The largest emergency overnight shelter for the homeless in Los Angeles, housing up to 600 people per night, is struggling to survive because of cuts in federal funding and an increased number of poor in a downturned economy, said the shelter's president.
"We need to come up with payroll for this week. Without the payroll I don't know if we'll be able to go forward," said Brenda Wilson, who along with her twin sister, Lynda Moran, operates New Image Shelter for the Homeless.
"This year the need for services all across the board – in the shelter, in our programs that serve homeless families with children – there's an increase," Wilson told The Christian Post Friday. "We are seeing an increase with women, homeless runaway youth, families, and an increase in Asians."
In order to continue providing the existing services, Wilson has begun an online fundraising campaign (www.SavetheShelter.org) in hopes of raising enough money to accommodate the overflow of homeless people coming every night seeking a place to sleep.
Wilson said the shelter turns away up to 100 women and 40 men each night because of lack of funds. While a Los Angeles city and county program once paid for 600 beds (overnight accommodations), it now pays to shelter 436 (300 men and 136 women) people nightly. That doesn't stop Wilson from taking up to 600 people overnight.
"Because so many of them come in beat up and raped we just try to make room for them and we've always made room for them because at least they're safe," Wilson explains. "At least they are not on the street being sexually and physically abused."
However, taking in extra people has taken its toll on New Image and the fact that it also serves up to 200 more people at two other locations specifically for homeless families with children.
"The city has told us to come down. We've done it for about two years, but it's really drained us financially. We can no longer do it. We feel very bad about it because mainly it's the women that we can't always take in," she said. "Our oldest is 93. I mean we're talking about our aunts, our grandparents, our great-grandparents."
Officials currently estimate 51,000 homeless people in the county of Los Angeles.
"The need is great. Yet, I don't believe there is more than 3,000 beds that provide services to the homeless population," Wilson said. "We are seeing a lot more of who are called the 'newly homeless' individuals and families. These are people who thought they would never, ever be homeless.
"It's been amazing to see the increase in numbers that we have seen this year of people who have lost their jobs, lost their homes … sleeping in their cars and thinking they can go out and find a job, thinking they could make it and just not being able to make it," she said. "People that are sleeping in parks and abandoned buildings are ending up at our doors seeking services."
The center opens at three in the afternoon every day and closes the next day at 8 am. Many of the homeless include people that work during the day and students. The shelter provides a computer work station for job seekers, and case workers that also help people find work and housing. New Image has found housing for more than 16,000 people over its 23-year history.
Although the federally funded shelter cannot mandate any religious programs, churches and ministries are permitted to offer church services and Bible studies within and outside its confines.
"We are an emergency homeless shelter, but anyone within the shelter will tell you that it's not a shelter, it's a home," Wilson said. "Churches and ministries come in to do services. Souls are being won right there."
She adds, "The best part of our day is not behind the desk, but being out in our programs and our shelter and spending time with our homeless. We love what we do and we know the Lord is in everything that we do. There is no way we could do what we do without Him."
Karin Jones, once homeless herself, brings her ministry she calls "On a Wing and a Prayer" once a month on the second Saturday of each month to the shelter to do a mini-church service that includes live worship music from a band.
New Image "feels like a family" every time she enters the facility to provide church services, Jones said. She began promoting the campaign asking for financial help on Facebook.
"I know that I have to get the word out because the shelter means a lot to me," she said. "Brenda really has a heart for the homeless. She is an amazing woman. She has so many programs that help not only the homeless, but battered women, and people with AIDS.
"For 600 homeless people this is their home. I cannot imagine that being taken away from them. I can't imagine how I would feel," Jones added.