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Burb's Eye View: Decades of helping the homeless

February 25, 2014|By Bryan Mahoney

When Barbara Howell interviewed for the job of directing Burbank’s aid center and food bank, the building looked lived-in and run down.

It needed help in a big way.

“I’m sitting there in the interview and I’m thinking, ‘How do I get out of this?’ The place was falling down around us,” Howell said.

Now 10 years later, the Burbank Temporary Aid Center is planning to expand into the building next door. Its case management program is helping families from becoming homeless. It is taking some of the burden of care and support off of the churches, schools and taxpayers that otherwise would fill the gap.

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With seven staff members and more than 60 volunteers, the center is trying to turn things around for people who need help and ask for it.

“I have the best job in the world,” Howell now says.

On March 7, the Burbank Temporary Aid Center will celebrate its 40th anniversary with an annual gala that provides a boon to its operating expenses.

Its main service is the food pantry that runs out of its Magnolia Boulevard headquarters.

“Gold around here is peanut butter and cereal,” said client service manager Pedro Torres.

For five days a week, volunteers pack food orders for Burbank families. They also pack brown-bag lunches with sandwiches provided by local churches.

Though the center is not a faith-based organization, it was started in 1974 by the Ministerial Assn. and the Burbank Coordinating Council. Pastors and rabbis in Burbank had seen homeless all over the city asking for clothes, food and help with paying bills.

Today, the Burbank Temporary Aid Center distributes about $600,000 in food, plus $100,000 in assistance to about 10% of Burbank’s population — 3,000 households and about 300 homeless.

Many are longtime residents of Burbank, some are dream chasers who come to Hollywood and Burbank looking for the promise of stardom but end up living in their cars. Occasionally, the center pays for a bus ticket back home. If someone takes advantage of that, they can’t come back for further help from the center.

“It’s not like a travel agency,” Howell said.

Without the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, there would still be a need, Torres said. “Just not providing the resources doesn’t make the problem go away.”

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