Broke and Being Evicted : A Homeless New Year Facing Ailing Woman

Times Staff Writer

Ever since Dec. 13, Ilene Chapman has been wondering how long she would have a place to live.

On Tuesday, she discovered it would be less than a week. Her New Year's wish is a simple one:

"Peace and health to everyone, and, for myself, a decent place to live without fear of getting kicked out," she said in a hushed voice.

Chapman, 53, is one of only two residents left in the Park Hotel, 3359 5th Ave. The building, which is owned by the San Diego Blood Bank, is scheduled to be demolished to make way for additional parking space for donors.

Under a court eviction order received by her lawyer Monday, Chapman must move out of her home of two years by Monday. Somehow, with only $16 in her pocket, she must try to find another place to live. She has been unemployed since July, and has no relatives to care for her and nowhere else to go. To add to her woes, she has diabetes, a bladder infection and frequent migraine headaches.

Wayne Bank, real estate agent for the Blood Bank, said he is sympathetic to Chapman and her problems but claims that his agency has done everything possible to help the Park Hotel tenants find places to live that are within their means. Bank said that his company called more than 200 apartment complexes and hotels, then posted a list of vacant apartments in the doomed hotel's lobby. After the lobby was torn down, another list of vacancies was hand-delivered to Chapman by one of Bank's employees last week.

Said Bank: "The key thing is that the ones who went to look for a place found a place. . . . the ones who wanted to leave are gone."

To Chapman, it's not that simple.

"Just 'cause everybody else found a place doesn't mean I did . . . or could," she said.

Chapman said that the list included apartments with rents ranging from $200 to $300 per month. There was one place for $64 per week, she said.

"I have all of $16. I told the lady (who delivered the list to her) to give me $4,000 and I'd be gone in a couple of hours," she said.

Although 53 of the 55 original tenants left nearly two months ago after receiving eviction notices ordering them to be out by Nov. 3, Chapman refused to move. Instead, she filed suit against the Blood Bank in Municipal Court. The case was submitted to the court Dec. 13, and, on Monday, Judge Richard J. Hanscom's handwritten decision in favor of the Blood Bank reached Richard Steiner, Chapman's lawyer.

Steiner, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, said earlier that "the (Blood Bank) parking lots are never full" and hinted that the organization's real motive in purchasing the building in late September was for financial gain. Steiner has not decided whether he will appeal the decision.

Lynn Stedd, a Blood Bank spokeswoman, disagrees with Steiner's speculation about the reasons for the purchase.

"The parking problem has been a major concern of everyone at the Blood Bank for several years," she said.

Stedd said that since 1972 the number of cars using available parking space has tripled. Without the new lot, there would be no way to handle the steady increase in traffic, she said.

Chapman feels helpless.

"I feel like I just want to go jump off the Coronado Bridge," she said Tuesday. "I just don't know how I'm going to get past this one."

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