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City Agrees to Shelter for the Homeless

Times Staff Writer

Anaheim officials agreed Tuesday to participate in efforts to provide shelter for the city’s homeless after heated debate and an offer from a businessman to pay all city costs.

A coalition of about 30 agencies had asked the city to act as a conduit in applying for state funds to establish a homeless shelter. But the Anaheim Housing Authority--whose members are the same as the City Council--deadlocked 2 to 2 on the proposal.

Councilman Fred Hunter, who had argued that city money should not be used for charity, changed his vote after Bill Taormina, co-owner of the Anaheim Disposal Co. and a community activist, offered to cover the city’s costs.

Taormina has agreed to purchase the old Elks Lodge in the 400 block of North Anaheim Boulevard and convert it to a 100-bed facility for the homeless. He then will lease it to the Anaheim Services Network, the coalition that sought municipal help in getting state funds.

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$1 Million for Purchase

Taormina said he plans to spend $1 million to buy the 64-year-old building and another $700,000 to refurbish it.

After Taormina’s offer, St. Boniface Church of Anaheim pledged $5,000.

Although the city was not asked to contribute directly to the shelter, officials estimated that its role in procuring funds for the coalition would cost $24,452 in housing staff salaries.

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Both Hunter and Mayor Ben Bay balked at the concept of taxpayers’ money being used for charity. And Hunter contended that a shelter would mean an “automatic increase” of homeless people flocking to Anaheim.

Bay stuck by his initial vote, even when Hunter changed his, after Taormina, a member of a task force on the homeless under the Anaheim Human Services Network, insisted that he would pay the $24,452 or any other cost the city incurs: “The check is blank. Whatever it is, I’ll pick it up.”

Taormina was tearful as he read a prepared statement and handed over a blank check.

Councilman Irv Pickler did not want to accept Taormina’s money and repeatedly asked Hunter: “Is that what you want? For Mr. Taormina to pay the $24,000?”

Both Pickler and Kaywood, who supported the proposed shelter, countered criticism by their colleagues, who called it a “Band-Aid approach.”

“That Band-Aid helps a little bit,” Pickler said. “If we all said, ‘Don’t do anything,’ I’d hate to see what this country would be like.”

The city gave Taormina back his check but agreed to bill him for reimbursement of city services associated with the project.

Said Pickler before the vote: “Something is wrong up here. I don’t know what it is, but something is wrong up here.”

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Pickler noted that Anaheim and its Visitors and Convention Bureau last year gave the Freedom Bowl $250,000 in interest-free loans to help the annual football game stay afloat.

Kaywood noted that the city last year gave the Anaheim Museum $710,000 to rehabilitate its building--a gift for “a small group of people” interested in a museum, she said.

“How is that different?” Kaywood asked.

‘Social Concern’

Taormina said he agreed with Bay and Hunter that government should not have to solve social problems. But others in the audience, including representatives from area churches and a handful of homeless people, sided with Kaywood and Pickler.

“I’m a taxpayer. I cannot believe what I’m hearing,” said Marie Cummins. “A city must have social concern.”

With its 3-1 vote, the Housing Authority approved an application to the state for $203,406 under the Emergency Shelter Program.

The application requires that the Housing Authority provide an “in-kind” percentage matching contribution, which would consist of staff time, said Norman J. Priest, city planning and community development director.

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If approved, the shelter would be available for families between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. and would provide job counseling, meals and health services in Orange County’s largest city.

Father John Lenihan, pastor of St. Boniface Church of Anaheim, said his church as well as St. Anthony Claret and St. Justin Martyr spend about $30,000 per year housing homeless people in area motels at an average cost of $25 per person per night.


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