In 1985, when I officially started Shelter Partnership, our mission was to help solve homelessness through public policy analysis and program development in Los Angeles County. Essentially, we are the organization homeless service providers and local governments in the Los Angeles area go to for help with all levels of technical assistance for their homeless programs. Within three years, a new level of service haphazardly would take place and grow into a program that would distribute $8.2 million in product donations to 233 agencies in a given year.
In 1988, I began receiving requests from retailers and manufacturers wanting to donate their products to homeless individuals and families. First, there was a man offering 1,000 raincoats, so I stuffed them in the back of my Volvo sedan and delivered them to local shelters. Then we had a trucking firm pick up $100,000 worth of children's clothing and deliver them to five homeless family shelters.
Within months, word got around about our emerging program for the homeless, and we were introduced to The Gannet Foundation, which provided an initial grant of $250,000 to continue the program. After an attempt to offer the program to other agencies to scale up, we decided that while our focus is on public policy, this program would still help the same group of agencies but in a different way, so we took it on.
Soon after receiving the grant, Judge Harry Pregerson, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, introduced us to Louise Oliver, then director of real property operations for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). Judge Pregerson, a WWII veteran, was already working with Louise on the homeless veterans issue in downtown. GSA owned and maintained a military depot in the City of Bell, where The Salvation Army created a homeless emergency shelter during a terrible winter in 1988.
The Military Depot in the City of Bell
According to Louise, the military depot, a.k.a., the Cheli Air Force Station, was located off the 710 freeway at Atlantic. Its original 450-acre base was used between World War II and the Korean War to store military aircraft equipment. Decommissioned in the 1960s, GSA continued to maintain the property, using it primarily as storage for federal agencies. Items such as equipment owned by NASA, government-seized vehicles and unused desks from federal offices were stored in one of the many warehouses located between Bandini and the 710 Freeway. While federal activity took priority on the property, GSA also maintained leases to State Agencies for Surplus Property (SASP) under Title V of the McKinney-Vento Act.
One of those agencies was and continues to be The Bell Shelter, Salvation Army. When Louise learned about our Resource Bank, she felt the project complemented the Bell Shelter's homeless program, so within two weeks of our first meeting we obtained a permit to occupy, at no cost, our original 30,000 square foot warehouse in Building 6.
Building 6 wasn't in the best condition. It lacked bathroom facilities, so we had to seek permission to use the neighboring warehouse's facilities, then occupied by INS. Not long after, we moved into Building 3, which gave us 10,000 more square footage and our own bathroom facilities; then onto Building 2, which upgraded us to two half bays, a bathroom and an office space.
In 2003, when the military depot was declared surplus, we took the opportunity to apply for and subsequently received approval to receive by deed transfer of property from the federal government. Up to this point, we were tenants of GSA. The thought of owning the property with a deed in our name was marvelous. We would finally be able to do an overhaul of repairs, and as owners we could raise the money to do so.
Our final move took place in 2004, when we moved into Building 1101, a 108,000 square foot warehouse adjacent to Bell Shelter. Built in the 1940s, the warehouse is on approximately 6 acres, with high-arch tresses to hold up the roof of the perfectly squared-off building, in which we could potentially stack donations 16-feet high.
Our new warehouse allowed us to accept all types of donations: new clothing and shoes, toys and books, personal care products, paper products, office supplies, household goods and more. Some of our most interesting donations included 163 pallets of disposable razors, 3,000 youth tuxedos, and 2,576 rolls of carpet. Every donation we received, no matter how unique, ended up at an agency and not in a landfill.
The S. Mark Taper Foundation Shelter Resource Bank
In 2007, after a 4-year process, we received the title conveyance with a 30-year deed that we maintain the property "for uses to help the homeless." By 2009 we completed a $3.5 million capital campaign to rehabilitate the warehouse, which we renamed the S. Mark Taper Foundation Shelter Resource Bank after our lead donor. The rehabilitation was designed to ensure that the project could thrive for another 30-50 years.
The Salvation Army also received their title conveyance for Building 1 and 2 and also completed a renovation to what is now the Bell Shelter. Because of our history on campus and the proximity of our organizations, Shelter Partnership and Bell Shelter have maintained a close relationship over the years.
Steve Lytle, director of Bell Shelter, The Salvation Army, recounts, "Shelter Partnership has allowed us to stretch our dollars, and without their help we would have to dip into our budget. All ten of our modular homes are furnished with furniture, blankets and clothing all donated from Shelter. Since many of our clients are estranged from their families, and we don't have the extra resources to buy each client a gift, Shelter has been generous with providing us with items that we wrap and present to each client during the holidays."
In turn, our warehouse staff will often reach out to Bell Shelter when extra help is needed. "Many of our clients are looking for busy work, so when Shelter's warehouse receives a shipment that needs to be sorted, our clients are happy to volunteer," said Lytle. "They like the feeling of giving back, plus it helps them develop work skills."
Effects of I-710 Corridor Project
The same year we completed our capital campaign (2009) is when we first caught wind of CalTrans' I-710 Corridor Project. By 2012 we were made aware of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), but prior to the release of the EIR, Caltrans never contacted us.
We were shocked by the EIR and what it proposed. The EIR identified the property incorrectly and seemed to have only included old, aerial maps of our location, and neglected to recognize that in those warehouses were two unique programs that had been operating in the same location for almost 25 years. Not to mention, other neighbors on the property, including The U. S. Army Reserve and LAUSD.
We contacted Supervisor Gloria Molina's office, which set up a meeting for Shelter Partnership and The Salvation Army to receive an EIR briefing from CalTrans, MTA and other agencies involved with the 710 Project. We also secured legal pro bono representation from David Horowitz, Partner, and Kristin Rose, Associate, of Kirkland & Ellis LLP to formally submit our comments, feedback and letters of support from our partnering agencies. In our letter, we made our presence known and explained the impact that this expansion would have not only on our agency, but also on the over 200 agencies that we serve.
CalTrans' Impact on our Homeless Community
Now in its 26th year of operation, our S. Mark Taper Foundation Shelter Resource Bank has secured nearly $200 million in product donations. By providing donated, new items at no cost to agencies serving the homeless, we're not only helping them provide better consumer goods to their clients, but also in their day to day operations without tapping into their budget. We are the only project of its kind in Los Angeles, and quite possibly the only kind on this scale in the nation. Coincidentally, The Salvation Army's Bell Shelter is one of the largest emergency and transitional shelters west of the Mississippi, with 291 beds in its core program, 95 of which are dedicated to homeless veterans; an additional 30 beds operated with JWCH, and ten 3-bedroom, 2-bath modular homes.
If CalTrans were to move forward as originally planned, the 710 Project would demolish Bell Shelter's 10 modular homes, cut off a corner of its drug and alcohol program, and plow through a significant portion of our S. Mark Taper Foundation Shelter Resource Bank. The combination of the McKinney-Vento Act and our deed from federal government, plus 100 percent of donated goods, has allowed our organization to operate at approximately five cents to distribute a dollar's worth of goods. If we were forced to relocate, finding a warehouse centrally located to our donors and the 200 agencies we serve would be key. We would not be able to afford the going rate to lease a new space, and even if we were able to purchase a new warehouse, our program would have to shut down for a quarter of the year or more to reset up our infrastructure. The devil, as they say, is in the details.
As it stands, a revised EIR is slated to be released Fall 2014, which would include another comment period and another revision to the EIR. Until then, it's business as usual as we wait for the next EIR.