On Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, the morning after a cold and windy storm topped the San Gabriel mountains with snow, a group of residents from the Northeast San Fernando Valley gathered to aid those left in the cold.
The residents met at a homeless encampment near the train tracks on San Fernando Road and Branford Street to distribute warm clothes and food to those residing there.
They organized on Facebook and called the operation, “Valentine’s Mission,” after a Pacoima resident who brought the camp to the communities attention.
The volunteers handed out burritos prepared the night before, tamales, doughnuts, and water, as well as blankets, jackets, gloves, scarves, and socks to about ten people that remained at the camp. Those who received aid said others from the camp left to seek shelter from the storm the night before.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found in the last homeless count conducted in January that the homeless population increased in the San Fernando Valley by 35 percent. That’s a noticeable difference compared to a 5.7 percent increase countywide.
“It’s worse than I’ve ever seen it,” Wade Trimmer, executive director of the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission, told ABC News in May when the report was released. He said homeless camps are popping up everywhere.
In Council District 7- which includes Pacoima, Sylmar, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, Shadow Hills, and Sunland-Tujunga -they counted 1,206 people living in vehicles, shelters, and tents.
Since the report was released, officials have taken small steps to alleviate the burden of homelessness, mostly seek funds from the state and impose new voter-approved taxes. Felipe Fuentes, while still a councilmember, established a homeless agency in Sunland-Tujunga, which did not sit right with some residents after he evicted the neighborhood council from that space.
Currently additional shelters have opened throughout the city for the winter. But some say that is not enough. A local organization, Valley in Action, started a petition online asking officials to open a year-round homeless shelter in the Sylmar, where the current winter shelter is located.
Until then, residents like these on Christmas Eve do what they can to help.
“It seems like bad place for me to be, but I’m very grateful to be alive and healthy,” said Barry, a thin man with a wide mustache and leather jacket who accepted some of the donations. He seemed preoccupied when he spoke, holding back tears as his voice cracked.
“A series of unfortunate events landed me outside, but I’m trying to fix that, I really am.”
Angie Castro, who organized the event on Facebook, said there were less people than expected at this particular site. But at their next stop, they ran out of donations real quick.