By Haley Sawyer
Ascencia, a homelessness outreach nonprofit with locations in Glendale and Burbank, never gives up.
“We have a client that originally was in our shelter and she hit the length of stay,” said Ascencia program director Kiara Payne, citing a case that displayed the agency’s doggedness. “In our shelter we have a 60-day stay, and once they are in the shelter we kind of have to exit them to the street if we’re not able to get them housing.”
Although the client was homeless, living on the street, Ascencia continued to explore housing options for her. The efforts were ramped up when the woman was identified as susceptible to COVID-19.
With the nonprofit’s help, she was placed in a hotel in March through Project Roomkey — which is run by the state, county and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority — and in August, Ascencia secured housing for the client. By November, she was homeless no more.
Although restrictions due to the pandemic have changed the way Ascencia operates, its goal has remained the same.
“We still are and we have been housing people this whole time,” said Laura Duncan, executive director of Ascencia. “That’s our endgame. That has not stopped. Has it been challenging? Yes. Are we persevering? Yes. It’s happening.”
When the county issued its first stay-at-home orders in March, Ascencia acted swiftly. The county Department of Public Health inspected Ascencia facilities regularly as staff worked to gather materials like personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer while installing Plexiglas barriers throughout offices and buildings.
By Duncan’s estimate, homelessness has increased roughly 13% countywide since January.
“We’ve seen … requests for mental health services increase twofold this year. So we have a lot, a lot of services going into that, you know, when you’re homeless you’re already anxious and depressed, and then you put this on top of it and it’s been a bit much.”
Ascencia temporarily halted the acceptance of new clients, but still provided services to current ones. It also helped with Project Roomkey, which provides hotel rooms to those at risk for COVID-19.
By the time Ascencia resumed client intake, most of the administrative staff was working remotely. Therapeutic services from psychiatrists and other therapists have been available via phone.
Employees who work in outreach have travel Plexiglas that is regularly disinfected for face-to-face meetings and clients in shelters sleep head-to-toe near one another but with glass separating them. New clients are subject to a COVID-19 screening.
“It’s been doable,” Duncan said. “We also have a weekly service, weekly testing. And we haven’t had any outbreaks, I’m knocking on some wood.”
Ascencia will continue to provide for its clients throughout this holiday seasons as well.
Winter shelters are open and Project Roomkey is still in effect. Ascencia oversees multiple hotel sites for about 60 clients. A donor provided breakfast, lunch and dinner on Thanksgiving Day for all clients in Ascencia shelters and in the housing program.
Ascencia wants to make sure that no client spends the holidays alone. It hosts a holiday drive in which volunteers can sign up to be a Secret Santa for a senior client in housing or adopt a family so that children of clients can receive gifts.
“It’s a really stressful time of year for homeless households or homeless folks or families,” Duncan said. “And it’s even compounded this year, obviously for everyone, but them as well.”
Those who wish to help or donate Ascencia can visit ascenciaca.org. Donations are currently drop-off only, and Duncan noted that materials like socks and ChapStick are needed as the weather cools.
As the weeks pass and the holiday season continues, Ascencia isn’t giving up on providing the clients the services they need, whether it’s a health session over the phone or finding housing.
“To be able to provide relief to anyone is what’s keeping me going,” said Payne. “Sometimes we feel like giving somebody something of material value is what they’re looking for. Sometimes they’re looking for an ear. Or someone to say, ‘It’s OK, we’re going to work though this together.’ It relieves some type of stress, some type of anxiety that anyone is going through, that somebody is going through this with them and they’re not alone.”