With ‘step out and just do it’ approach, Ken Craft’s Hope of the Valley weathers the pandemic


Pandemic-Era Heroes

  • Name: Ken Craft
  • Role: President/CEO, Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission
  • Home: San Fernando Valley
  • Quote: “I feel like we’ve just begun. We have an incredible opportunity to make difference in the community. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Latest installment in a series of stories about people who have made a big difference in the community during a time framed by the coronavirus pandemic

You might think after years of battling homelessness in the now COVID-19-drenched San Fernando Valley, Ken Craft would be a bit weary.

But there’s an energy, an urgency, in Craft’s voice as he describes the growth and the goals of Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, the organization he kicked into gear 11 years ago with his scribbled vision on the back of a napkin at a Starbucks. It was a broad vision: How to get meals to the homeless people in the Valley.

At the time, “it just seemed like the San Fernando Valley did not get the attention it needed when it came to basic health and human services,” said Craft, who felt he could also leverage his experience as a pastor and work at a Fortune 500 company. “I felt like there was more that could be done.”

It started modestly, serving food from a Lutheran Church’s kitchen in Sun Valley. But over time, just as the need has grown, so has Craft’s organization, with 200 staffers, 17 site locations, including nine shelters, a job center, thrift stories, hundreds of daily meals to distribute and much more to come, including two tiny homes hubs, a site in the high desert and new shelter at the former Skateland in Northridge.

“I feel like we’ve just begun,” said Craft this week, on his way to a toy giveaway. “We have an incredible opportunity to make difference in the community. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

That opportunity comes as homelessness has now long since reached crisis levels in L.A. County, and the Valley.

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 66,436 people in Los Angeles County are experiencing homelessness — a 12.7% rise from last year. The city of Los Angeles saw a 16.1% rise to 41,290, according to LAHSA.

Ken Craft, CEO and president of Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, visits with Michael Barraza, 56, who had been in COVID-19 Project Roomkey, during move-in day at Hope of the Valley’s NoHo Shelter, an 85-bed Bridge Housing shelter inside a North Hollywood warehouse on Thursday, July 16, 2020. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

But you don’t need numbers to see it — whether it’s along a bike path, an industrial-area street, a local neighborhood.

That has kept Craft and his staff busy. Then came COVID-19, which only amplified the issue, with many more needing food and services to stay alive — and to stay safe from a virus that so far has claimed more than 9,000 lives in L.A. County.

Through a pandemic-fraught year, Craft’s organization has had to weather quarantines and the unpredictability of a virus that ends the year with its most devastating surge.

Lessons learned in the COVID era? Many, Craft says. But namely, it’s about the ability to respond to a crisis.

“To step out and just do it, even when you don’t have all the information,” he said, adding there have been many times throughout the pandemic when the organization just didn’t know all it could before acting. “We’ve been incredibly flexible. We’ve been able to adjust.”

It’s taken some help.

“There’s a lot of people… They want to help, not just with dollars, but with emotional support. Encouragement… a willingness to help in any way they can. That’s been incredible.”

It won’t get easier. The organization is growing, along with the demand. And Craft’s job has increasingly evolved into making sure goals are getting met and making sure his staff is ready to make things happen and simply telling the organization’s story.

Volunteers Ken Craft, right, Laurie Craft, U-Chin Jang, and Steve Choi look for homeless people during the annual homeless count in North Hills, CA., Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

He’s already looking forward to a tiny homes hub opening in January in North Hollywood, and the pending transformation of the Skateland site into a homeless shelter — a big deal in the northwest San Fernando Valley.

“My mind is well into 2021,” he said, noting that he’s concerned about a potential eviction crisis on the horizon.

“That makes me very nervous,” he said. “I know the system is already capacity. It’s kind of like our ICUs…”

But if fear stopped him, the push 11 years ago inside a church kitchen might never have happened.

The fuel to push forward continues.

“The need certainly drives us. It compels us,” he said. “When we see the increase in homeless. When we see the amount of people in our shelters testing positive for COVID … It’s that need that is what compelled us to start Hope of the Valley and it’s that need that is what compels us to continue.”

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