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San Fernando Valley Cultural Center Burglarized, Nonprofit Seeks Community Support

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UNITE Cultural Center Los Angeles San Fernando Valley
The UNITE Cultural Center grand opening in August of 2019. Courtesy photo.

The UNITE Cultural Center, which serves youth and families across the San Fernando Valley, was broken into early Wednesday morning.

The cultural center serves as the headquarters of the nonprofit, AWOKE, a youth-led organization that improves access to the arts and athletics, increases civic engagement, and fosters positive youth and community development. 

“We focus on hip-hop culture as a way to engage youth. The center is a cultural hub, a place for the community to come together,” said Pierre Arreola, executive director of AWOKE.

Two men forced entry into the back of the nonprofit’s headquarters, stealing thousands of dollars worth of equipment necessary for their programming. 

Last week, Arreola received a phone call at 5 a.m. from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to inform him of a break-in at the cultural center.

“It was just such a blow to hear about what happened,” he said. “We are all about positivity, if the people that did this needed something, we would have gladly helped out.”

The pair ransacked AWOKE’s Canoga Park location and took off with laptops, audio/visual equipment, cash and merchandise. 

However, Arreola said the physical items can be replaced. One thing that was taken cannot — hard drives containing a decade of archival footage from the youth in the program. 

“That is what hurt the most. Those things, you just can’t replace,” he explained. 

Several members of the nonprofit searched the surrounding area for the lost drives but were never found. 

“Some of our folks needed that footage for college applications,” Arreola said. “I don’t care about the material things, we just want that back.” 

A screenshot of security footage from after the burglary at the cultural center, when one of the suspects returned.

Last week’s break-in marks the second time the center was broken into, with the first just before the COVID-19 lockdown. 

The first burglary was unsuccessful after a construction crew across the street chased off the would-be intruder after hearing the storefront glass shatter. 

“Thankfully, nothing was taken during the first one,” he said. “But glass windows are expensive. It took away money we could have used for the program.”

Arreola said preventing negativity in the community is the whole reason AWOKE was created, adding if a program like this was available for the suspects, the break-ins may have been prevented. 

“We were surrounded by crime and drugs growing up,” he said “The arts were a way for us to not get caught up in all of that.” 

While the formal nonprofit was founded in 2017, the organization’s roots date back 10 years prior to when Arreola was in high school. 

“Coming from Pacoima, some people thought we were the ‘scum of the earth,’” Arreola said. “We wanted to show there is greatness in the San Fernando Valley.”

Along with several friends, he started the GR818ERS, pronounced “great-one-eighters,” to showcase dancers, artists and others in the community. 

GR818ERS hosted breakdancing events in public parks and street corners, but over 10 years, the organization kept growing. 

In August of 2019, the UNITE Cultural Center opened in Canoga Park as a physical space for youth to gather and express themselves through art. 

“These folks sometimes have nowhere else to go,” Arreola said. “We wanted a place for the youth to showcase themselves and their abilities.”

A few months after the center opened, the COVID-19 pandemic reached Los Angeles County prompting a shutdown of their physical location, however, the programming continued. 

AWOKE pivoted to virtual programming, reaching youth at their form of online communication: social media. 

“We used Instagram Live, Facebook, YouTube and other ways to engage youth through the pandemic,” Arreola said. “Now more than ever, folks need an outlet.” 

A UNITE dance class before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nonprofit decided to continue a yearly dance competition, which is their biggest fundraiser of the year, but reformatted the event to conform to COVID-19 guidelines.

Over 300 artists entered the competition, with the final 32 being voted on by the community. 

“It was an overwhelming response,” Arreola said. “We reached people from all over the world, from Latin America, Asia, Europe.”

Now events such as this cannot happen after equipment necessary to run virtual programming was taken in the burglary, according to the executive director. 

“This is a setback for us as we continue to provide crucial services to youth during the pandemic,” Arreola said. 

During a virtual event at the height of the first COVID-19 lockdown, a youth member said, “Dance is the thing that is keeping me sane for real. I lost my grandmother, uncle, and close friend to COVID-19. This event was necessary for me and for street dance culture as a whole.”

AWOKE is asking for the community’s help in finding the perpetrators to recover stolen equipment and irreplaceable archives. 

The nonprofit is also seeking financial support from the community to those able to donate. 

For more information, visit their website or contact via email here or phone at 818-421-7299.

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L.A. Mayor Signs Camping Ordinance Aimed At Restricting Homeless Encampments

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an ordinance on Friday aimed at restricting homeless encampments in certain areas of the city.

The ordinance, which is set to take effect 30 days from the signing date, bans camping near “sensitive” facilities including within 500 feet of schools, daycares, parks and libraries, according to the  L.A. City Council agenda.

In addition, the measure also restricts sitting, lying, or sleeping as well as storing, using, maintaining and placing personal property in any public right-of-way such as ramps, driveways or bike lanes, among others.

On Wednesday, the council voted 13-2 to approve the measure before Garcetti’s signature. 

Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman voiced opposition to the ordinance, with Bonin recalling his own struggle with housing.

“Some of those nights I slept in the car, some of those nights, when my car was in the shop, I slept on the beach. I cannot tell you how much turmoil is in your heart when the sun is setting and you don’t know where to sleep,” Bonin said. “I cannot tell you how demoralizing and dehumanizing and defeating that experience is when you don’t know where you’re going to sleep.”

City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said the measure helps regulate shared public spaces while “acting with compassion and purpose” to help people experiencing homelessness.

“This ordinance establishes fair and clearly defined rules for how sidewalks in Los Angeles are regulated — while linking those rules to a comprehensive, compassionate strategy for street engagement that will establish reasonable pathways to positive outcomes and, ultimately, permanent homes,” O’Farrell said.

In order to enforce the new order, the City Council has to take action through a resolution to designate a certain area for enforcement, according to the ordinance.

The city plans to send out “street engagement teams,” along with law enforcement, to assist those experiencing homelessness in the designated encampment by providing connection to services, including interim housing. 

Last month, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) released a report outlining the number of shelter beds available across the county.

The number of homeless shelter beds in the L.A. region has increased by over 50% in the past three years, however, demand still outpaces the capacity, according to the agency.

LAHSA found that the L.A. region’s shelter capacity on any given night was 24,616 beds — less than half of the estimated 66,000 people on the street countywide. 

The previous Homeless Count was conducted before the pandemic, with many housing experts and community members reporting an increase in the unhoused population in the past 18 months. 

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L.A. Homeless Shelter Capacity Up 57% In Three Years, Still Less Than Demand

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Tiny-Home-Village-Homeless-Shelter-North-Hollywood-Los-Angeles-1-1
Devon Miller / The Valley Post

The number of homeless shelter beds in Los Angeles has increased by over 50% in the past three years, however, demand still outpaces the capacity. 

The 2021 Housing Inventory Count and Shelter Count, released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Wednesday, shows the nightly shelter capacity in the L.A. area has grown despite challenges faced by the pandemic. 

LAHSA found that the L.A. region’s shelter capacity on any given night was 24,616 beds, a 57% increase over the last three years. The agency also reported 33,592 permanent housing options, an increase of 16% over the same period.

Through “unprecedented coordination” and a critical influx of state and federal emergency funding, the L.A. region’s rehousing system’s response to COVID-19 saved lives, according to  Heidi Marston, executive director of LAHSA.

“We must build off of that momentum as we emerge from the pandemic to build the infrastructure necessary to address our homelessness crisis and collectively confront the conditions that continue to push people into homelessness,” Marston said in a statement. 

The Los Angeles region needs to build a more balanced system with more housing options. A balanced rehousing system has five permanent housing exits for each shelter bed; the Los Angeles system is closer to one-to-one, according to the executive director. 

The Housing Inventory Count is a census of all interim and permanent housing options in the homeless rehousing system at a given point-in-time. This year, the Housing Inventory Count occurred on Jan. 27.

LAHSA reported these results despite the global pandemic causing a considerable strain on its shelter supply. 

In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, all of Los Angeles County’s congregate shelters had to decrease their bed count through a process called decompression. 

However, strategic investments by the federal, state, and local governments through Project Roomkey and Project Homekey helped make up for the loss of capacity, according to the agency.

The Shelter Count revealed that there were 17,225 people in a shelter on the night of the count, which is virtually unchanged from the previous year. 

LAHSA cited that without the addition of 2,357 Project Roomkey beds and 497 Project Homekey beds, there could have been a more significant drop in the shelter count due to decompression.

Following the advice of public health officials, LAHSA did not conduct an Unsheltered Count in 2021 to protect the 8,000 volunteers needed to complete the Count each year from COVID-19. The agency is planning to resume the Unsheltered Count in 2022.

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Home Prices In San Fernando Valley Reach New High, Median Nearing $1 Million

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Los Angeles Homes

The median price of San Fernando Valley homes sold during June reached a record high while sales soared 56.9% and the number of properties listed for sale lingered at low levels.

The median price was $955,000, up 28.9% from June 2020, according to the Southland Regional Association of Realtors (SRAR).

June was the fourth consecutive month with the median above the $900,000 benchmark.

“Not long ago it would have been inconceivable that the San Fernando Valley would see the median home price inching toward $1 million,” said Diane Sydell, president of the association in a statement. “Now it seems inevitable, especially with today’s wealth of buyers, dearth of inventory, and heated competition over virtually every listing.”

The condominium median price for June was $519,000, up 12.8% from June 2020, but 3.9% below the record high $540,000 set this April.

A total of 554 single-family homes closed escrow during June, up 56.9% from a year ago and 11.5% ahead of May’s tally. It was the first month this year above 500 sales and the highest monthly total since June 2018.

The statistics for condominium sales were not as dramatic, in part because of the extremely limited supply of condominiums listed for sale, according to SRAR.

There were 725 active home and condominium listings at the end of June, the first month above 700 listings this year.

“The market has been overheated and buyer fatigue may be a factor going forward,” said Tim Johnson, the association’s chief executive officer. “Too many buyers are weary of competing with unseen competitors and losing to a higher bidder even when they come to the market fully prepared to buy. ”

That may translate in buyers being a bit more cautious, which when combined with the
reopening of the economy may yield a slowdown in sales and a few more listings.

Yet Johnson stressed that a “few more listings” doesn’t go far, even if some buyers are starting to take a bit longer to jump into the market.

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