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Self-Sufficiency Project Pursues Elusive Dream

September 05, 1985|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

Pasadena thought it had an answer last September to the growing social problem of impoverished families headed by women.

After months of anticipation, Pasadena was selected by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development as one of 77 localities nationwide to participate in a new concept offering housing assistance, job training and child care to eligible single mothers.

But the fanfare was short-lived, city officials say. In recent weeks, Pasadena has been forced to modify its program to counter a high dropout rate among the single mothers. And because Pasadena is one of the first localities to select participants and place them in job training, its problems may foreshadow flaws in similar programs in Los Angeles and Orange counties, where officials are just now completing the selection process.

33 Single Mothers

Since March, Pasadena has chosen 33 single mothers--the majority of whom are welfare recipients--to receive the subsidized housing, child care and job training that make up Project Self-Sufficiency, a pilot project combining the efforts of the public and private sectors.

But 22 of the women either dropped out because of lack of interest or were rejected as unqualified. Eleven subsequently were awarded subsidized housing--the first stage of Pasadena's program. Now, six of those 11 have decided to keep their housing while dropping out of the job training central to the program's goal. HUD has told a frustrated Pasadena that it cannot take back the housing subsidies from those who dropped out and issue them to other applicants.

"We have lost those people," said Diane Moore Lovell, administrator of the city's Career Services Division. "Some didn't want to work. Others said it wasn't economically feasible to take a job paying only $5 or $6 an hour and lose the medical benefits that go with welfare. It's been very disheartening."

Lovell said Pasadena will now require the 19 participants yet to be selected to complete some of the job training before they are awarded housing under HUD's Section 8 program. The housing thus will be used as a sort inducement to ensure continued participation. Lovell acknowledged that the city had done a poor job of selecting applicants and predicted a higher success rate with better screening and changes in the awarding of the housing.

Community Skills Center

The Pasadena participants receive their job training at the Community Skills Center, a vocational center that offers instruction in such areas as electronics assembly and food service. After the training is complete, the city's Private Industry Council, made up of local businesses, will assist trainees in finding jobs. Pasadena officials have yet to determine the cost to the city of the training, child care and transportation subsidies it must provide as its share in the program.

Donna Blakely, 20, is one of the six women who dropped out of the program but kept the housing subsidy. She said that the program was never fully explained and that she was never told that it was aimed at self-sufficiency. Blakely, a high school dropout and mother of a 2-year-old boy, said Pasadena officials never asked about her career goals. Blakely said she had been working part-time in a child-care facility and taking basic-skills education courses. She dropped out of the program and last Thursday she quit her job. "My son had an asthma attack and I had to miss work," said Blakely, who receives welfare. "They didn't believe me . . . so I quit."

Lisa Rhue, a 28-year-old single mother from Pasadena who remains in the program, said welfare is so degrading that she would take a job paying $5 or $6 an hour, even if it meant giving up Medi-Cal for her and her 4-year-old daughter.

"My goals are not to struggle like I have been and to be able to get off welfare and make it on my own," said Rhue, who will enroll her daughter in a free child-care program while she takes electronics courses at the Community Skills Center this fall.

"Welfare's not any money. I can't see how anybody can survive on it," she said. "It's the easy way out."

Too Early to Tell

It's too early to tell what effect the project conceived by HUD will have on the single mothers hoping to make the transition from public assistance to productive employment. But in their effort to implement the program, local project directors in Pasadena and other demonstration sites have faced numerous unforeseen problems. The complaints range from a lack of clear guidelines from HUD to insufficient funding to carry out the program's lofty goals.

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