LAGUNA BEACH : Friendship Shelter Buoy for Homeless

Mike, 24, could be the guy next door. Blond and blue-eyed, he recently spent 14 months working as an extra on "General Hospital." Now, Mike is homeless.

"My life just took a real quick drop," he said. "I really got burned out on the L.A. crowd."

But Mike, who along with the rest of the shelter residents quoted asked that his last name be omitted, recently found a job as a security guard. He and about 19 other homeless men and women have a chance to start again with the help of the Friendship Shelter Inc. in Laguna Beach.

The nonprofit shelter, which opened a year ago, is a temporary residence with a rehabilitation program for up to 25 homeless people trying to work their way back into mainstream society.

The Rev. Colin Henderson, executive director of the Friendship Shelter, said most of the residents are referred from other agencies, but some call in. Those with physical or mental disabilities may stay up to 180 days, others 60 days.

Henderson said that residents referred by the county's health department often have suffered serious depression, divorce, drug overdose or other crises.

The loss of home or family "really destroys so much of people," he said. "We are a lifeline to people like that."

The shelter, which has no religious affiliation, provides two meals a day, a bed, showers, and laundry facilities. It also requires the residents to attend programs such as self-esteem workshops, job preparation or financial management classes. The shelter also refers residents to other agencies for help in finding work, housing, counseling.

Life in the shelter, an apartment house on Coast Highway, is structured. Residents must agree to comply with the house rules before they move in.

All house members must be out of bed by 7 a.m. They must make their own breakfasts before the kitchen closes at 8. By 8:30, chores must be done and residents, except those with special permission, must be out of the house--at a job or looking for one.

Although the rules are strict, the staff and volunteers try to create a comfortable environment, said Janet Smith, the day supervisor.

"We try to operate like a family," Smith said. "Everybody has a little chore to do, so they take responsibility for how the house looks."

For Kevin, 26, cooperating with the house rules is a small price to pay for shelter.

"All I know is that it rained last night, and I wasn't in the rain. That was kind of a little miracle for me," said Kevin, a recovering alcoholic who has lived in about 11 places since he moved here from Chicago nine months ago.

Kevin said he has worked as a carpenter, a laborer and a paramedic, but that his life fell apart after his father died of cancer and his brother died in a car accident.

He likes the house rules--"Stay sober and save money"--and the people.

The Friendship Shelter has a staff of about four and a team of volunteers. A board of directors, which consists of nine Laguna Beach residents, takes care of the administrative business of Friendship Shelter Inc.

The city recently gave the shelter $100,000 to help pay a $244,000 loan for its housing facilities.

Less than half of the shelter's expenses are met through a contract with the Orange County Mental Health Homeless Program and through funds from other public programs. Most of their costs are paid by grants from churches and foundations, private donations and fund-raising events.

Julie, a 31-year-old artist, spent a homeless year on the streets after her roommates kicked her out, she said.

At one point during that year, she said, she just sat on the beach and thought, "Lord, I'm going to die of loneliness."

She eventually received help and was referred to the shelter, where she has lived for about 2 1/2 months.

"I'm rebuilding, I feel real good about that," she said of her job at a nearby cafe. "I feel real proud because I retained my integrity."

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