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Neighbors Oppose Making House a Homeless Center

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Longtime residents and business owners in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Thousand Oaks are upset over a proposal to convert an aging house into a daytime center for the homeless.

The plan, proposed by the nonprofit Conejo Homeless Assistance Program, involves renovating the house at 3046 Crescent Way into a center where the homeless can take showers, receive mail and get help finding a job, project chairman Roger Toft said.

The City Council, which has voiced some support for the project in the past, tonight will discuss whether to start the paperwork on a zone change that would allow the center to open by March.

But local residents object to the proposal because they say it would lower property values and encourage homeless people to loiter on the street at night. Children and elderly people could be threatened, they say.

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“I’m scared of what it will bring and what it will do to my property,” said Emmett Pruett, 73, who lives three doors away from the proposed center.

Pruett said Latino day laborers congregate each morning on a nearby street corner.

“We’ve already got a big problem,” he said.

Supporters of the drop-in center say local residents are overreacting.

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“These are absurd statements,” Toft said. “We’re faced with totally emotional people.

“If we mowed the lawn and cleaned up the place and provided some on-site parking. . . . I don’t see how that could possibly lower their property values.”

Toft said he spent hours last week attempting to convince homeowners that they have nothing to fear, telling them that the center would only be open between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Toft said the zoning change is necessary because CHAP is finalizing a deal to purchase the property, and escrow approval hinges on whether the zone can be altered to accommodate their facility.

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The change involves altering the zone from residential to public land to fit the center’s proposed use.

The group’s proposal has some support among members of the City Council, which last spring awarded $50,000 to the group to purchase the home.

Thousand Oaks Mayor Frank Schillo said he supports locating a homeless drop-in center on Crescent Way, since it is next door to Manna, a food bank that provides emergency supplies to needy people.

Residents also objected when Manna opened 12 years ago out of similar fears that poor people would loiter on their block, Schillo said, “and it really hasn’t been bad for the neighborhood.”

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The two-story, 61-year-old residence proposed for the drop-in center has five rooms, according to real estate listings. The last time it sold was last year, when it listed at $162,000.

Local residents complain that the house has been an eyesore for years. Tumbleweeds grow waist-high in the front yard, and people have left litter and empty beer cans scattered on a sagging back porch.

Viola Robb, 76, whose house is across the street from the proposed center, said she worries about traffic and strangers wandering on her street.

“We feel we’re going to have transients,” Robb said. “What are they going to do with them at night?”

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Shirani Dhawan, a teacher and owner of the Children’s Learning Center, said she opposes concentrating services for the homeless across the street from her school.

“We can’t have it here, " said Dhawan, whose Montessori school serves about 20 children ages 2 to 7. “Why does everything for the homeless have to be here?”

It is the second time that CHAP has encountered problems trying to find a house that would be suitable for use as a drop-in center.

Last year, the group had planned to rent a house on Los Robles Road, but the deal fell through after the owner demanded that the lease agreement contain a 30-day cancellation notice.

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