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Annette Guzman: The day the shelter turns the homeless away

Posted: January 8, 2010 6:48 p.m.
Updated: January 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.

This season we at the Santa Clarita Valley Emergency Winter Shelter have served a significantly increased number of clients compared to prior years. As a trend, we usually begin the season with a median number of clients then climb to near our capacity.

In mid-December 2009 we reached our capacity.

With the increased number of clients we have had walk through our door, I believe we will reach a point of over-capacity this year.

After seven years of working at the shelter, I would be disheartened to have to turn a client away into the cold.

It would frustrate me to have run out of the resources (beds) necessary to have given a human being a place to sleep off of the streets.

I can't imagine turning "lights out" at 10 p.m., leaving and going home to lie in my bed and not feel empathy for that person I turned away and left roaming the streets, trying to find a place to sleep.

There are no eligibility requirements for the folks who stay at the shelter.

We serve clients who have experienced a variety of circumstances that have led them to homelessness: mental illness, chronic medical conditions, job loss, drug or alcohol addiction or a multitude of other traumatic life events.

As a result, these folks turn to the shelter for a place of refuge during the cold winter months.

Homelessness can be one or a few paychecks away and you would not even see it coming.

Last year, I was laid off from my job. Like any other day I walked in the office to start my usual routine. Minutes later I was called into a conference room and handed an envelope. They explained to me that the company was "right sizing" and my position was eliminated.

I lost my job, my medical benefits and just a bit of my pride. I remember driving away from the building, thinking "What just happened? What do I do? Where do I go? OK, Annette, focus on driving."

I ended up at my mom's house in a total state of shock. My sister was there and tried to console me, but I couldn't believe I was sitting on a couch and not sitting at my desk at a company for which I'd worked for nearly 10 years.

It took several months, but eventually I found another job and got back on my feet. My family, close friends, God and my savings account got me through that trial.

The clients at the shelter are folks who, for whatever reason or combination of circumstances, do not have the support necessary to "get back on their feet."

Program Director Tim Davis and I sat down to discuss what provisions we could make and what we need to do to prevent the situation of over-capacity, resulting in turning folks away.

This plan would increase our capacity by a few beds but not substantially. Although our plan provides additional beds, there may still be a chance it is not enough and we would run out.

The residents of Santa Clarita support the shelter tremendously. We live in a community where folks not only want to serve and give, but they, more importantly, have the means.

There is a huge network of support in the form of volunteers, donations and meals. If we increased the bed capacity of the shelter it would take additional funding, but I have no doubt the community would respond and continue to give to help meet our needs.

If or when the night comes I have to look into a person's eyes and tell them I cannot shelter them, it would bring me great dismay and grief.

However, it will also empower me to proactively seek additional resources for the next season to accommodate additional clients - and never have to turn someone away again.

Annette Guzman is the manager of the Santa Clarita Valley Emergency Winter Shelter. The shelter's Web site is The shelter's hotline is (661) 259-1298. Guzman's columnn reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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