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Shelter for homeless women could open in Sylmar

Women wait in line to get a bed for the night at Grace Resource Center's Lancaster Community Homeless Shelter on Tuesday afternoon, May 31, 2016. The shelter closed earlier this year. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

A National Guard Armory in Sylmar could become a shelter for homeless women under a plan up for approval by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The proposal, introduced by L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, would create a shelter with up to 85 beds — a chunk of the minimum 200 beds the county estimates it needs to serve women more effectively. The shelter would be what's known as "bridge housing," meaning residents would have services aimed at getting them into permanent housing.

The space has been used as a seasonal shelter for homeless at times, but it needs some work before it can house people 24/7, said John Horn of L.A. Family Housing, the provider chosen to operate the proposed shelter.

"We are looking at how we can take what is essentially an armory for National Guard training to a facility that provides women, particularly women who have gone through a lot of trauma with a space that is warm, inviting, and conducive to their recovery and getting into permanent housing," Horn said. 

That means paint, fixing the acoustics, creating a shared community space, building a kitchen, and making bathrooms and other facilities accessible to people with physical disabilities. It's not yet clear how much that conversion would cost, though the money would come from new sales tax revenue from Measure H.

The facility is a bit off the beaten path in Sylmar, which could make it a more challenging destination for women who lack transportation and need to commute to work. Unlike seasonal shelters, however, women will not be required to leave the shelter during the day.

The shelter's location also made it attractive, Horn said.

"It is up against hills, so you're not right next to existing family residences," he said.

Finding sites for shelters or any kind of service that draws in homeless has been challenging in L.A. County. Kuehl said the county spent time meeting with Sylmar residents to develop the proposal togehter with the community.

"We talked about private security, which we will now have twenty-four hours a day," she said. "No one can just walk in, they have to be referred and brought there."

She said the county was lucky to find the property because of its size and potential. And providing services to women has become a priority.

"Less than twenty percent of emergency shelter beds are dedicated to women," she said, though about 30 percent of the homeless population consists of women.  "And in many places women are reluctant to go to shelter. There's a lot of men, they get hit on, it's very uncomfortable for them."

A new shelter for just women would be a positive step, she said.

The full cost of the project has not yet been determined. The county is also exploring the option of buying the site, which would require the California legislature to act.