Dispute Dogs New Shelter for Homeless : Poverty: Officials in West Hollywood hope to allay fears by curtailing walk-in services when the 70-bed facility opens.
Despite objections from nearby residents, West Hollywood is preparing to open a 70-bed homeless shelter on the city’s east side that is designed to help scores of homeless people begin a transition from the streets to more productive lives.
The West Hollywood Homeless Organization, a nonprofit corporation set up by the city to run the facility on La Brea Avenue south of Santa Monica Boulevard, plans to begin enrolling homeless people in August in its long-term and emergency shelter program. The program will include job training, mental health and medical services, and AIDS awareness and prevention education.
“It’s a model program that we are proud of and we believe other communities will eventually want to replicate,” said Lloyd Long, the city’s director of human services.
But that view is not shared by many residents and business owners on the city’s east side. They fear the presence of the shelter will attract a flood of homeless people who will commit crimes and create other problems.
Eastend Community Action, a neighborhood group that has held candlelight marches to protest the presence of hustlers and pimps on Santa Monica Boulevard, has been trying to prevent the city from opening the shelter. To press the point, about 25 people demonstrated Thursday night outside the city’s first star-studded fund-raiser and reception for the shelter held at the R. M. Schindler House in West Hollywood.
“This program will draw tons of homeless people with absolutely nothing to do except walk around and get into trouble,” said Ed Riney, a member of the neighborhood group. “How many shelters do they have in Beverly Hills or the Hollywood Hills where the stars live? They don’t put these shelters where the stars live. They only put them where the little guys live.”
City officials say the shelter will help some of the more than 300 homeless people they estimate are living in city parks, garages or alleyways. The city has provided counseling and other services to at least 160 homeless people, including about 35 who sleep each night in the West Hollywood Park auditorium. The shelter will be administered by a nonprofit corporation with a 16-member board that includes several community residents. The City Council appointed City Manager Paul Brotzman and Long to serve on the board temporarily until the shelter opens.
The city’s share of the shelter’s budget is expected to be $300,000 to $500,000 a year. The rest of the program’s $1-million budget is expected to come from private donations and county, state and federal funds. The city will also provide nearly half of the anticipated $1-million cost of renovating the shelter.
It will include a 50-bed emergency shelter program, where residents can stay for up to six months, and a long-term transitional program, where residents can stay up to 18 months. Residents will be offered free medical services from the Los Angeles Free Clinic. There will also be counseling and job training.
Long said people understand that the city has a problem, but few want to have the solution in their neighborhood. “It’s an example of the NIMBY or ‘Not In My Back Yard’ ,” he said.
City officials also say some of the resentment toward the shelter stems from controversy surrounding the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, the nightly feeding program for the homeless that operated in Plummer Park for two years. The city was forced to evict the program in March after neighbors complained that the homeless had taken over the park.
Brotzman said the feeding program and other services made the park a center for the homeless. “Nothing required them to leave, and they took the park away from the neighborhood,” he said.
Brotzman said the City Council also made the streets a less desirable place to live by approving a tough ordinance that allows the Sheriff’s Department to arrest people for camping out on the street.
These experiences and others have prompted city officials to operate the shelter differently.
“The fact is that people in the shelter will not be allowed to walk in off the street and get service,” he said. “They have to be referred by other agencies or members of the shelter’s outreach staff.”
Participants will also be evaluated on their potential for success through interviews and will be screened for drug or alcohol dependency, he said.
“This program will really help the homeless get back into an independent living situation,” said Helen Albert, who recently retired from the City Council and now serves on the shelter’s board.
Last month, the shelter’s board refused to admit members of the Eastend Community Action into a meeting it held on relations with the community. Brotzman criticized the community group for not being willing to compromise and said the board had no obligation to meet with them as long as they remained committed to the idea of not opening the shelter.
In the meantime, the Eastend Community Action group has written letters to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, protesting the use of federal funds to support the shelter and arguing that the nonprofit organization was formed without public discussion.
“They may open, but that doesn’t mean we are going to give up,” Tad Bright, the co-chairman of the neighborhood group, said in an interview. “We intend to contest their funding. Wherever they look for funding, we intend to be there to say they shouldn’t have it.”
Responding to the complaint in a letter to HUD, City Atty. Michael Jenkins cited nine public meetings dating back to February, 1988, when the City Council first discussed forming the homeless shelter organization.
“The establishment of a nonprofit entity to administer comprehensive services to homeless persons in West Hollywood was accomplished openly and publicly after a considerable amount of discussion by the City Council and interested citizens,” Jenkins wrote.
However, debate over the future of the shelter continues, despite its anticipated opening in August.
“I don’t think there is anyone who would disagree with the principle that there is a need to solve the homeless problem,” said John A. Altschul, who chairs the city’s Public Safety Commission and heads a task force investigating problems on the city’s east side. “People recognize that it is a serious problem, but the issue is whether or not the shelter is going to do enough good to outweigh the potential detriment it could cause in the neighborhood.”