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County Pushes Work Plan for Homeless Drunks

December 18, 1986|JILL STEWART | Times Staff Writer

A proposal that county officials hope will give homeless, alcoholic men "a second chance on life" by housing them in a San Gabriel Valley park and putting them to work is moving forward and could become reality next year.

Tom Hibbard, an aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, said his office still needs $346,000 in grants to build the $830,000 facility, where 46 homeless alcoholics would be given housing and sent to work on maintenance projects at county parks in Schabarum's 1st District.

Once funding is obtained, the project will move forward quickly, Hibbard said.

Two sites under consideration, both on federally owned land, are the Whittier Narrows Recreational Area and a site near Santa Fe Dam Park in Irwindale.

Several Commitments

Hibbard said the project has already received financial commitments from state and county alcoholism-treatment agencies, and the promise of rent-free land from the Army Corps of Engineers. While the program would not pay the men for their work, they would continue to be eligible for general relief checks and food stamps.

Schabarum, a fiscal conservative, is pushing the plan because it would provide much-needed help in county-maintained parks at little cost, Hibbard said, while giving homeless alcoholics a sense of self-worth and a place to live.

"For a long time, I have watched us spend dollars on the homeless and alcohol programs and I've often wondered why we do what we do--especially the . . . programs where people literally sit around with nothing to do," Hibbard said.

"The idea here is that if we're going to have homeless men who face great, great difficulties in finding and maintaining jobs to keep them going, I think we've got to find another way to make their lives worthwhile."

Enthusiastic Support

William Manov, chief of planning and program development for the county's Office of Alcohol Programs, said the proposal is enthusiastically backed by his office, which already has several programs to get alcoholics out of traditional clinical treatment and into active self-help programs.

"But we've never had an opportunity to do anything involving the parks, and the Department of Parks and Recreation tells me there's no shortage of work out there to be done," Manov said.

While some county alcohol programs involve formal treatment, Manov said there is a major dispute among experts over whether such treatment is as successful as self-help programs.

"We've chosen to go with the Alcoholics Anonymous concept of self-help and focus on employment and work with this proposal," Manov said. "The notion is that if people are doing something worthwhile, something they look forward to, they won't drink and ruin their lives."

The men would be assigned to duties ranging from park cleanup to light construction work.

Nobody Drinks

They would be under orders "not to take a single drink, and if they do they're out of the program immediately," Manov said.

"It will be a peer culture situation in which everyone will monitor everyone else, and the ethic will be that nobody drinks."

Manov said the program would be particularly valuable because alcoholism and homelessness "go hand-in-hand."

In fact, he said, the county had 5,674 homeless participants in alcohol programs during the past fiscal year, accounting for 36.8% of all participants countywide.

The housing facility would probably consist of several small buildings containing four two-man bedrooms, Hibbard said.

180-Day Stays

Each building would have a living room and bath facilities, "giving the men a chance to live a lot like they would in a regular house or apartment," Hibbard said.

The men would be allowed to live and work in the park for 180 days; after that, the county would try to help them find jobs. They would receive intensive vocational counseling and job-search training during their stay, he said.

"By the end of the 180 days, the goal is to have jobs and find a place to live outside the program," Manov said. He said some men would probably be referred to the county's alcohol-free rooming houses, which have some empty beds.

The cost of feeding and clothing the men and operating the facility would be about $380,000 a year, which could be partly offset by $165,000 in general relief and food stamps. The rest of the money would be provided by the county Department of Health Services, Manov said.

If the county can find the additional $346,000 needed to build the facility, Hibbard said, the program could be under way late next year or in early 1988.

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