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Temporary Refuge : New Hollywood Shelter Plays Role of Rescuer

December 07, 1986|KENNETH J. FANUCCHI | Times Staff Writer

The old Stage Inn, which served as a way station for actors, actresses and film technicians in the 1920s, has found a new role as Hollywood's newest and largest shelter for the homeless.

The 51-bed Hollywood Homeless Shelter at 1057 Vine Street--only a short distance from one of the most famous intersections in the world, Hollywood Boulevard and Vine--is operated by the Volunteers of America.

A private social service organization founded in 1897, Volunteers of America has become increasingly involved in providing temporary housing for the homeless, with an emphasis on rescuing them before they become permanent residents of skid rows across the country.

Its involvement in the Hollywood shelter was developed by Chip-In (Community of Hollywood Investing in People in Need), a coalition of religious and social service groups trying to set up programs for the homeless.

Edward Eisenstadt, a Volunteers official who lives in Hollywood, said he was invited to Chip-In's second meeting more than a year ago and was asked later to scout locations for a facility.

"Here was an active community group interested in doing something about the problem of the homeless," Eisenstadt said. "This coincided with our own interests on behalf of the homeless."

Using $800,000 in funds from the state, the county and the city of Los Angeles as a down payment, the Volunteers bought the vacant hotel this year. It plans a private fund-raising drive next month to come up with the rest of the $1.4-million purchase price.

A 1984 U.S. Housing and Urban Development report estimated that there were 34,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County; a countywide task force placed the figure at 25,000. Neither report had separate statistics for Hollywood, but shelter officials said their experience in the past two months suggests that there are many homeless people in the area.

Although official opening ceremonies will not be held until Feb. 19, the shelter has been crowded since it opened on the Columbus Day weekend in October.

It only took two days to fill the 21 two-bed and nine one-bed rooms, even though placement in the shelter is only by referral from social service agencies, said Lynn Davis, program manager of the shelter.

"There is no shortage of homeless people here," Davis said. Of the 115 people who stayed at the shelter in October and November, more than 70% were from Hollywood, according to the shelter's full-time social worker, Charles N. Cooper.

Officials said they see only a small percentage of the homeless because of admission restrictions. The shelter is not set up to handle long-term vagrants or the mentally ill. Children are barred unless they belong to a family admitted to the shelter, and there are only two rooms set aside for families.

Because the facility is self-supporting, the bulk of admissions are from the county Public Social Services Department, which pays $16 a day to house each homeless person.

"We simply do not have the staff or the money to handle the range of homeless at the Hollywood shelter," said Bob Pratt, president of Volunteers of America's Los Angeles district. "So our emphasis is going to be on the newly homeless whom we hope can get back on their feet with a little assistance."

Only a Beginning

Brian Moore, vice president of Chip-In, said his organization sees the shelter as only a beginning. Also needed is a place for the mentally ill and a shower and clothing facility for the entire homeless population, he said.

"In essence," Moore said, "the Hollywood shelter is only a drop in the bucket compared to the problem in the community. We do not intend to stop our efforts on behalf of the homeless just because of the opening of a single facility."

Bill Welsh, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, has muted his criticism of the facility since it has opened. He had opposed its location near the heart of the Hollywood business district, warning that it would serve as a magnet for the homeless from other parts of Los Angeles and from across the country.

"I would say that my misgivings have been lessened since the facility has been opened," Welsh said. "I am impressed with the fact that many people who have stayed there have found jobs and that the shelter is operated in an inconspicuous way. I have not had any complaints from business people since it opened."

The structure housing the shelter was built in 1921 as Hotel Belden and served as a temporary home to Buster Keaton and Mae Murray, among other film personalities. As the Stage Inn, it accommodated the European Broadcasting Union during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

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