Emergency shelters in Westchester and Venice were a Thanksgiving blessing for people who have little more than a story to tell

By Gary Walker

The Westchester Senior Citizen Center accommodated 50 emergency shelter beds on Thanksgiving
Photo courtesy of Booker Pearson

Dressed in a rumpled brown coat and a thick wool scarf, 43-year-old Danielle Scully sat outside the Westchester Senior Citizen Center smoking a Marlboro Red and watching people mill in and out of the building on the cold and rainy Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. Despite the dismal weather, she was in a thankful mood.

“I usually stay over there somewhere,” said Scully, gesturing vaguely around the park. “But tonight I’m sleeping indoors.”

Scully was one of 42 people who took refuge that night at the senior center, one of six emergency homeless shelters activated through Los Angeles County over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, accounting for 1,200 beds in all. The county’s regular winter shelter program began Sunday, Dec. 1, at other locations, including the West Los Angeles National Guard Armory.

Others sought emergency shelter at the Oakwood Recreation Center in Venice, where the Red Cross staged 100 cots and nonprofit housing and services agency First to Serve provided hot meals. Among them was Gordon Hood, who said he normally sleeps near LAX but learned about weather-activated shelters through The People Concern (formerly OPCC), a Santa Monica homeless services agency where he often volunteers.

Coming to Oakwood “worked out well for me because it’s close and convenient to my main travel corridor, Lincoln Boulevard,” said Hood, who turns 62 this month, as he settled in to watch “Frozen” on a TV that had been wheeled into the reception area.

Hood worked as a commercial driver until his license was suspended two years ago, but he hopes to get his license back in February.

“I want to get my job back, save some money and move to Phoenix. L.A. has become too cold for me,” he said with a smile.

On Thanksgiving Day at the Westchester Senior Center, which accommodated 50 cots, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority personnel distributed a large clothing donation that had just come in.

Gisella “Gigi” Endres, 57, came to Westchester after being released from Olive View UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar days earlier. She’s hoping for a fresh start after losing her job as a home healthcare worker and becoming homeless.

“Next year I hope to start the ball rolling to get into Section 8 housing,” said Endres, who suffers from vertigo. “I want to be able to remember who I was and who I can be again.”

Endres sells jewelry on the Venice Boardwalk and says that she has been assaulted there multiple times.

“It’s hard being a woman and living on the street. The thieves stole everything — all of my old pictures, my husband’s military papers from Vietnam, my identification, everything,” she said, sobbing at the memory and clutching her dog Sparky, a light brown Shih Tzu. Looking around the temporary shelter, Endres added, “I don’t know where I’d be tonight if OPCC didn’t bring me here.”

Meredith Berkson, LAHSA’s director of policy and systems, said temporary shelters such as Oakwood and Westchester could be reopened this week as the region prepares for another winter storm.

“Once we were told about the county’s order we’ve been working on all fronts to get ready to serve as many people as we can at as many locations as we can,” Berkson said.

Like Endres, OPCC also gave Denny Watson, 62, a ride to Westchester.

“I was all set to try and find a doorway to get away from the rain,” said Watson, who has been living on the streets of Santa Monica for more than 10 years.

Watson said the Westchester shelter was “a godsend” because he has slept in a tent during previous rainstorms.

“Sometimes the rain can seep through even the tiniest spaces and it’s hard to stay dry,” he said.

It was Santa Monica’s homeless outreach C3 Team (City, County and Community) that brought senior citizen Clint Cooper to Westchester after finding him in Christine Reed Park in Santa Monica on Thanksgiving Day.

“I’ve been panicking the last few days about where I was going to sleep with the rain and cold coming,” said Cooper, who had several stents put into his heart last year. “I don’t do cold or wet well. So I’m glad they saw me in the park.
If it wasn’t for them, I’d be under someone’s garage.”

Today, he added, “I’m thankful as hell.”