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Ventura Panel Urges Job Plan for Homeless : Government: Funds needed to start the effort would come from grants the city has targeted for low-income housing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trying to rid downtown Ventura of transients, a City Council committee Thursday proposed creating menial jobs and building a daytime center for the city’s homeless.

The $100,000 needed to jump-start the program--committee members plan to ultimately make it privately funded--would come from grants the city now has targeted for low-income housing.

“I think it’s time to push forward and get this thing moving,” said Councilman Jack Tingstrom, a member of the council’s housing committee. Tingstrom joined council members Jim Monahan and Rosa Lee Measures in voting to bring the matter before the entire City Council on Jan. 23.

Under a schedule laid out by city officials, the project is to be operating by summer.

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Committee members envision a nonprofit organization led by a full-time director who would answer to a volunteer board of directors.

The director would negotiate with businesses, the city and county, and state agencies to find short-term work projects for homeless people who want to participate, paying workers about $6 an hour for their labor.

The jobs could include painting, sweeping, landscaping, weed abatement and cleaning streets.

As described in a draft proposal distributed at the committee meeting, staff members would include the director, volunteers and part-time workers. Officials are looking for a 5,000-square-foot day center, which would provide homeless clients such amenities as showers, bathrooms, a message center, typewriters and counseling and legal aid.

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The program would aim to help all the homeless--up to a point.

“A specified number of visits to the center will be allowed with a tolerant attitude toward behavior and substance abuse,” the draft proposal states. “After these visits have been exhausted, clients will be told to make a decision and participate in a zero-tolerance program or not return. People ready to change their lifestyle will be allowed to use the center and participate in the job program.”

Proponents of the plan face several major hurdles. They lack the funds to run the program or even purchase a day center. They must also win council approval to launch the project.

“If it’s a good program, I’ll certainly support it,” Councilman Gary Tuttle said. “But I’ll have a lot of questions.”

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Homeless advocates who attended the committee meeting praised the idea, but warned that it should not be seen as the ultimate answer to Ventura’s homeless problem.

“We (cannot) think that putting $100,000 in there will make all our problems go away,” said Leigh Nelson, a member of the board of directors of Project Understanding, an organization that provides services to Ventura’s homeless. “We must not mislead people to believe that.”

Nelson and others at the meeting speculated that the proposal--the latest in a series of proposals to tackle the homeless problem--is a front that would allow Ventura to legally kick homeless people out of the city.

Last year, the housing committee spent weeks studying a proposal for a homeless campground, but after determining that the city could not afford it, the panel voted instead for a plan proposed by police to boot squatters out of the Ventura River bottom.

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The city attorney, however, warned committee members that such a plan could violate the transients’ civil rights, and so the proposal was significantly scaled back. Now the council is looking at less restrictive laws to discourage panhandling downtown.

Councilwoman Measures denied that this latest proposal was designed with a companion, enforcement plan in mind.

“I hope there isn’t a (concern) out there that there will be a lack of compassion,” she said. “This isn’t a fix-all. We know we’ve got a long haul ahead.”


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