Trying to Stave Off the Pimps and Pushers : Angel's Flight Reaches Out to Runaways

Times Staff Writer

"Running?" the flyers ask. "Under 18 and looking for help? Give us a try."

The "us" is Angel's Flight, a crisis shelter for runaways that has taped its message on lampposts and telephone booths near fast-food outlets and abandoned buildings--places where street children congregate.

The flyers have been distributed around Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach and Hollywood, and up to 10 caseworkers spend about four hours a day on foot, spreading the word of Angel's Flight's existence.

Workers also scour the streets for runaways in a special van that the service acquired last summer, according to Ellie DiNatale, administrative assistant. The agency is the only one using a van, said caseworker Alicia Richards.

When they arrive at either shelter, youngsters are offered a shower, clean clothes and food. Medical care and transportation are also provided. Neither shelter is licensed for sleeping facilities.

Case workers interview the runaways, then refer them to the appropriate agency.

"We try to intercept the kids before the pimps and pushers get to them," DiNatale said.

Last year, with a budget of just over $230,000, staff and volunteers in the two offices served 1,132 youths. About 25% of them were reunited with their parents or guardians, according to Salesian Brother Phil Mandile, director of the Angel's Flight program. Another 390 ran away again from the shelter or group facility to which Angel's Flight referred them. And some of the young people received only counseling, food or clothing from Angel's Flight and chose to return to the streets.

"One thing we need to make clear," outreach worker Alicia Richards said, "is that with a lot of kids, home isn't always the best place to send them. They may have been abused, or their parents sometimes throw them out. Sometimes if we talk to them, they may realize home is the best option and they will go home."

DiNatale said that Angel's Flight was established in October, 1982, by the Catholic Welfare Bureau above the St. Vincent's Center for Men on Skid Row. The Hollywood office was opened last fall. It is funded through the Los Angeles Archdiocese, United Way and private contributions.

Because the runaway problem in Los Angeles continues to grow, the Angel's Flight board of directors is attempting to expand basic services as well as the outreach program in the Santa Monica and Venice Beach areas.

The board hopes to add to its staff, purchase a second van, move the Hollywood center to a larger facility, set up a North Hollywood office and provide a temporary shelter where runaways can stay overnight or until other arrangements for them can be made.

The 1985-86 budget will be about $250,000. DiNatale said the board hopes to raise about 75% of that through grants and individual contributions.

In addition to cash donations, she said, Angel's Flight needs clothing, food, desks, chairs and beds.

Volunteers are needed to help with casework and counseling. They can also help with clerical tasks, telephone work, preparation of clothing, support groups, publicity and small-scale fund-raising.

Runaways who want help can contact either one of Angel's Flight offices, at 625 Winston St. on Skid Row, (213) 626-4100, or at 6361 Yucca St. in Hollywood, (213) 463-8525. Angel's Flight will arrange transportation, DiNatale said.

Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday downtown and noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday in Hollywood.

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