Hotel Vouchers OKd for Homeless

Times Staff Writer

The Santa Monica City Council voted Tuesday to issue vouchers to the homeless for rooms in local hotels on cold winter nights.

But the council failed to act on a controversial proposal to establish for 90 days an overnight shelter for street people in the Memorial Park gym after hearing objections from residents near the park.

The council allocated $15,000 for hotel vouchers during the winter. City officials will contract with hotel or motel owners to house people at about $25 a person per night. City Manager John Jalili estimated the city could line up about 60 rooms. The program goes into effect immediately.

The council also ordered Jalili to open city buildings to the homeless on nights when there are not enough hotel rooms available and the temperature dips below 44 degrees.

Most of Tuesday's public testimony and council debate centered on the Memorial Park proposal.

That plan would have housed 50 people overnight in the gym for 90 days, according to a report to the council. Those with violent tendencies or those who use alcohol or drugs, would have been barred from the shelter. The object was to provide some homeless people with an address so they could look for work or get on welfare in an effort to get off the street. Memorial Park was selected because the gym has showers and is near a Salvation Army free breakfast program.

But some council members and Memorial Park area residents objected, claiming the program would attract more street people to the neighborhood and interfere with youth programs at the park.

"This area is fragile," said former Santa Monica Mayor Nat Trives. "There are problems with crime, drugs and gangs," he said. "Don't send the perception that we're the place in town you send all your problems."

Others, such as neighbor Gwen Pentecost, spoke in favor of a shelter at the park. As long as shelter candidates were carefully selected, she said, "I personally feel there would be very little impact on the neighborhood."

But in the end Councilman David Finkel, the primary council supporter of the plan, acknowledged that it was unlikely the council would vote for it. As an alternative he asked the council to approve a policy favoring a permanent shelter in the city.

"The Memorial plan is the most creative and innovative and probably will do the most good," he said. "But my own sense is that there is no consensus for that approach."

All council members except Christine E. Reed voted for the suggested permanent shelter. The council unanimously approved the cold weather voucher program.

The council late last month, at the urging of Finkel, empowered Jalili to open city buildings to the homeless on cold nights. The action was designed to give officials time to develop a permanent severe weather shelter program.

Unusually cold weather last month contributed to the deaths of four homeless people in the Los Angeles area. The cold prompted the cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood to open their city halls to the homeless for several nights.

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