By Aaron Blevins, 1/30/2014
Motion to direct funds toward homeless center renovations
The Center at Blessed Sacrament is likely to receive approximately $1.5 million to renovate its facilities in Hollywood, where the nonprofit is aiming to put an end to homelessness.
Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church started the center in the late 1990s. The effort has since been spun off, but is housed in a separate building behind the church on Sunset Boulevard. (photo by Aaron Blevins)
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, on Tuesday authored a motion to authorize the city’s Economic and Workforce Development Department to negotiate and execute an agreement with Social Services at Blessed Sacrament Inc. for the rehabilitation of the center. It has since been referred to the council’s Economic Development Committee.
The funding had been in jeopardy after the dissolution of the Community Redevelopment Agency, Los Angeles (CRA/LA).
“We’re very, very excited,” center board member Kerry Morrison said. “It’s really good news because it’s good news for Hollywood. It keeps a facility that is really serving a [need].”
The center was created in the late 1990s as a ministry of the church to provide showers and meals to homeless individuals in the neighborhood, she said. Around 2002, an advisory board was formed.
A few years later, the head of the CRA/LA in Hollywood, Helmi Hisserich, saw potential in the center as a hub for social services in Hollywood, Morrison said. She said the CRA/LA had been mandated to set aside a portion of its funding for social service agencies.
The board began working on plans to renovate the center, a former convent that sits on the Selma Avenue side of the Blessed Sacrament property. Morrison said the board formed a 501c3, which was a requirement to be eligible for the funds.
She said the CRA/LA assigned a staff member to the board as an advisory member to help work on the project, and the preliminary work to renovate the center continued.
However, officials had somewhat of a realization in the coming years, as they worked on a homeless registry for Hollywood and participated in Hollywood 4WRD, a coalition to end homelessness in the historic neighborhood, Morrison said. She said board members learned that they might be enabling homelessness by offering meals and showers, and revamped their mission accordingly.
“We began the transformation process to turn it into a fairly internal portal to come out of homelessness,” Morrison said.
The center became a place for activities — 12-step programs, writing, art, support groups, acting, yoga and more. Officials began offering legal, nursing and transportation services on-site. The board also started collaborating more with other social agencies.
With a newfound outlook on their approach, board members were disheartened to hear that the redevelopment agencies had been dissolved, Morrison said. She said organizers already had blueprints and were soliciting bids for construction.
“We were just so close,” Morrison added.
The board, however, soon learned that the funding was actually associated with an Urban Development Action Grant provided to support the construction of the Hollywood & Highland Center, she said. As part of the agreement, the developer, CIM Group, would pay into a community-serving account over an extended period of time, Morrison said.
The board learned that the funds would be transferred to some city entity, so organizers scheduled a meeting with O’Farrell shortly after he took office, she said. Morrison said O’Farrell offered to protect the funds.
“He deserves a lot of credit for … making this a priority,” she added.
Originally, board members were told that the CRA/LA had set aside approximately $1.7 million for the project, Morrison said. The board will now receive $1.5 million. Morrison said she isn’t sure where the other $200,000 went, but the board is grateful to receive the majority of the funding. She said the cause is certainly worth it.
“It’s really a collaborative place,” Morrison said, adding that representatives of the Veterans Administration, People Assisting The Homeless, Housing Works and Public Counsel visit the center. “It’s kind of a hub of activity for a lot of different agencies, and then it also is this place where people who are homeless or were previously homeless can find community.”
Parish life director Yolanda Brown agreed.
“That’s what we’re all about. We’re really in this together,” she said.
Brown said O’Farrell and the board deserves a lot of the credit for keeping the project alive.
“This is just another example of how when you bring together leaders that have a heart for the community, such as Mitch O’Farrell and our board, that the community can really leverage on behalf of the good of all,” she added.
Morrison said the board will work to redefine the project to accommodate its new outlook on helping the homeless.
“We have to kind of start from scratch,” she said.
A board member, Stormy Haupt, has taken the lead on getting the plans redrawn and submitted to the city, Morrison said. She said there is no timeline for the work, but organizers are in the midst of moving forward. Representatives of various social organizations will meet to discuss the project frequently.
“You can’t do this alone. One agency cannot solve the problem,” Morrison said.
For information or to help, visit www.thecenterinhollywood.org.