The American Indian Free Clinic Inc. has been given the go-ahead to open a new clinic in Santa Monica to serve some of the thousands of Indians who live in the Westside, county officials said.
A proposal to grant the nonprofit organization rent-free space in the county's Santa Monica Health Center was approved last week by the Board of Supervisors.
The clinic will offer medical, dental, mental health and referral services, a spokeswoman said.
She said the organization also operates free clinics in Compton and Echo Park, but thousands of Indians live too far away to use either clinic.
"We are trying to reach those who cannot or have not reached us," said clinic executive director Joanne Freeman.
"Indians need an atmosphere in which they know Indian people are there to help them," she said. "They are reluctant to go to non-Indians with their problems."
Although some Indians live together in small pockets, most of the 60,000 to 100,000 Indians estimated by various sources to be living in the county do not form neighborhoods, she said. According to the 1980 U.S. Census, thousands of Indians are scattered throughout the Westside from Hollywood to Santa Monica.
"We have many Indians in the West Los Angeles area and there is an Indian center in Culver City which draws them into that part of town," Freeman said.
Most of the county's Indians moved to Los Angeles from reservations between 1952 and 1980 during a relocation program sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to county officials.
The relocation program, which has been discontinued, was intended to move Indians off the reservations and into urban life. Bureau officials say, however, that the program was largely unsuccessful because most Indians did not adapt to life in Los Angeles.
Today, many Indians drift back and forth between far-flung reservations and the city, making population counts extremely difficult, according to a U.S. Census Bureau spokesman.
Because of their unique situation and culture, Los Angeles' Indians have counseling and medical needs that differ from the rest of the population, Freeman said.
"Alcoholism is still the No. 1 killer of Indians," she said. "Many of the people we help have alcohol-related problems and they need someone who understands that."
She said that her organization hires Indians to work in the clinics whenever possible, but that it is often difficult to find qualified Indians.
In such cases, she said, "if we can't find an Indian, we hire non-Indian employees and put them through an orientation that makes them sensitive to Indian needs. It is very important to us."
The supervisors' vote Tuesday paves the way for the clinic to open immediately. However, officials of the free clinic said they have not yet set an opening date.
Under the contract with the county, two offices will be provided to the organization at 1525 Euclid St. free of charge for one year.
In granting the free rent, the board said that the clinic was needed "to meet the social needs of the population of the county."