A shelter for the homeless that is itself homeless is perhaps the ultimate irony in this time of so much expression of concern for the homeless.
Yet that is what has happened to a project to provide a 100-bed temporary shelter for homeless families in Los Angeles. Las Familias del Pueblo's Downtown Emergency Shelter Project has the financing, has a director, has an approach that public officials and corporate executives find innovative.
It does not, however, have land to put the shelter on. This despite almost two years of searching and negotiating, lot by lot, in and around the downtown area.
"Everybody says it's a shame children are homeless, that we need to have shelters for homeless families, but it appears that nobody wants one near them," said the Rev. Alice Callaghan, director of Las Familias.
"Well, a shelter has to go some where . If you can't put it in a residential area, if you can't put it in an industrial area, where can you put it?"
Anaheim Rejected Shelter
The same question was raised in Orange County this week when Anaheim residents, fearing the prospect of transients in their neighborhood, blocked the opening of a shelter proposed by Christian Temporary Housing Facilities Inc. In rejecting the plan because of residents' opposition, Anaheim planning officials promised to seek another site for the shelter.
In Los Angeles, Callaghan said her agency may have to call it quits on the shelter and relinquish funding and commitments of nearly $1 million if land does not become available fairly soon.
"That would be awful," said Maureen Kindel, president of the Los Angeles city Board of Public Works. "I personally would consider it a great failure on my part if we were unable to find them anything. I can't remember how long we've been at this--it must be a couple of years. We've turned the files upside down. . . ."
Like the Oil Business
"This is a little like my business," said Robert Wycoff, president of Atlantic Richfield Co. and a Las Familias board member active in the shelter project negotiations.
"Everybody recognizes the importance of having a source of oil, but nobody wants oil wells near them. I never expected it would be so difficult. . . . We'd find a piece of land; it would be unsuitable. Frankly, we would not be looked on as good neighbors. People have an almost unknown fear. And these were not just any homeless. These were women and children."
"It was almost an apple pie project that Alice had," said John Maguire, deputy administrator for housing and community affairs for the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.
The land issue will have to be resolved in the next four to six months, he said, or state money probably will be lost and CRA money reallocated. Citing difficulties the CRA was having with a number of shelter projects, he said, "We'll be in the embarrassing position of not being able to produce on projects."
The Las Familias project calls for 11 mobile modular units where families would be provided shelter, meals, counseling and support services--at a daily cost of $8 per person. Each unit would essentially be like three motel rooms, with front and back entrance, interconnected to adjust for the size of a family.
"One of the most interesting components of the shelter is its flexibility," Callaghan said. "Rather than institutionalize the problem somewhere by constructing a shelter, we've elected to use mobile units. . . . It may not make sense four years from now to have a 100-bed shelter downtown. We can divide it in half if need be. . . . And we can use a piece of land that's available only temporarily. When it's needed for another use, we can go elsewhere."
Aim Is Independence
Families would stay for a maximum of 60 days. The program is designed to help them re-establish independence and to help them find permanent housing in residential neighborhoods. To provide a roof but no support services, Callaghan said, would mean that "at the end of 60 days they'd just be sitting there."
Las Familias, a community center that serves families living on Skid Row and relocates them to more suitable neighborhoods, designed the project in a feasibility study funded by the Arco Foundation. Matching grants of $250,000 each from the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the CRA provide the capital to buy the modular units. The Arco Foundation came through again with $25,000 for furnishings, and instructions to the California Community Foundation to provide Las Familias with $150,000 of its Arco money for operating costs.
Other corporations in the downtown area either earmarked funds or indicated they would be available once the land was secured. In all, two-thirds of its $363,000 operational budget was raised for the first year, with indications that the remaining funds would be no problem.
Was to Open Last Year
The shelter was targeted to open last October.