- Terelle Jerricks
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Tahia Hayslet, executive director and CEO of Harbor Interfaith Services spoke excitedly about the features of the newly built facility the service organization will be officially moving into on June 10. Comprised of 15,000 square feet that includes the family resource center, a conference room, a computer lab and small playground for toddlers. But Hayslet, is really excited about the extra bathrooms.
“Before, we only had one bathroom for all of us and the clients, so we got to know each other really well,” Hayslet jokingly said.
She noted that the new facility, located on 9th street across from the 99 cent Store, is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified building. LEED certification means that the building was independently verified, and was designed and built with an eye towards sustainable site development, water savings and energy efficiency. And, most importantly, providing space to accommodate staff using public transit or biking to work.
All joking aside, Hayslet noted that the new building was much needed, just to serve their existing clients.
“This is a consolidation of space,” Tahia explained. “We are going to adequately serve the clients we have now on site.”
One of the biggest improvements in how they’ll be able to work is that clients will have more privacy, so they will be able to freely talk about issues of domestic violence and substance abuse so that case managers will be able to best direct them to resources. Before, clients could find themselves talking about such issues with other clients in the room, if at all.
A key feature of the new building is its infant and toddler care facilities, which will make it easier and more efficient for staff to assist clients with children.
“Stress management workshops would be impossible before because we had parents all in one room trying to pay attention while controlling their children,” Hayslet said.
The new computer lab has 10 desktops terminals and an additional 20 laptops to assist clients writing resumes, applying for jobs online, or students doing their homework. Before, case managers had to direct clients to the library which had fewer computers and only allowed users to sit at a terminal for 30 minutes.
Previously, Harbor Interfaith has largely coped with the cramp spacing conditions by referring clients to to other local services groups such as Rainbow Services, Toberman, Beacon House and House of Hope.
The new space will include an enlarged waiting area that will allow more efficient processing of CalFresh applicants.
With the new space, they’ll have to add some additional staff, particularly in the area of child care. There has to be one teacher per 12 students. Harbor Interfaith has 34 students, requiring a total of three teachers. A grounds keeper and IT person.
The children in Harbor Interfaith’s after-school program will be able to go back to the service headquarters rather than go to the Boys and Girls Club.
The children in the after school program who have been going to the Boys and Girls club will now be able to use resources at the home site, Hayslet said.
There’s now a clothing room with a enough space to sort and organize donated clothes.
“Before, we would have to lay the clothes out on a tarp and hope you’d find matching pairs,” Hayslet said.
Hayslet noted that Harbor Interfaith started off as simply a food pantry, but its mission expanded over the years but without increasing the space in which it does it.
Harbor Interfaith’s stated mission is to empower the homeless and working poor to become self-sufficient by providing support services that include shelter, transitional housing, food, job placement, advocacy, child care, education and life-skills training.
Harbor Interfaith was built in 1975 when visionaries in the local faith community organized a volunteer-operated food pantry. Since then, the mission has grown to where in 1983, secured rental units to provide emergency housing for homeless families.
In 1990, the agency bought a World War I-era army barracks and converted it for use as a 20-unit emergency shelter where homeless families can stay for up to 90 days.
In 1996, due to the closure of the Long Beach Naval Station, the agency received funding to purchase a 24-unit apartment building to operate a transitional housing program. Families stay there for up to 18 months while completing their education or job training. And in 2003, Harbor Interfaith received a $1 million grant from First 5 LA to open a childcare center.
It was In 2009 that Harbor Interfaith received a $4.97 million grant from the County of Los Angeles and grants from the Ahmanson, Parsons, Weingart, S. Mark Taper, Eisner and W.M. Keck foundations to build the Family Resource Center that’s opening June 10.
Harbor Interfaith broke ground on the building in August 2010. When asked what it took get the Family Resource Center from groundbreaking ceremony to completion in 18 months, Hayslet said, “100 percent buy in from the staff, board, and volunteers.”
But she cautions past and current supporter not to get complacent in their giving.
“People think that because we have done well securing large grants in the past that we’ll always have success in getting large grants, and that’s just not true.”
She said the service organization needs all the help it can get and expressed gratitude the Harbor Interfaith has received throughout the years.