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Council's Role in Homeless Shelter

May 03, 1987

In the article "Shelter for Homeless Outlasts Its Travails" by Patricia Klein (April 6), several implications were made regarding the Valley Interfaith Council's past and current participation in the Valley Shelter. While we don't deny that problems existed in starting the shelter and that we are pleased with the changes new management has brought, we feel the reporter omitted several pertinent facts from the story.

Over a 24-month period, the council negotiated with a group advocating a shelter for Valley homeless. This original group, including the shelter's current executive director, was unable to establish a funding base to start the shelter, mainly due to lack of a proven track record in initiating large projects.

Despite sound business advice, the council, with its established name in the community and with its experience in obtaining and managing contracts and programs serving the elderly and the hungry, assumed all the risk in starting the shelter, including a $2.2-million mortgage. It chose this risk because of its history of serving the community once a need is identified.

Major renovations and cleanup of the site had to be done, far exceeding the council's expectations. A project director was hired who literally worked 18- to 20-hour days to open the shelter by April 1, 1986.

Numerous on-site programs were then established, including mental-health counseling and health services, both still operational, and employment counseling and placement, withdrawn due to personnel shortages. This program has subsequently been reinstated. The Valley Interfaith Council also made use of its community contracts to obtain clothing, furniture, volunteer food preparation and other services for the shelter.

In summary, the core of both the physical facility and the programs to be offered--a tremendous task--was accomplished under the council's direction. Soon after opening, the shelter had funding problems. The council alone did not have the capacity to raise the large sums of money required to operate the facility, while staff time and efforts were directed at opening the Valley's first multipurpose shelter.

In October the council regrettably began to turn away families, as other homeless programs did, due to the expiration of grants and not due to the shelter program itself. It is true that the L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency was reconsidering its support of the shelter, due to the drain on the Interfaith Council's financial resources and its inability last fall to raise substantial operating funds, and to differences in style of management.

The council began to transfer ownership and operations to Valley Shelter Inc., as had been planned. Like any major project, the shelter experienced start-up problems and growing pains, as indicated in the article, and the new group did have major issues to address.

The Valley Interfaith Council is proud of its role in establishing the shelter. At its first birthday party, Mayor Tom Bradley thanked the council for taking the initiative in starting a much needed shelter in the Valley. It received praise, too, from the Rev. Eugene Boutilier, who represented the United Way. It is also pleased that the new management has received the appropriate assistance to obtain funding and to make needed improvements.

Volunteers still continue to assist the shelter, including council board members who also serve on the board of Valley Shelter Inc. The council's volunteers continue to assist in food preparation and management.



Van Nuys

Axelton is president of the board of San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, and Thompson is its immediate past president.

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