Gardena Leads South Bay Effort to Ease Plight of the Homeless

The plight of the homeless in Southern California has received increasing attention in recent months with appearances and demonstrations on their behalf before the county Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council.

In the South Bay, Gardena seems to be taking a lead in dealing with the problem, according to officials in Gardena and elsewhere.

In November, Gardena Human Services Director Frank Benest convened the Interagency Task Force. Eighty-five representatives of city, county, state, federal and community groups met to formulate a coordinated approach to deal with the problems of the homeless.

Statistics produced by the task force showed that Gardena had a 30% increase in the number of homeless seeking aid last year. In 1984, 516 persons asked for help; 671 sought assistance in 1985. Each year, the city arranged about 200 nights of shelter for the homeless.

Benest said the county's Coastal Mental Health District has estimated that about 500 mentally disabled people live in or near Gardena.

"I don't think our problem in Gardena is any better or worse than any other community," he said.

Since the task force met, Benest's department has compiled a list of programs that aid the hungry and the homeless. It has also established an emergency shelter fund and drafted a preliminary application to the state for $75,000 to be used for a job readiness and job corps program.

"There is much to be done but we have made a start," he said.

Los Angeles County recently received $8 million from the state for the mentally disabled homeless. The central and coastal districts, which include parts of South Bay, will get $4.1 million, including $202,000 for emergency short-term shelter, said Mary Lee Gray, an aide to Supervisor Deane Dana.

In Wilmington, a soup kitchen operated by the Long Beach Catholic Social Services, is scheduled to open in mid-March.

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