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State Accused of Shirking Its Duty on the Homeless

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Grand Jury on Monday charged that the state is “shirking its responsibility” for the homeless problem by requiring localities to provide relief programs but not providing funds for them.

The panel said that California is one of only three states that require relief efforts “but do nothing to back up the mandate with money.”

Noting that many of the homeless are mentally ill, grand jurors said that “the state has sent the mentally ill back to counties and failed to send sufficient funds to meet their needs.”

The report, one of a series by the grand jury to the Board of Supervisors, also charged that the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency has done too little to provide affordable housing for the lowest-income residents displaced by its projects.

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The panel’s report bolstered arguments made repeatedly by members the Board of Supervisors, who have claimed that the state should bear a larger burden of the cost for the homeless because its policies have added to the problem.

In particular, the state has failed to provide enough money for local treatment and residential facilities for mental patients who have been released from state hospitals into the community over the past 15 years, the supervisors have said.

The jury urged the supervisors to “pursue all available means to compel” the state to fund homeless relief programs, which will cost Los Angeles County $88 million this year and an estimated $112 million next year.

The county’s rapidly growing general relief program provides meals and rooms in cheap hotels for indigents who work on community projects and search for jobs. It now involves about 36,000 people--an increase of nearly 12% since the beginning of the year, county officials said.

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Inadequate state funding is one of the “issues basic to the problem of homelessness in the county,” the panel said.

The report comes at a time when the Legislature and Gov. George Deukmejian have moved to increase funds to build and operate shelters for the homeless, although not specifically to help counties with general relief expenses. The Legislature last week approved $45 million more than the governor had requested for homeless shelters and low-income housing in its 1985-86 budget. Also, the Legislature is considering several separate bills that would increase funds for homeless shelters.

The grand jury also pointed a finger at Los Angeles city’s large Community Redevelopment Agency, which guides downtown development, for concentrating too much on developing “expensive” housing that is out of the reach of the lowest-income residents displaced by its projects.

Source of Scarcity

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Some of the homeless with very limited incomes cannot find affordable housing and the redevelopment agency has contributed to the scarcity, the report said.

Edward Helfeld, administrator of the redevelopment agency, denied the charge, saying 70% of the agency’s housing is for those of low and moderate income. “They are just incorrect,” he said.

Citing agency efforts to rehabilitate seedy hotels and develop homeless shelters on Skid Row, Helfeld said, “A substantial portion (of the housing) is for very low income.”

In earlier reports, the grand jury said the county itself had exacerbated the homeless problem by arbitrarily cutting off emergency housing aid for 60 days to all indigents who failed to meet complicated job search and other general relief requirements.

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The new report praised recent changes in the administration of the program, which have required more careful review before benefits are suspended. But the grand jury said a new, graduated system of penalties that matches the severity of violations is still needed.


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