.

Colin is now working at the mission, helping to transform a floor that was once reserved for offices and volunteers.

Union Rescue also operates three winter shelters, one of which is in Burbank. At these shelters, volunteers prepare two meals per day with donated food.

"I think it's just the tip of the iceberg and we're trying to prepare for it," said Bales.

Andy Bates said he is concerned about the upcoming cold weather. He said he expects most of the shelters will be filled this weekend. But, he said the real problem is the economy. Bates really hopes that more help can come from the government to provide more homes and more housing for those in need.

Women's Care Cottage in North Hollywood says it has also seen the demand for its services almost double in the past year.

Their clients come from different backgrounds and many never expected to need help from a shelter.

"They made me understand I'm not alone, I'm not the only one out there who's going through this," said Candy, a woman who sought help from Women's Care Cottage.

There's no judgment passed when you pass through the doors of the Women's Care Cottage.

"Well, like many other people I ended up losing my job, losing my place to live ... Didn't know what I could do or where I could go," said Candy.

Candy is one of 15 families - all women and children - staying at the Women's Care Cottage. It is a 90-day shelter, which is housed in a 2-story building. The building looks more like a single family home than a shelter for the homeless.

"When they walk through the front door they've had other ideas of what a shelter looks like. And, they through this door and take a deep breath and let it out because there's a feeling of safety here," said Elaine Kanoskie, Women's Care Cottage.

Women's Care Cottage has been providing services to women and children for about 25 years. They don't only offer assistance with food and housing; they offer job training and education.

Shelter Director Elaine Kanoskie said times are tough and they have seen about a 40 percent increase in people seeking help.

"As the economy is taking a dive and we're seeing an increase of women coming for our services. At the same time, and sadly, the funding is also decreasing as well. So, here we have the issue of the increase in services and the decrease in funding streams," said Kanoskie.

Despite the cut in funding, no one is turned away. Kim, another single mother who found herself homeless with nowhere to go, is now weeks away from her graduation at Kaplan College. She credits her success to the support she received at Women's Care Cottage

"When you have nowhere else to go and you're down to your last 'I don't know what I'm going to do', there's someone here that will help you," said Kim. Eyewitness News Reporters Jovana Lara and Robert Holguin contributed to this report.


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