Charity Turns to Affluent Peninsula to Aid Homeless

Times Staff Writer

Big pocketbooks help.

But big hearts are what a Palos Verdes Peninsula charity helping homeless families is looking for.

Help the Homeless Help Themselves Inc.--an organization whose numbers include professionals, philanthropists and business people, many of them long-acquainted through other Peninsula projects--is trying to raise consciousness about the homeless in an area where homelessness is not a problem.

They come armed with statistics, among them: a national homeless population of 3 million, 28% of them families, with Los Angeles a magnet because of generally good weather. And they say their inspiration is that every number has a face--sometimes the face of a child.

"There are single-parent families where the husband has deserted," said group founder Bill Finkel, who owned an accounting firm before he retired five years ago. "People have lost jobs and they have no support. They have to live in cars and on the street. . . . (They can) get their dignity back."

"Three H-T," as some call the organization, has made specific choices about where its money will go. "We look at organizations with successful track records," said Gordon Stiegler, a food-marketing consultant and USC professor.

So far, their initial $5,000 grants have gone to two programs: Gramercy Place Shelter in Los Angeles and Harbor Interfaith Shelter in San Pedro. Both offer temporary housing for families, along with job counseling and training and child care.

The group is not offering help to homeless alcoholics, drug users or the mentally ill, believing that the government--and not private charities--has the obligation to care for those groups. They have made that choice even though they concede that government is not doing an adequate job.

Because the organization is small and just beginning, its leaders say it must have a focus, and the one they have chosen is trying to get families back on their feet.

Since fund-raising started in November, the group has raised $15,000. Many contributions have been $100, but a few people have given up to $3,600. The goal is to raise $100,000 by June 30 and to increase the membership in Three H-T from the current 45 to 250.

If the financial goal is met, Gramercy and Harbor shelters will each receive $40,000 by July.

Group members said that they chose these shelters because both attempt to make families self-supporting. The heads of these families "are the people that have the best chance of succeeding in finding jobs," said Gloria Valenti, who is a fund-raiser for community groups. They also have children who, she said, will be "a lost generation" if they are not helped.

Operated by Project Isaiah of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Gramercy Place serves people described as "situationally homeless" by Cindy Shulkin, community resources developer for Project Isaiah.

"They are not chronically homeless or people who are homeless because of physical or mental disability," she said. "They are victims of unemployment, they've been evicted, their house has burned down, they are victims of domestic violence or they have a criminal record and have difficulty in finding a job."

Gramercy Place will use the money for ongoing programs, while Harbor Interfaith will use most of theirs to pay for child care and housing for people who are in job training.

The $5,000 "is almost enough to carry two families through the program, off welfare and on to jobs," said David Christiansen, Harbor's executive director.

Three H-T leaders believe people on the Hill will give to help the homeless--people whose lives seem so far removed from theirs--if they know a local group they can donate to.

"They need a mechanism to manage and direct funds," said Stiegler. "The person making gifts wants to be enriched by it, know he is making a contribution to society, helping a problem."

Said Finkel, "Most do it because they have a good heart."

He said he has given 125 informational packets about the group to friends and has had only one person tell him flatly that he could not get involved in helping the homeless. "He walked away as if this might contaminate him," said Finkel.

The seeds for Three H-T were planted a few years ago when Finkel and his wife, Bunny, visited Washington and were startled to see homeless people warming themselves on top of street grates in front of the White House.

"We wanted someone to do something and we would help," said Finkel. "We knew other people who wanted to help, but they were never approached. So we decided to do something."

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