Pomona shelter for unaccompanied migrant children set to close next month

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POMONA, CALIF. - Aug. 7, 2018 - Pomona Fairplex (Jesse Goddard / For The Times)
The Pomona Fairplex has been used as a shelter for migrant (Jesse Goddard / For The Times)

An emergency migrant shelter at the Pomona Fairplex will close its doors and end all operations next month after six months in operation.

The shelter opened May 1 along with some 200 other facilities across the country.

Since its opening, the shelter, which had a capacity of 2,500, has housed tens of thousands of children and teenagers. More than 8,000 have been reunited with family members or sponsors in the U.S., according to a statement from L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose district includes Pomona.

The Fairplex was the second emergency intake site in Los Angeles County to aid in efforts to temporarily house unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, many of whom were fleeing violence in Central America and seeking to reunite with relatives in the U.S. The first shelter, at the Long Beach Convention Center, opened in April and closed in July.

The closure of the Pomona site, which will be Nov. 19, comes after recent reports that the number of children held in emergency facilities has dropped nationwide. According to the most recent data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the number of children in national shelters has dropped roughly 20% — from 20,339 in April to 16,171 at the end of August.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection data show that most unaccompanied minors are from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador. Although those numbers have leveled in recent months, the amount has been significantly higher than other years.

State officials praised the community efforts that had a hand in the success of the Pomona shelter.

“I’m thankful to everyone in the community who contributed to creating a safe and welcoming environment for these children,” Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona) said.

She said her ultimate goal is to address the root issues that compel people “that are unfortunately plagued by corruption and violence” in Central America to risk their lives and flee their homes.

“I will continue to work in Congress to address these problems so that Central Americans can live safely and have a promising future in their home countries," Torres said. "At the same time, I will push for immigration reform to treat those who do arrive safely and with dignity, as we did here in Pomona.”

The fairgrounds site was viewed as a model for what migrant shelters should be — equipped with individual cots for each child and ample time to play outside, Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval said.

“When the site opened, community members raised concerns on how the children would be taken care of, and the initial conversations that we had were about how we could ensure that the kids felt loved, welcomed and cared for,” Sandoval said.

Solis said the dedication from caseworkers, nurses and educators "was nothing short of extraordinary.”

Throughout the last six months, Sandoval has received calls from hairstylists and barbers who were willing to provide free haircuts as well as others who were interested in donating clothes and money.

“Pomona really came together to do whatever we possibly could to support the kids,” he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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