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Loss of General Relief Squeezes ‘Employable’ Poor in Valley

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One homeless man who has lived on the streets of the San Fernando Valley for three years said losing his general relief benefits has left him more adrift than ever.

The assistance, which ended July 1 because of a new five-month limit, was all the income he had aside from the few dollars he manages to scrounge by recycling cans.

“Now, without the $220 a month, I’m out in the middle of the stream,” said the 61-year-old Nevada native, “and I don’t have the power to get to either bank.”

County officials and advocates for the homeless said an estimated 6,500 people in Los Angeles County lost general relief assistance as of July 1. Hundreds more are expected to lose benefits each month, they said.

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The general relief time limit, approved last year by a cash-strapped county Board of Supervisors, applies unless recipients are unable to work because of mental or physical disabilities. Tens of thousands of recipients who are considered employable expect to lose benefits, which for most amounts to a $212 general grant and $9 for clothing per month.

Advocates said many recipients are seeking help and explanations, but it is still too early to gauge how desperate their situations will become. The five-month limit became effective Feb. 1.

“We’re supposing that for the first month people will find ways to cope, but in the long run, we are expecting some problems,” said Natalie Profant, planning manager for the Los Angeles County Homeless Authority.

Profant said the authority this month sent surveys to 64 agencies that assist the homeless and poor to measure the effect of the benefits time limit.

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Advocates said food stamps were not cut and recipients may reapply for aid after seven months without assistance.

John Horn, program coordinator at the San Fernando Valley Homeless Center, said he’s seen about 10 to 15 people come into the Los Angeles Family Housing Corp.-funded center, who have been taken off general relief. Most are looking for bus tokens, a place to shower and referrals for food and shelter.

“The potential impact hasn’t been fully felt yet, but it’s starting to pick up momentum,” Horn said.

Herman Jones, a service advocate at the Los Angeles Family Housing’s East Los Angeles homeless service center, said the time limit is giving many of his clients a sense of urgency about finding a job. Before, they were less energetic about looking for work, Jones said. “They are a little more frantic, more panicky.”

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Several of those struggling to make ends meet said they felt squeezed by the time limits, despite their efforts to improve their lives.

Megan Nuckolls, 22, who has applied for general relief, said five months doesn’t seem like enough time to find work, make a deposit on an apartment and get caught up on bills.

Nuckolls, who arrived in Los Angeles about a month ago from Oklahoma, said she’s been living at a North Hollywood shelter while she looks for even menial work.

She said she came to Los Angeles to pursue an art career in computer graphics. But so far, she said, the only art she’s done is a mural at the shelter’s school.

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She worries about ending up on the street.

“I’m scared to death that it’s the only alternative,” Nuckolls said.


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