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Historic Sunshine Mission To Undergo Renovations

Tasbeeh Herwees |
January 25, 2011 | 12:12 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Constance Hamilton is likely the first person you’ll see when you enter the doors of the Sunshine Mission, a women’s shelter that sits quietly on the intersection of Adams Blvd. and Hoover St.

Piles of papers, magazines, folders and files cover the desk she sits behind and the floor around her. The phone rings once before she answers it. “This is the Sunshine Mission, how can I help you?”

Things around the Sunshine Mission-- also referred to as Casa de Rosas-- have been busy lately. The buildings that make up the mission, damaged by at least three earthquakes and several fires, are scheduled to undergo some long-overdue renovations at the end of February. 

Hamilton, who was once a Sunshine Mission resident herself, and the manager, Alberto Cendejas, have been at work since October organizing relocation programs for the 60 or so women who were staying there. 

“The women have been provided with the resources they need, from their own social worker, their own worker that helps them find a place,” says Cendejas.

Cendejas has only been here for about two months. He started out as a security guard at the mission but was eventually hired by Community Housing Management Services, a nonprofit that works to operate and preserve low-income housing, to manage the buildings. 

Before CHMS took over, says Cendejas, the Sunshine Mission buildings were in disrepair. As Los Angeles’ oldest women’s shelter, the Sunshine Mission has a storied history-- designed by the famed Los Angeles architect Sumner P. Hunt in 1893, they were originally intended for the Froebel Institute, a kindergarten. It was subsequently utilized as a girl’s finishing school, a hotel, military barracks, USC dormitories and even the headquarters for L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics Foundation.

In 1981, the buildings were declared a historical monument. 

The buildings have been in decline since 70s, when the mission was closed down briefly for fire and safety violations, consequently kicking 25 women out on the streets. The management since then has been negligent of the property. 

“A lot of money was being misused,” said Cendejas, “We’ve been slowly trying to put it back in order.”

These renovations, say Cendejas and Hamilton, have certainly been long overdue. 

“A lot of damage was done to this facility,” said Hamilton, “but ladies was able to live here. They endured it. The ladies it while they were here. and I admire them for that.”

An organization has granted the women living at the shelter $400 for moving expenses, money for rent, and a lump sum of money for living expenses that is determined on a case-by-case analysis of each individual’s financial situation. Most of the woman have moved out, but eight of them are still looking for a place to stay. 

Hamilton’s already found her place. It’s the same apartment she was living in before she became the victim of identity theft and lost her home. 

After retiring from a teaching position in Los Angeles School District, she had acquired a Real Estate License and a Mineral, Oil and Gas Broker’s License that helped her pay the bills-- until she came home one day to find that someone had stolen her name and her living. 

“When I was selling oil leases in Alaska, I think someone just stole my I.D. and they made a lot of money and they left me with the taxes,” she said, “I ended up homeless.”

She struggles to talk about this time in her life. Her voice wavers and her eyes well up with tears. 

“I put all my faith in God,” she said. 

For nine years, she was in and out of shelters in Venice and Long Beach, until a social worker told her about the Sunshine Mission. She’s been here for three years, but she works here now, as the mission’s secretary, answering phones, filing papers, and helping the woman who come through, looking for refuge from the harsh realities of their private worlds. 

“Some have more education than I,” said Hamilton, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Cal State Los Angeles, “They have all kinds of problems they're trying to work out in their lives. I’ve seen drug addicts. Ladies who have trouble with alcohol...I've seen all kinds come through here. But we've always gotten along.”

Cendejas says many of them women who seek the Sunshine Mission are victims of domestic abuse.

“Some of them are runaways, women that have been abused in relationships or family households,” he said, “I met a few [women] that are retired, or unfortunately just had bad luck in their lives.”

Hamilton says she’s hoped for these renovation for a long time. The building is falling apart inside, and the name it was once given-- “Casa de Rosas”, for the roses that covered it’s grounds and walls--  seems like a bitter reminder of it’s past glory days. 

"I just have that once the renovation period is over, the facilities will be open again for ladies in need,” said Hamilton, “and I have faith in my god that that will happen because we need a place like this for ladies in need. ‘Cause it really came through for me.”

Reach reporter Tasbeeh Herwees here.

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