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Santa Monica City Councilmember Bobby Shriver and Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl take a look at a rendering of the future Upward Bound House Family Center in Culver City on Thursday. (photo by Ray Solano)

CULVER CITY — The ongoing efforts by Santa Monica city officials to take a regional approach in addressing homelessness took a giant step forward on Thursday when a locally-based nonprofit broke ground on a new family shelter in a neighboring community.

A large crowd of homeless service advocates and officials from Los Angeles County and nearby municipalities gathered at the old Sunbay Motel in Culver City to celebrate the beginning of the roughly five-month-long construction of Upward Bound House’s new Family Shelter.

“The opening can’t happen soon enough for the thousands of families across Los Angeles who are losing their jobs, their homes, their hope,” said David Snow, the executive director of Santa Monica-based Upward Bound House.

Estimated to cost $4 million, the new shelter will provide 18 units of emergency housing for homeless families and children, serving an estimated 210 people every year. In addition to private donations, the project will be funded by various Westside city governments, including Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and Santa Monica City Hall, which has provided about $400,000. Both Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas’ offices have also provided funding. Ridley-Thomas’ district includes Culver City.

The project has been touted as one of the ways in which city officials are trying to take a regional approach to tackling the homeless issue.

“This is a wonderful example of what we’re trying to achieve,” Santa Monica Human Services Manager Julie Rusk said.

Santa Monica City Hall recently participated in the 2009 Homeless Count, which was held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s countywide survey. The count, which involved physically tallying individuals living on the streets during a given night, found an 8 percent drop from 2007.

Officials during the ground breaking pointed out that the homeless issue is expected to deepen as more families lose the ability to pay their mortgages and rent.

“Now more than ever we need a facility like Upward Bound House,” Culver City Mayor Scott Malsin said.

Yaroslavsky, whose district includes Santa Monica, said that homelessness was not one of his top priorities until his daughter several years ago spent a summer working for the city of Oakland and called her father about how she just spent 20 minutes talking to a homeless man on Telegraph Avenue.

Hundreds of people walked by the pair during those 20 minutes and not one engaged in eye contact.

In the course of hearing the story from his daughter, Yaroslavsky was struck when he realized that he too would not have made eye contact.

“One of the things that society as a whole has not made is eye contact,” he said.

Upward Bound House was founded in 1991 by the First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica, which incorporated the nondenominational community service agency. The organization started with a pilot transitional housing program in a small four-unit apartment building and expanded in 1996 with the construction of Family Place.

Among the success stories is Kimberly Valentine, who came to Upward Bound House in 2004 to escape an abusive relationship.

She spent about seven months in the program and began taking culinary courses at the Art Institute of Los Angeles in Santa Monica. Today she is the owner of her own catering company, Miss Valentine’s Katering.

Valentine catered the ground-breaking ceremony.

“Upward Bound House was great for me,” she said. “It offered me encouragement when I didn’t feel it from anywhere else.”

melodyh@smdp.com