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Deukmejian’s Housing Cutbacks Assailed : Advocates Say Budget Plan Would Cripple Running of Shelters

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles officials and homeless advocates are mounting an intense lobbying effort to head off Gov. George Deukmejian’s proposal to eliminate funding for the California Housing Trust Fund, which they say would cripple the day-to-day running of shelters for the homeless and “shared housing” programs for the elderly.

The trust fund has provided $2 million to $10 million statewide annually to pay counselors’ salaries, utility bills and other daily costs at facilities ranging from the huge Weingart Center on Skid Row to tiny neighborhood programs. Under Deukmejian’s budget, proposed earlier this month, the fund would get no money.

“Where and how does the governor think we’ll be taking care of these people--in prisons?” asked Maxene Johnston, executive director of the Weingart Center. “This (homeless) problem--I don’t think he gets it, and I don’t think his advisers get it. We’re looking around for other sources of money and we are anticipating a crisis.”

“Why is he doing this?” asked Janet Witkin, director of Alternative Living for the Aging, which matches low-income elderly people with roommates to split the cost of skyrocketing local rents.

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“We have visitors from Europe coming here all the time to check out this great program, to copy it, and now the governor’s going to cut our key funding,” Witkin said.

Julie Stewart, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, said the money has been cut from the budget because California’s revenues from tideland oil extraction have dwindled. The revenues, used to finance everything from education programs to the trust fund, “went into education and other programs when the priorities were decided this time,” she said.

Stewart said her department is not trying to find another source of money to keep the programs afloat.

Marc Brown, of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, said his group is “pushing hard” to have the cuts restored when legislative committees review the budget this spring.

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Brown said Deukmejian’s cuts “would be a real tragedy for California.” They include the Farmworker Housing Grant Fund--money earmarked for improving slumlike farm worker housing.

Gary Squier, Mayor Tom Bradley’s housing coordinator, said scores of grass-roots programs and shelters are threatened.

“God, I’ll tell you, these small shelter operations are all over the place--just chewing-gum operations--and if Deukmejian could only see how great the problem is and how we are trying to deal with it, he would be a lot more understanding,” Squier said.

Administration officials have argued that the cuts will be offset by Propositions 77 and 84, approved by voters last November, which provide $425 million for shelters and low-cost housing.

However, bond money cannot be used for daily costs, only for construction and rehabilitation of buildings. “They give us the bricks and mortar, but there’s a desperate need for human services,” said Ruth Schwartz, director of the Shelter Partnership in Los Angeles.

Johnston, of the Weingart Center, said that of the 6,000 people who have sought help there, “62% did not return to the street because of the extra care and attention we gave them. Without the programs, they will go back on the streets.” The center’s counseling and job referral programs receive three-quarters of their money from the trust fund.

City officials and advocates for the homeless have increasingly criticized Deukmejian’s resistance to housing programs--especially his dozens of vetoes of major housing bills over the years.

California has the largest homeless population in the nation and the worst rental housing affordability problem, with 790,000 families living in housing beyond their means, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. But it ranks near the bottom of the industrial states in funding housing programs.

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