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Los Angeles County Immigration Welcome Center Becomes a Reality (Disaster Response)

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Beginning on April 27, 2022, asylum seekers found a new place to call “home” in LA County, for at least a little while. Approximately 30 old dorm rooms at the Claremont School of Theology (CST) campus have been transformed into critically needed temporary housing units for asylum seekers and immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into southern California.

The journey to this point has been made possible by hundreds of United Methodist volunteers giving thousands of hours over the past several months to refurbish the campus and transform unused and unmaintained dormitory units into housing units ready to accept individuals, couples and families seeking to escape from violence, insecurity, persecution, poverty, and famine from around the world.

Beginning Fall 2021, in response to a request from the Bishop, the California-Pacific Conference Disaster Response Task Force began to recruit and organize volunteers to begin to restore the outside elements of the CST which had stood unused and under maintained for several years. Work involved dead tree and brush and debris removal, tree trimming, weeding, painting, broken window repair, plumbing and electrical repair, roof repair and more.

On a parallel project, the Task Force was working, in concert with Safe Harbors and the support of a FEMA grant, to convert the space at the now-closed Holtville United Methodist Church into a welcome center for asylum seekers. Plans submitted to the City for permits were summarily rejected as the City made it clear this endeavor would not be welcome.

As this disappointment was settling in, the idea of utilizing an underused asset (all those dorm rooms sitting empty at CST) began to take on life. In February, we were granted temporary permission to clean and re-hab dormitory rooms for use for transitional housing for immigrants and asylum seekers. At the same time, FEMA agreed to transfer the remaining funds in it’s grant from San Diego County to Los Angeles County jurisdiction.

The work really began in earnest! Clearing out debris, tearing out rotten carpets and damaged flooring, washing walls, painting everywhere, shampooing carpets, installing new flooring, repairing cabinets and shelving, electrical and plumbing repairs, kitchen deep cleaning and appliance replacement, standalone heater/AC unit installations, making sliding windows and doors work, replacing broken windows and blinds, assembling bunk beds, toilet and tub/shower repair/replacement, replacing non-functioning water heaters, more roof repairs, more plumbing challenges… It seemed to never end. But, thanks to volunteers from all over, including the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, working every day of the week, a dream became a reality!

The Los Angeles Immigrant Welcome Center will join a growing network of transitional housing locations operated by Safe Harbors, a separate 501(c)3 organization. A Mission Volunteer couple, assigned by Global Ministries, will be living on site to aid with the families with transportation, court appearances, clothing and food necessities, medical needs, and all the almost overwhelming challenges that face families arriving in a new country with nothing.

There is much still to do as more and more rooms will need cleaning, repairs and upgrades to help meet the increasing demand that is sure to come. Safe Harbors will be responsible for the placement and support of the new arrivals. An project manager is needed to work with the Mission Couple to oversee the challenging operations which are constantly changing. To date, already over 40 individuals have come through the Welcome Center.

But for the time being, the Disaster Response Task Force will have to fill this function as well as continue to prepare and care for the physical facilities. Donation support for this on-going ministry will provide for food, daily supplies such as laundry cards, and tools and supplies needed for repairs and upgrades. To give, go to calpacumc.org/donate, and designate the “Disaster Response Supplies and Aid” Fund.

In addition, there is an on-going, almost daily need for volunteers to help with the needs of the families or to help with the work on the physical facilities. For more information or questions, contact our Cal-Pac Disaster Response Coordinator, Judy Lewis at dfjklewis2@yahoo.com.

To learn more about the Task Force, visit calpacumc.org/disasterresponse.

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