Pastor Kathy Huck was driving home one day when she saw a man in a hospital gown at a bus stop, alone and shivering. She pulled over and asked him if he knew where he was. He said he came from a nearby hospital and was trying to go back to his spot on 94th and Vermont. The man didn’t know he was in Chatsworth. She grabbed a jacket and a sleeping bag that she had in the back of her trunk and covered him, then called some of her friends to bring a tent and made sure he had enough money to get on the red line bus.
“Can you imagine being dumped by a hospital?” Huck said.
Huck is an outreach worker and founder and Executive Director of About My Father’s Business Homeless Outreach Ministry, an organization that helps the unhoused community by providing solutions and supplies. In the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Huck continues to carry out her mission safely, respecting the guidelines imposed by the LA County.
“I’m a big hugger, I like to stop and talk to everybody,” said Huck. But she knows her team must abide by social distancing rules and said they will leave any supplies outside of tents. They still stop by encampments and ask about their needs regardless of the situation.
But their efforts don’t come without obstacles.
“The toughest thing is getting hands on personal protection and food,” said Huck. She said three food pantries in the west Valley have closed, including a couple of churches and a few of her donors — grocery markets mainly — have not been able to come through because of the high demand.
“We know it’s plentiful in our countries, but it’s so scarce right now,” said Huck. She points out the panic buying has made it harder for her team to find food in the stores to give to encampments and spent a whole day figuring out which food banks are still open despite the restrictions.
North Valley Caring Services, an organization known for distributing food to encampments and hosting a food pantry, has turned into a drive-thru food pantry, distributing packaged groceries to those who have a vehicle and continues to serve hot meals to families living in transitional housing such as motels.
Huck knows Manny Flores, the director of NVCS, and spoke with him about asking for donations. “I really want to help you out but, sis, we’re running out,” he told her as he received new clients.
AMFB likes to give canned food, like chili and soups ravioli. They like giving out warm food and serving it to the encampments, knowing that a warm can of soup hits better than just a sandwich. “Everyone loves ravioli,” Huck laughed.
The rainy weather the past few weeks has made outreach more difficult, but adding the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions in place have made things feel insane.
“We’re a faith-based organization. I have to stand on my faith, I don’t have protective gear, only hand sanitizer. We’re going on faith,” said Huck.
Jennie Munoz, executive director of Alas de Libertad, a non-profit from Canoga Park, shares the same willingness to reach out to anyone on the street, quarantine or not.
Munoz encountered someone on the streets the other day and asked what they needed. She said they asked for some pet food.
“I didn’t think about the virus either, I was doing social distancing,” said Munoz. She shared that all they care about is finding something to eat, not so much about the virus.
Munoz started outreaching when she found out there was going to be a sweep around Canoga Park. She called Huck who ran over to a nearby wash, where the two stood by the unhoused people, protecting them. Ever since, Munoz has gathered her own team to provide clothing and food to the unhoused, asking for donations from people within the community.
The two came together to plan their first official outreach this past weekend, while taking necessary precautions and guiding their team to stay safe. That included wearing gloves and maintaining a distance but also showing compassion.
“We need to be loving and kind and let them know they are going to get what they need,” said Munoz. “For them it’s worse than us, they have nowhere to quarantine — they’re outside.” She knows that Huck is a hugger but they have to follow the guidelines.
For Munoz, outreaching is personal — she used to live in her car and sit on the street when a woman appeared and gave her food and support. Ever since, she’s been looking to give back and to share her testimony of her road to recovery.
Like Huck, Munoz stands on her faith and the two pray for protection when they do their work. But if they don’t continue helping, no one else will, they said.
“In the unhoused community, people ask me, ‘Are you gonna continue outreach?’ It’s business as usual\; when you speak to them it’s business as usual,” Huck said. “They gotta figure out where to take a shower and sleep, their immediate needs are more dire than ours.” Huck also said that the unhoused community are more concerned about the sweep than the virus.
Earlier this month, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a plan to add 1,600 beds into 13 city recreation centers and turn a total of 42 recreation centers into homeless shelters to get people off the streets to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
The biggest concern Huck and Munoz encounter while doing outreach is that the unhoused don’t want to be in shelters because they’re afraid that they could contract the virus. They would rather quarantine in their tents and Huck understands why.
“Why did we have to have coronavirus to want to get them off the streets?” said Huck. “I know some organizations are putting people in shelters that have tested positive. That’s one thing but if you’re putting everyone off the streets, how would that help?”
According to the Center of Disease Control’s guidelines for helping the homeless population, people who are living outdoors have more distance among others but do not always have access to sanitation stations or a connection to healthcare.
One of the recommended protocols to follow among homeless service providers is to communicate with other organizations on how to address the needs of the homeless community and aid if any were to have the virus.
The Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority has a map of hygiene response and handwashing stations across LA County to help protect the unhoused.
But Huck said the best way to know what the unhoused community needs is to ask people experiencing homelessness. Her outreach event on March 28 in Canoga Park went swimmingly, according to a text she sent with the sunglasses emoticon. They served about 80 people and pets, and two other requested stops in Chatsworth.
“If people ask me how we are doing this, it’s the grace of God,” she said.