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W. Hollywood Approves Homeless Center Lease

Times Staff Writer

A proposed $1.2-million comprehensive center for the homeless in West Hollywood moved a step closer to reality Tuesday after the City Council ratified a lease for a warehouse to house the facility and appointed a committee to help organize a nonprofit corporation to operate the center.

However, critics of the controversial proposal quickly took issue with the way the steering committee was selected and threatened to block the project.

“We’re gonna do whatever it takes to oppose this thing. There’s no room for accommodation when somebody is trying to ram something down your throat,” said Michael Radcliffe, an east-side businessman and ardent critic of the center.

He said opponents plan to launch a campaign for a ballot initiative aimed at stopping the project, “and if that fails, believe me, come 1990 (the next municipal election) the council is gonna have a real issue on its hands.”

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Fear Overflow Population

While insisting that they are not opposed to caring for the homeless, opponents have called the plan too ambitious. They said they fear the shelter will serve as a magnet for homeless people from surrounding communities and will create an “overflow” transient population on the city’s east side near the proposed 70-bed facility.

The ratification of the lease for warehouse space at 1033 La Brea Ave. was only a formality, because the lease had been signed Aug. 29 by Mayor Pro Tem Abbe Land.

Radcliffe, who labeled as a “sham” the forum held Aug. 30 to allow east-side residents to comment on the plan, called the fact that the lease was signed prior to the forum without the community knowing about it “an example of the underhanded way (the council) has gone about pushing this thing.”

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However, Land dismissed the idea that there was anything inappropriate about the timing of the lease approval.

“We had intended to sign it a week before that (at the previous council meeting) and didn’t only because of a couple of technical matters that needed to be resolved,” she said. “As was stated at (the forum), the site had already been selected. What we wanted, and still want, is to enlist the cooperation of everyone to make the center a success.”

She also defended the council’s choice of seven members of the steering committee--with three more to be appointed--as being “representative of east-side residents and the homeless themselves.”

The appointees are Ruth Schwartz, executive director of Shelter Partnership; Gary Bess, executive director of the Los Angeles Free Clinic; Sandra Jacoby Klein, chairwoman of the Human Services Commission; Doug Nance, a community activist; Sharon Parker, a homeless person; Gene Lawrence, a resident of the city’s east side, and Richard Settle, an east-side merchant and frequent critic of the proposed shelter.

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Suggestions for Board

Jodi Curlee, the city’s social services director, said the committee will make recommendations on articles of incorporation and bylaws and will be expected to make suggestions “as to the type of persons” to be chosen for the corporation’s board of directors.

City officials have said they hope to have the board in place early next year.

The council agreed to fill the three remaining spots with a representative each from the Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles Area Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center and the West Hollywood Small Business Council. The small-business group has been critical of the proposed shelter’s location.

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In addition, there are to be four non-voting members, including Mayor Helen Albert, a staff member from the city’s Homeless Program, and a representative of Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo and Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman.

Sam Weinstein, a homeless advocate who had been widely mentioned as a likely choice but who received only the support of Councilman Steve Schulte, criticized the selections as “top heavy with people from outside the community.”

‘Round-Table of Outsiders’

“The big issue I see missing is community participation,” he said. “The steering committee should have an impact on what the program should be now and in the future. It shouldn’t be a round-table of outsiders from various agencies and political offices.”

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The warehouse agreement calls for a 10-year lease at $119,000 a year. Officials estimate that it will cost $600,000 to renovate the warehouse, and $500,000 a year, in addition to the lease expense, to operate the center. The city hopes to acquire up to $525,000 from federal, state and county sources to help pay for the renovation.

West Hollywood, a city with a population of 37,000 and an estimated 300 to 700 homeless people, has been trying to find a solution to the problem of the homeless for months.

At the recommendation of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the council decided in June to close the city’s two parks--where an estimated 150 of the homeless were living--from midnight to 6 a.m. Authorities said they closed the parks because of an increase in crime there, often involving homeless people as victims.

To help the homeless people living in the parks, the council decided to open the West Hollywood Park Auditorium as a nightly emergency shelter for as many as 50 people until the permanent shelter opens. The emergency shelter has operated at capacity for the last two months, and for several weeks turned away up to 20 people a night.

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“The word has pretty much gotten around that we aren’t able to take any more people,” Curlee said. “If not, we’d have more than a 100 people right now.”

As proposed, the permanent facility is to include a 50-bed emergency shelter and a 20-bed transitional shelter for those who qualify for several months of help in making a transition from homelessness.

The permanent shelter, which city officials have said could be a model for future facilities developed in the region, will also include a drop-in center, a food program and counseling services.

In part to acquire financing from county and federal sources, it has been pitched as a “regional prototype” that Curlee said represents a new approach to homeless care.

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