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Left Homeless, Once Again PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia   
Thursday, 08 May 2014 05:53

Courtesy Photo

In February, after losing his job in construction and landscaping, Jorge Rodriguez, his wife and three daughters could no longer afford the rent in their Van Nuys apartment. They slept two days in a U-Haul truck they rented to move their things, and a friend recommended they should seek help at the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission.

The nonprofit group had an emergency shelter where families could stay up to 90 days while they tried to get on their feet. That’s what the Rodriguez family had been trying to do since March, while staying at the Rescue Mission’s shelter in North Hollywood.

In an ironic twist of fate, the Rodriguez’ and eight other families were left homeless once again when a fire spread from a nearby wood pallet warehouse to the Rescue Mission buildings along Saticoy Street. It burned down the shelter, a clothing and food warehouse and several of their vehicles.

“I woke up when a staff employee was saying through a megaphone that there was a fire and that we should hurry because it was very close,” recalled Rodriguez, 58.

It was shortly around 12:15 a.m. on Saturday, May 3.

“I woke up my wife and my daughters and told them to get a blanket to leave,” Rodriguez said, adding he saw flames through a window that reached some 20 feet.

“I was very scared. I started yelling for them to get up and I started helping other ladies without husbands to get their kids out,” he said.

“The kids were crying and my wife almost fainted, but I told her she had to stay strong.

“We all left running. We walked like 15 minutes and I heard the first explosion, I guess it was one of the cars, and when we got to Woodman (Avenue) we could still see the fire and the smoke.”

In the midst of their escape, the entire family lost tennis shoes, clothes, the cell phone Rodriguez kept charging through the night, an iPod and a Nintendo DS, and about $300 the family had been able to put together through odd jobs in hopes of paying for the first month’s rent in a new apartment.

Now they’re back to square one just like the entire Rescue Mission, which was a total loss, said spokesperson April Lindh.

“We lost everything,” said Lindh, as she and other Rescue Mission employees gathered at the Branford Recreation Center in Arleta earlier in the week, where they and the American Red Cross had set up a temporary shelter for them and their clients displaced by the fire.

More than a dozen cots were placed in the middle of the gym in the recreation center where several tables are used for meals, and people tried to pass the time as best they could.

Executive Director Wade Trimmer estimated the mission’s losses at $2.5 million. But at a May 7 press conference in front of the charred remains of the burned out shelter, he said an estimated $100,000 in donations had been received.

In addition, Trimmer said, Los Angeles City Councilmembers Mitchell Englander, Paul Krekorian, Nury Martinez, Bob Blumenfield, Tom LaBonge and Feilpe Fuentes have all pledged to donate $2,500 each. And fire department stations throughout the San Fernando Valley will serve as donation drop off points, long with the mission’s various thrift stores.

“We’ve had a lot of community support,” Trimmer said. “It’s been a good starting point. But we have a long way to go.”

Besides the shelter, other aspects of the mission’s ability to help the homeless in the San Fernando Valley has been drastically impacted. The organization’s five box trucks and two vans used to pick up food and the donated items it sold at its thrift store — one of the principal ways to raise funds — were destroyed. The mission also lost hundreds of stored items it provided to the homeless and for sale at its thrift stores.

“We need clothing, household items — not furniture — and cash,” Trimmer said

The blaze also caused the temporary suspension of the S.O.S. program, which visited six areas in the Valley each week with a mobile shower unit, hot nutritious meals and hygiene items. Each month, the S.O.S. program served an estimated 1,500 people. Mission officials were uncertain when the program would resume.

“This fire has not only impacted our guests at the emergency shelter, but may also have a devastating impact on the people who rely on our thrift store — both customers and employees,” Trimmer said. “We’re still reeling from this, and we’re developing the next plans now.”

He said there is a 14-bed facility in Northridge that four families will move into, and other families have been referred to other providers.

The tempory Red Cross shelter will close today, May 8.

“The families’ immediate needs have been taken care of,” Trimmer said. “The organization’s needs are vast, because we lost a lot. Cash donations are needed to help us rebuild, and other donations are needed to help us restock our thrift stores.”

Trimmer said LAFD investigators have not yet determined the cause of the fire. “We do know where it originated, but beyond that, I can’t speak to that.”

Last year, the Rescue Mission provided 9,700 nights of shelter for mothers, fathers and children. It also offered more than 46,500 meals, and provided showers and clean clothes to 10,500 homeless individuals.

The group does have insurance, and Lindh said they are trying to figure out how that might help them cover losses.

But it will certainly a while before the mission can resume normal operations.

“It’s going to take some time to rebuild,” Trimmer said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 May 2014 06:02