Garcetti Celebrates New Bridge Housing Facility in West San Fernando Valley

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Mayor Eric Garcetti broke into song today during a virtual celebration for the grand opening of the West Valley's first Bridge Housing site, which is meant to provide transitional housing to people experiencing homelessness.

The Willows, in Canoga Park, opened to residents on Feb. 1 and will provide them with resources including case management, space for animals and larger quarters for couples. The 75-bed facility is the first Bridge Housing facility to accommodate opposite-sex couples.

The facility was named “The Willows'' for the Tongva nation, which “nurtured'' the site and used to construct their homes out of willow branches, according to Los Angeles Family Housing's Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, who said her organization received the blessing of Tongva Chief Anthony Morales to build the facility.

Garcetti joined Klasky-Gamer, Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfield and County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl for a virtual celebration of the facility's grand opening. Before his remarks, he broke into a rendition of “My Favorite Things.''

“Bob from the Council and Sheila from County, Stephanie KG from Family Housing, new beds for housing and mental health wings, these are a few of my favorite things,'' he sang.

The site features 75 semi-private sleeping quarters in three wings -- a men's wing, a women's wing and a couples wing, according to Family Housing's Elda Mendez-Lemus and Kelsey Madigan, who provided a virtual tour of the facility.

“Speaking from a mental health model and trauma-informed care, it's very important for couples to have physical touch and to be with their partners so we really wanted to embody that as we were designing these specific beds for couples,'' Madigan said.

The facility was designed with several trauma-informed principles, including skylights for natural sunlight to help residents with mental health issues and depression. Residents are also able to bring emotional support and service animals with them to the facility, which has a cat and dog room outfitted with kennels and hammocks.

“These rooms will house dogs or cats when their participants are going to therapy appointments or job interviews, and things like that where they can't bring them with them,'' Madigan said. The outdoor area also features a dog run space and areas to bathe pets.

Each wing has a case management office with mental health specialists for therapy and other services.

Blumenfield and Kuehl worked together to create a plan for the county to purchase the site with help from a conditional grant from the city. The project was funded through $1.3 million from the Mayor's Bridge Housing program and $3 million from the state's Homeless Emergency Aid Program. Following renovations from the county, the site is expected to provide at least 15 years of homeless services.

During the grand opening, Blumenfield and Kuehl spoke about much these resources are needed in the area.

“I'm proud that the Willows, as mentioned, will be the first citywide Bridge home that will accommodate couples, because we know that not allowing couples is a barrier, not allowing pets is a barrier, not being in close proximity is a barrier, feeling that a shelter is unsafe is a barrier,'' Blumenfield said. “With the Willows, all of these very real barriers are eliminated for the homeless people in the West San Fernando Valley, and that's something we should proud of.''

Kuehl spoke about the difficult choices heterosexual couples face with so many housing facilities only offering services to one gender.

“So would you, in that moment of incredible vulnerability, actually leave a person you cherish and need most in your life for an interim housing bed. We don't want you to have to make that choice,'' she said.

Photo: Getty Images

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