4 of 8 Trailers for Homeless Vacant; All Suffer Damage

Times Staff Writer

Half of the trailers placed at the San Fernando Gardens housing project to provide shelter for the homeless amid much fanfare three months ago now stand vacant and all eight of them have been vandalized, officials say.

Mobile homes were to form the core of the Los Angeles City Housing Authority’s newest approach to helping homeless families by offering low-rent shelter for three to six months while they sought jobs, saved money and looked for permanent housing.

But three of the original homeless families were evicted for reasons ranging from failure to pay rent to alleged drug sales, said Nancy Bianconi, executive director for Valley Shelter, the agency chosen to refer homeless to the program.


Neighbors said another family fled in fear the morning after someone continuously pounded and rocked their trailer.

One Trailer Destroyed

One of the trailers, worth $5,000, was damaged--possibly beyond repair--by a tenant and her friends, Bianconi said. Another has major electrical problems, while others have broken windows, wobbly porches and holes in their walls.

San Fernando Gardens residents blame Valley Shelter for not choosing tenants more carefully and they blame the Housing Authority for not maintaining the units. Some of them are demanding removal of the vacant trailers, which they suspect are serving as storage for drug dealers and flophouses for addicts at the Pacoima housing project.

“I still can’t see why they put them here, so close by,” said Carolyn Barajas, who lives barely 10 yards from two boarded-up trailers. “My feeling is if they’re not going to rent them, move them out so our kids have a place to play.”

David Mays, aide to Councilman Ernani Bernardi, said proper tenant screening was hindered by political pressure to get homeless families out of the winter cold and the desire to fill the trailers as soon as they were moved onto the property.

“We felt there was an urgent need to fill all the trailers immediately--for security and vandalism reasons--and that caused some problems,” Mays said. “But we think bad times are behind us.”

Potential trailer families now are first being housed at Valley Shelter for 27 days of assessment, Bianconi said. She plans to move families into two of the vacant trailers next week, she said. The other two are boarded up and need major repairs before they can be occupied.

Abuse of all eight trailers far exceeded expectations, overtaxing the resources of regular Housing Authority maintenance crews, said Joseph Gelletich, the Housing Authority’s housing development director. He said some of the damage was caused by tenants and some by outsiders.

Gelletich said an independent contractor would begin making repairs next week.

But San Fernando Gardens residents say that finding more reliable tenants and improving maintenance will not erase the friction triggered by squeezing the trailers into a crowded, crime-ravaged public housing project.

“The trailers, they didn’t create the problem, the problem was already here. They just added to it,” said Aleontina Barker, who has lived in the San Fernando Gardens apartments for 11 years.

San Fernando Gardens was chosen not so much for its pros as for its lack of cons, Gelletich said. Because the Housing Authority owns and manages the property, it was the point of least resistance.

“It was one place that we didn’t have to go and ask anybody else for permission,” he said.

The location is less than ideal for trailer tenants, too.

Cheryl Crutchfield, a single parent who was one of the first to move into a trailer, said she gets scared every night at midnight when guns are fired nearby. She said she hopes to find another home by midsummer.

Carol Yanes and her five children, homeless for a year before moving into one of the trailers, received eviction papers Sunday for non-payment of rent. She said she wanted to pay the minimal $100-a-month rent, but got into financial trouble in February after gang members beat one of her sons with a stick and stabbed another in the leg.

“The gang came back that night and broke all the windows in . . . they put rock holes in the side of the trailer,” she said.

Yanes denied reports from neighbors that her sons had infringed on gang turf by dealing drugs.

Bianconi said she would rather see the trailers grouped together on open land somewhere. Short of that, she is refusing to rent the two boarded-up trailers until they are moved out of the central apartment courtyard, which she calls “drug alley,” to one of the fringe areas where the other six stand.

Mays said the Housing Authority plans to partially fence the courtyard area to help keep out neighborhood drug sales and drinking. But Bianconi and San Fernando Gardens residents are skeptical that fences will do much good.

“It ain’t going to work,” Barker said. “They’ll still have an opening and that’s where people will be coming in.”

The city bought 102 of the two- and three-bedroom trailers for $500,000 from a Utah construction company, which had used them for worker housing.

So far, 24 have been placed at public housing projects around the city. Gelletich said San Fernando Gardens has been the biggest trouble spot.