A haven for hurricane survivors

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Families displaced by hurricanes have place to call home.

by Christin Davis – 

Two hundred and fifty displaced hurricane survivors found a safe haven in a newly renovated Salvation Army shelter in Los Angeles.

The project, named “Operation Angel Island,” involved a $2 million renovation of an empty 50,000 square foot warehouse by over 200 volunteer union workers in just 10 days. “It was inspiring to see all the parties come together and see the energy level that was created. They were the real heroes,” said Steve Allen, social services director for the Southern California Division.

The shelter is now a maze of separated rooms each complete with several beds, new comforters, towels, and the comforts of having a teddy bear on the pillow.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in late August, over a million people were displaced. Soon after, Hurricane Rita had the same effect. The survivors have filtered into numerous states around the country, including California.

Supply services have been assembled under one roof at this shelter in Los Angeles to help the families when they arrive. Immediate needs are being attended to as Kaiser Permanente is providing full medical care through the end of the year; a warehouse of donated clothing and personal items are constantly available; and three meals a day are provided by the kitchen staff. Long-term needs are being addressed by a counseling team that is on site throughout the week, SBC has donated free Internet and telephone service, and a job-resources team is helping to find work.

Ministry has been an important aspect of this shelter. Only last week, they joined with 300 of the Bell Shelter residents as the Pasadena Tabernacle youth chorus and Tabernacle children’s choir visited them.

The shelter has been opened next door to Bell Shelter, a state of the art center owned and run by The Salvation Army that houses and assists 350 homeless men and women year round.

Dr. Douglas Loisel, executive director for the Bell Shelter, said, “It’s working. The families are really happy. This is how it should be—how it should work.”

“Operation Angel Island” has enough space for 250 people—a total of 50 families. The Army hopes to find the families transitional or permanent housing within a period of four to six weeks.

Currently nearly 20 families live in the hurricane shelter. Nearly 100 survivors have been serviced thus far; four families have been placed in permanent housing rent-free for a year and new families are continuing to arrive.

“Our doors will be open as long as there is a need, but the eventual goal is to support and empower the families in their transitional move towards independence,” Allen said.

Blanca Izaguirre came to The Salvation Army’s shelter when she had nowhere else to turn. Evacuating just one day before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, she and her family of six drove 20 hours to Houston, Tex.—a trip that should have taken only five hours—and then another 38 hours to California in hopes of staying with a friend.

While driving aimlessly in Los Angeles, Izaguirre happened to see a sign for The Salvation Army and decided to stop. The family was immediately given cash, gift cards to buy clothes and a voucher for seven nights in a hotel. At the end of the week, the Army had opened “Operation Angel Island” and Izaguirre, her husband and four children were the first people to step through its doors.

“I like this place, I’m comfortable here. All the people working here are really nice. Everything, everything is nice,” she said.

The Salvation Army has found Izaguirre’s husband, Rafael Rodriguez, a job working for an electrical company, all four kids are enjoying their new schools and the family has recently moved into a two bedroom house in Torrance, rent free for one year.

“We have no words thank you. We say ‘thank you’ but we don’t think it’s enough,” she said.

In the future, The Salvation Army hopes to use the new space as a cold-weather shelter for families in the Los Angeles community.

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