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5 Trailers Intended for Homeless Used by L.A. as Offices for Workers

Times Staff Writer

Five of the 102 mobile homes purchased two years ago by the city of Los Angeles as shelters for the homeless are being used as temporary offices for city employees, including some who work at a parks maintenance yard on Chevy Chase Drive in Atwater.

The Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners voted last week to formalize a little-known deal among the city’s Housing Authority, the Community Redevelopment Agency and the Department of Recreation and Parks. Under the arrangement, the parks department has been unofficially using the five trailers as offices since early this year.

“It is upsetting to me,” said Toni Reinis, southern region director of the California Homeless Coalition, which was one of several homeless groups that supported purchasing the trailers from a Utah power company. “I would like to see homeless families being sited because that was the purpose of the trailers.”

The Housing Authority originally had been instructed by Mayor Tom Bradley to put the 102 trailers on land at public housing projects. When opposition from some project tenants made that task difficult, then-Housing Authority Executive Director Leila Gonzalez-Correa last fall offered to lend the five trailers to the parks department.

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‘They Were Available’

“We really needed the additional office space,” said James E. Hadaway, general manager of the parks department. “I was talking to the head of the Housing Authority one day, and she said they were available.”

Bradley spokesman Bill Chandler said the mayor supports the arrangement because the five trailers were unused and in storage. To date, the city has made 61 of the trailers available to homeless families.

Of those, eight are in the San Fernando Gardens public housing project in Pacoima, where they have suffered extensive vandalism both from tenants and from outsiders. Four more trailers are nearly ready to be moved to church grounds in the San Fernando Valley, according to the mayor’s office: two to Central Lutheran Church in Van Nuys and two to the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Church.

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The remaining trailers are being stored in a maintenance yard near Torrance, city officials said.

“It wasn’t like there has been a great demand from people asking for the trailers” to house the homeless, said Michele Roth, a spokeswoman for the Housing Authority. “We have had requests, but we have had difficulties placing them.”

Fears Voiced

After neighbors of the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Church learned of plans to site trailers there, protesters packed public meetings to voice their fears about safety for their children and protection for their property values. The opponents lost a key battle in May when the Board of Zoning Appeals ruled in favor of the church, saying that the need for homeless accommodations outweighed the neighborhood concerns.

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Georgiann Rudder, who oversees city parks in the Harbor area and Westside, said the trailers provide badly needed office space, storage facilities and restrooms for maintenance employees in different parts of the city.

Rudder said the trailers give her work crews greater flexibility in caring for parks in the department’s Pacific region, which extends from Mulholland Drive to Point Fermin. With trailers in both the Westside and South Bay, she said, crews are able to save time.

Under the agreement with the parks department, the Housing Authority can reclaim the five trailers on 30 days notice. Chandler said that provision guarantees that the trailers will be available for transitional housing as soon as the city finds sites. In the meantime, he said, the city is also saving storage costs for the trailers, although he did not know how much.

“The trailers program is working, and it will continue to expand,” Chandler said. “We will place 15 more in the near future. We are getting very close.”

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As of last month, according to city statistics, 178 families have been housed in the trailers since the first ones were placed at the Ramona Gardens housing project in northeast Los Angeles early last year. With the assistance of local agencies, 75% of the families have found permanent housing during their stay in the trailers, city officials said.

Activists Object

But the city’s success in helping homeless families by providing the temporary housing only makes the arrangement with the parks department more difficult to swallow for some activists for the homeless.

“If they can use them on recreation and parks property for offices, why can’t they use them for homeless families on recreation and park properties?” Reinis asked. “If they were able to site them for offices, they definitely should have been able to site them for families.”

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Others said they would rather see the trailers housing homeless families but had no objection to the city’s using them in the meantime.

“I hate to see any resources being wasted when they can be used for something,” said Lynn Davis, director of housing services for Volunteers of America, which provides social services for homeless families in five trailers in Hollywood. “There is a tremendous need for the trailers, but I think there needs to be care taken to find the most appropriate sites.”

Chandler said the city has conducted an extensive search for available sites, but that the parks property being used for the five offices is not appropriate for homeless families.

“It is not simply a factor of finding a piece of property where you can fit a trailer,” he said. “The whole point of this program is offering job training possibilities and helping to get the head of the homeless families to enter the work force. There certainly is a lot that goes into providing the services for the people who would live in the trailers.”

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Reinis agreed that social services are important, but said it is also important to get families off the streets and into the trailers.

‘First Priority’

“The first priority is getting them all placed; then we can start looking at the most appropriate placements and the programs,” Reinis said. “We have got to get these things out of storage.”

The deal that made five trailers available for the parks department was approved by Housing Authority commissioners in October, and a short time later the CRA’s housing director also endorsed it. CRA consent was necessary because the agency paid for the trailers with $1.4 million from a replacement fund for low-income housing torn down during Bunker Hill redevelopment.

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“They just wanted to make sure we had no problem with it,” said John Maguire, the agency’s deputy administrator for housing services. “Technically the agreement” to purchase the trailers “says they are supposed to be used for housing. I didn’t have a problem with an interim use.”

The five trailers are being used in a variety of ways.

Used by Crews

The trailer near Rancho Park, sandwiched between a red-brick office building and a cluttered storage yard, serves as home base for landscape, tree trimming and park maintenance crews that take care of parks and other city property throughout the Westside, Rudder said. The brown and beige two-bedroom trailer houses several filing cabinets and desks and serves as a crew room, where workers get their morning assignments, she said.

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A second trailer has been placed on blocks in a parking lot behind Rudder’s office at the Pacific region headquarters on Palos Verdes Drive North in San Pedro. Although the administrative building is just 7 years old, Rudder said the department has already outgrown it.

The Palos Verdes Drive trailer serves as home base for craftsmen--plumbers, carpenters and electricians--who work at parks, libraries and other city facilities in the Harbor area, she said.

A third trailer has been placed at the end of a dusty road near remote parking lots at Harbor College in Wilmington. Rudder said the trailer is used by paving, earthmoving and tree-trimming crews that take care of the grounds at parks and other city properties.

Two other trailers have been placed closer to downtown Los Angeles. One, near Atwater Park, serves as an office for the director of swimming and his staff because of a shortage of space in a nearby parks building. The other is used by maintenance employees for offices and storage near E. G. Roberts swimming pool on Pico Boulevard.

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“This new trailer we have made just a world of difference,” said George Stigile, maintenance supervisor for parks in the department’s metropolitan region. “It was really kind of a godsend. It gave us an ability to do a better job and service the community. We were really cramped for space before.”


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