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Show's Not Over for the Homeless : People in Need Now Look for Help From Hands Across America

May 27, 1986|KRISTINA LINDGREN | Times Staff Writer

For 60 homeless people who gravitated to a Santa Ana shelter for a free breakfast at 7 a.m. Monday, it was as if "Hands Across America," the coast-to-coast event to aid the disadvantaged, had never happened.

And at a Costa Mesa emergency shelter an unemployed nurse from Denver and an out-of-work family recently arrived from Arizona--all of whom had joined in Sunday's chain--wondered whether anything concrete would come of the much-publicized outpouring of good will and millions of dollars in donations.

"I just wonder if any of that money is really going to filter down to people," said Fran Arnold, 39, who arrived in Orange County last week with a sick car and little cash to live on while she looked for a job that would sustain her until she is accredited as a registered nurse here.

"It appeared to me to be just Hollywood hoopla," Arnold said in the crowded living room of the Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter. "I wonder how much of the money is going to pay for those T-shirts and things?"

Vikki Rapacz, 29, who with her husband and 22-month-old son joined Arnold in the "Hands" line through Fullerton, wondered: "Come today, how many of those people will still remember or have feelings of concern? Or was it just a day spent to make themselves feel good?"

Arnold and Rapacz, a receptionist who arrived last week from Tempe to find her husband's construction job had not "panned out," were the lucky ones. They would have shelter and a meal.

Most homeless people are turned away daily from already full shelters throughout Orange County, and the need continues to grow, say those who work to help them. And despite the ambitious projections of "Hands" organizers, who on Monday said they hope to have raised $50 million or more, that need is now and is not being met.

"I hate to be negative about anything as good as Hands Across America, but I hope that people won't feel now that they've done their part by contributing $10 and standing in line," Jean Forbath, a member of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, said Monday.

"Solving this problem is going to take a concerted effort and political will."

In Orange County alone, which has only slightly more than 400 beds for a homeless population conservatively estimated at 4,000, Forbath said, "people have to be willing to accept responsibility for providing some of these shelters in their own communities, instead of fighting them or trying to have them shut down."

Organizers of Sunday's 15-minute event said as much themselves Monday.

"Nobody's off the hook just because we did something terrific yesterday and called a lot of attention to the issues. We haven't by any means solved them, and no one would pretend that we have," Ken Kragen, an entertainment entrepreneur who organized the Hands Across America campaign, said Monday.

At a post-demonstration party in New York, Kragen urged participants to "roll up your sleeves and go out to work in your community."

Members of the Orange County Coalition for the Homeless say there is plenty to do.

Of 3,100 homeless people who sought assistance and were counted by the coalition last May, only 12% were placed in shelters. The rest, say coalition members, sleep in cars, parks, all-night restaurants, the lobby of the county's main jail or anywhere else they can find.

There are several private shelters across the county, but most are designed only for single men. Only two or three accept families with children, who make up more than half the homeless seen by assistance organizations.

Families Turned Away

Last year, Christian Temporary Housing sheltered 4,090 people, 2,255 of them children, at its facility in Orange. Christian Temporary volunteer Vernice Magruder, 31, an unemployed accountant living at a nearby women's shelter, said she had to turn away 100 families last week alone for lack of space.

At Share Our Selves (SOS), a nonprofit agency in Costa Mesa that helps families financially or gives them motel room vouchers, more than 3,000 homeless people came in for help in March.

"Over 1,900 of them were children," said Forbath, who has done volunteer work for the agency for 16 years and is a founding member of the coalition.

At Orange Coast Interfaith, a nine-unit apartment complex run as a shelter for families, 50% of the occupants are children, according to Scott Mather, director of the nonprofit agency board.

The estimated $50 million or more to be raised by Hands Across America was to be distributed by the parent USA for Africa Foundation, which had considered proposals from organizations serving the homeless across the nation. But organizers say it could take all summer to get a final count of the donations of $10 to $35.

Ten percent of the money raised was to be given to emergency assistance programs. About half was to go to bolster existing programs including shelters, food banks and other facilities. The remaining 40% was to be spent on development of long-term solutions to the problems of the hungry and homeless.

Concern About Programs

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