Hit by complaints that he has sat on donations for three years, Mayor Ernie Kell has proposed spending $134,000 in the Mayor’s Fund for the Homeless.
But Kell’s plan came under fire last week, so the mayor and the City Council decided again to delay action. That left city officials frustrated and a bit sheepish, and the homeless and their advocates frustrated and angry.
“They’re all wimping out,” said Donald Sims, 43, a member of the city’s Homeless Service Advisory Committee. “It’s the fault of the entire council because they don’t have any leadership, any guts.”
The mayor, council and community members had spent two hours haggling over how the money should be spent, including how much should be reserved for a proposed multi-service center for the homeless. Kell ended the debate and called a five-minute recess to give everyone a rest, but he tried to make the best of the situation.
“Those of you who haven’t had an opportunity to contribute to the Mayor’s Fund for the Homeless . . . you’re welcome to make contributions,” Kell told the audience with a bit of a smile.
Vice Mayor Jeffrey A. Kellogg was incredulous, telling another councilman, “Let me get this right: We just debated two hours for nothing?”
The council sent the spending plan to the city’s Homeless Services Advisory Committee for further study. Kell and the council members plan to revisit the issue next month.
Kell’s proposal would have provided $84,000 to various social service agencies serving the homeless in Long Beach. It also earmarked $50,000 to establish the multi-service center, which would house private and public agencies offering counseling, training and other services to help the destitute get back on their feet.
Kell, long criticized for doing too little to help the homeless, started the fund in 1991. For three years, his requests for donations have been sent with city utility bills. The donations, ranging from $1 to $1,000, have amounted to about $136,000. Another request is scheduled to be mailed in January.
Money has been released from the fund just once: $2,100 went to a YWCA shelter for battered women in 1991, said Angela Coron, the city’s Human Services Bureau manager.
Because of that, Kell was targeted recently in an editorial cartoon in a local newspaper. And the city had to refund $20 to one disgruntled donor, Coron said.
Everyone from council members to homeless people agreed at the council meeting last week that money should be set aside for the multi-service center. The sticking point was whether money should be spent on anything else.
Homeless people and some homeless advocates said all the money in the fund should be saved for the multi-service center.
After all, they said, the council already voted to put most of the money toward that use.
But the proposed center has run into roadblock after roadblock during the past year. City officials proposed several locations for the center, only to be thwarted by strong community opposition.
City officials now hope to put the center on surplus U.S. Navy land on heavily industrial Terminal Island.
David Lowe, who is homeless, criticized city officials for not showing more resolve to establish the multi-service center. But he also accused Kell of quickly trying to do something with most of the money so it won’t be an issue in his reelection bid in April.
“You’re just desperate,” Lowe said. “You’ve held this money for three years and you don’t know what to do with it.”
But Kell didn’t back away from his spending plan, noting that the Navy is still considering whether to give the Terminal Island property to the city.
“The reality is we do not have a location at the moment or for the foreseeable future,” Kell said.
To make matters worse, city officials do not have a private agency to run the center.
Christian Outreach Appeal was set to run it, but leaders of the homeless advocacy group withdrew because of differences with city officials over where the center should be located and how it should be operated.
Some council members and homeless advocates said they favor spending on immediate services, as Kell suggested. But they want to see some of the money go to hiring a social worker who would be on the streets helping homeless people who are mentally ill.
Will the mayor and the council be able to make a decision next month? Councilman Ray Grabinski hopes so.
“This has taken way too long,” Grabinski said. “In two weeks we better be able to roll on it.”