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Council Angers Both Sides in Spat Over the Homeless in Little Tokyo

January 31, 1987|RICHARD SIMON | Times Staff Writer

Rushing to get to lunch and other business, Los Angeles City Council members adjourned Friday without hearing from either those favoring or those opposing the lodging of homeless people in Little Tokyo.

Members of both groups, who had wanted to address the council, were angered at not being able to make their cases and criticized the latest council plan as being unsatisfactory to both sides.

Ted Hayes, a self-appointed organizer of the homeless, said he wanted to address the council before it voted to begin negotiations with the Salvation Army to take over operation of a homeless shelter in Little Tokyo.

The shelter, located in an abandoned building that was once the city print shop at 411 East 1st St., has been housing 225 homeless people for a week. They were moved there after the city allowed them to spend three nights inside City Hall after the deaths of four street people from exposure.

Deputy Mayor Grace Davis, head of a city task force on the homeless, told the council that the Salvation Army is better equipped to operate the Little Tokyo shelter than the city.

Hayes said after the meeting that the Salvation Army cannot do as good a job as his homeless group, which calls itself Justiceville, in running the Little Tokyo shelter. Hayes' group has been checking homeless people there for weapons, maintaining a fire watch inside the building and policing the area outside. There have been no reports of incidents.

"The Salvation Army is 40 years out of date," Hayes said in an interview after Friday's council meeting. "They don't give you any encouragement. You get beans. You've got to hear a sermon before you eat. . . .

"They're used to dealing with people down on their luck. We're dealing with young people who have been forced onto the street by economic chaos."

But Maj. William J. Mulch, director of the Salvation Army's Harbor Light Center, told a reporter, "We've been doing this for 100 years and have been pretty good at it."

The council's adjournment also irked Councilman Gilbert W. Lindsay and a group of his Little Tokyo constituents who were prevented from asking the council to move the homeless out of Little Tokyo and into a warehouse near Skid Row.

Councilman Hal Bernson, who said he was late for an appointment, caused the council to adjourn just before noon by threatening to walk out and break the quorum. He said that if his colleagues had not spent an hour Friday on ceremonial matters, including being serenaded by a barbershop quartet, they would have had more time to spend on the homeless issue.

Bernson supported opening City Hall to the homeless on an emergency basis but has become increasingly critical of continued efforts by the council to provide shelter. He has repeatedly pointed out that the county Board of Supervisors is legally responsible for caring for the poor.

In other developments, city officials said they expect to be able to open another vacant building in about 10 days at 527 Crocker St., near Skid Row, to house 100 homeless people, subject to council approval.

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