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Unhappy New Year Looms for Homeless in Threatened Shelter

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When the new year arrives, Jan Grant may no longer have a place to eat or sleep. She worries about ending up on the street again.

Grant is among 30 residents at the West Hollywood Homeless Organization’s shelter on La Brea Avenue who are likely to be uprooted Dec. 31 because the facility has run out of money.

The organization’s board of directors announced this week that the shelter, the renovated second floor of a furniture warehouse just south of Santa Monica Boulevard, needs to raise as much as $200,000 to function in 1992.

The board plans to close the facility temporarily to restructure its services and its troubled finances, cutting the $1-million annual budget to about $600,000. When the shelter reopens, possibly by Feb. 1, it will do so with a reduced staff and will serve fewer people.

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For now, its 20 employees, who received termination notices late last week, are scurrying to place their clients in other programs in the Los Angeles area.

“I am mentally and physically healthier since I’ve been here. It will be detrimental for me to leave,” said Grant, 36, who has participated in a women’s support group during her three weeks at the shelter. She said her reaction to word of its closing was “dismay, distraught, doom. We feel like it’s the end.”

Counselors say few, if any, shelters on the Westside offer the range of services available at the 50-bed West Hollywood facility, which provides medical care, meals, showers, and drug and alcohol counseling. It is open around the clock to residents, who must be referred by outside social service agencies.

Jackie Mendelson, interim executive director, said the shelter helps residents make a transition back into the community. Advocates for the homeless view it as an innovative response to the city’s growing homeless population, estimated by city officials at 500 or more. About 200 people have used the shelter since it opened in November, 1990.

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Moments after the announcement Monday that the shelter would close, a small group of those residents sat in the large dining room and worried about the future.

“I don’t want to go downtown (to Skid Row),” said Bill Lucachick, 45, who has lived at the shelter for about six weeks. “This is home for us, and that’s the way the staff wants us to think of it. I’ll be back in a minute if they reopen.”

Loren Hesse-Hawk, like many residents, said he will miss the sense of community he unexpectedly found, something that had been missing in his life.

“We’re naturally upset. This is our family,” said Hesse-Hawk, 60, a resident for four months. “It’s like leaving home again.”

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Shelter officials said there remains a glimmer of hope that the closing can be avoided.

The shelter would be able to operate with a reduced staff, they said, if it receives $100,000 in federal block grant money that Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman has earmarked for it. Edelman’s office is negotiating with the shelter’s directors for the release of the money by the end of the year, according to his press secretary, Joel Bellman. In addition, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $40,000 grant as part of an overall social-service funding package for Edelman’s supervisorial district, which includes West Hollywood.

Though grateful for any funds passed their way, shelter officials this week remain distraught.

“We certainly did not plan for this to happen now,” said Paul Koegel, vice president of the shelter’s board of directors. “In fact, we feel very much like Scrooges. We hope during this transitional time that we can reach people who can help us weather this crisis.”

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Koegel said the financial problems are due in part to anticipated federal funds that have not come through. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development turned down a grant request this year that would have injected $285,000 into the organization’s budget, he said.

“This is a period of recession, and it is much harder to find both private and public funding sources,” Koegel said. “We are not an isolated example of that. We are one of the private nonprofits serving the homeless population in Los Angeles County that are facing these problems.”

Several West Hollywood community activists, however, recommended this week that the shelter’s crisis be used as an opportunity to re-evaluate its overall mission.

The critics, most of whom live on the east end of the city where the shelter is located, have long argued that the number of homeless in West Hollywood is actually less than 100--far below the official city estimates--and does not warrant the estimated $1.5 million the city has spent thus far on the shelter. The state and federal governments have kicked in another $650,000.

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Tad Bright, co-chairman of Eastend Community Action, said any further public money should be reserved for other needy groups, particularly for people with AIDS and for senior citizens.

At a small protest outside the shelter Monday, Bright called for the shelter space to be turned over to the Hollywood-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation for use as a hospice and as an AIDS health-care facility.

“We have to take care of our primary problem first,” Bright said. “We’ve been saying this since the inception of this shelter.”

Meanwhile, only blocks away, homeless activist Ted Hayes has proposed a solution that could help keep some of the residents off the streets. Hayes and a group of supporters have been living in two geodesic domes for the last week on a large, grassy traffic island at Santa Monica and Crescent Heights boulevards. The city will allow the group to remain until Jan. 3.

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Hayes, who envisions the 9-by-14-foot domes being mass-produced to provide transitional housing for homeless across the country, said he could provide enough domes for at least 15 of the residents if the city provides a vacant lot.

Although he has yet to bring the idea to city officials, he believes it is a viable, if short term, answer for the shelter’s residents.


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