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Complaints Trail Home for Runaways to New Location

Times Staff Writer

Norge Seward, who has been housing runaway and troubled children in a one-bedroom apartment for three years, thought her problems with neighbors and lack of space would end when she moved earlier this year from North Hollywood to Palmdale.

But the problems had only begun.

Seward, the founder of Throw Away, Run Away, her nonprofit organization for runaways and children and youths referred by court, is facing the same opposition from neighbors and landlords in Palmdale that confronted her in North Hollywood. On top of that, she said, she and the seven young people, ranging from 11 to 19 years old, who have been living with her in the Mojave Desert community of Palmdale have been threatened with eviction.

Prepared to Fight

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But, as she did in North Hollywood, Seward said she is prepared to stand her ground and fight, even though she knows she is breaking the state laws limiting the number of people who can live in a one-bedroom dwelling.

“I know I am breaking the health and safety code by having so many people live with me, but I don’t know what else to do,” said Seward, 33, who has a degree in child mental health from California State University, Northridge. “I figure the owner of the building can take me to court. I don’t want to put these kids on the street. What am I supposed to do?”

Seward and her husband, Kenneth, have taken 37 youths under their wing since 1982. The youths, some with drug-abuse problems, are given food, shelter and counseling. Eventually, they are placed in a foster home or returned to their parents.

When the Sewards lived on Bakman Avenue in North Hollywood last year, they had as many as eight young people living with them at one time. Neighbors complained to the building management about noise and late-night activity around the one-bedroom apartment. The managers told the Sewards to move last November.

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Breaking Rental Agreement

But, even though the Sewards acknowledged they were breaking the rental agreement by having so many people live in the apartment, they refused to move until January. They said they would move into a four-bedroom house under construction in Palmdale.

Seward said the house has been completed, but that details concerning the final approval of their loan on the house have not been made final. She added that she does not know when she and the children will be able to move into the house.

In the meantime, she has been keeping the seven young people with her in a one-bedroom apartment on East Avenue R in Palmdale. A woman who runs the drug rehabilitation component of Throw Away, Run Away is keeping two other teen-agers in a nearby apartment.

Seward’s new neighbors have complained about noise and some fights involving teen-agers staying with her and others living in the apartments.

Handed Eviction Notice

The owner of the building, Encino lawyer Dennis Fredrickson, gave her an eviction notice earlier this month after hearing other tenants’ complaints. But he has refrained from taking any concrete legal action.

“I don’t want to be the bad guy in this,” Fredrickson said. “I know that Norge is doing good work. But I can get into some real trouble with the state department of health, and then what do I do? There are just too many kids.”

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“We really didn’t expect to be here this long, but everybody knew what I did when I moved in here,” Seward said. “That didn’t stop them from taking my money up front. These are not angel children, but neither are any other children.”

She said her husband stayed behind in North Hollywood, because there is not enough room for him in the Palmdale apartment.

“And we don’t have anyplace else to go,” she said.


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