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'We Don't Have Problem,' Official Says : Inglewood Shuns Funds to Help Homeless

October 15, 1987|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

Four Los Angeles basin cities are among only five local governments in the nation that were eligible for emergency federal housing grants for the homeless but did not apply.

While 322 other cities and urban counties will begin receiving a total of $50 million in grants this week, Inglewood, El Monte, Glendale and Santa Ana have chosen not to participate.

Variety of Reasons

City officials said they did not apply because homelessness is not a big problem in their cities, because the one-month application period was too brief or because city administrative costs to set up a shelter made it unwise to accept the small grants.

Palaupalau, a Pacific island territory near Guam, is the only other qualified jurisdiction that did not submit an application for the special homeless funding approved by Congress in a highly publicized vote three months ago, said John J. Flynn, spokesman for the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Inglewood, Glendale and El Monte each would have received between $28,000 and $32,000, while Santa Ana's grant would have been $66,000, Flynn said.

All applicants were guaranteed funding if they applied, he said, adding that most applications were three to four pages long.

The City of Los Angeles will receive $947,000 from the program, about a third of the $2.6 million to be distributed to 17 cities and counties in Southern California.

To qualify, cities must have populations of at least 50,000 or be the central city of a metropolitan area and counties must have at least 200,000 residents.

Although Inglewood, Glendale and El Monte officials say they did not apply by the Sept. 28 deadline because they thought the money could be better used elsewhere, their decision has sparked criticism from leaders of national organizations for the homeless and from agencies for the homeless locally.

"It's incredible, given the high rate of homelessness in the Los Angeles area, that these four cities will not participate," said Maria Foscarinis, general counsel for Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

Various studies have estimated Los Angeles County's homeless population at between 30,000 and 50,000. And Foscarinis said more homeless live in Los Angeles County and New York City than anywhere else in the nation.

'Thumbed Their Noses'

"What's shocking to me is that towns in Mississippi, places without community development departments and professional grant bureaucrats, have managed to put together the four pages of paper that are necessary to apply. . . . But these four cities have thumbed their noses at money for people who are in desperate need," said Gary Blasi, director of the homeless unit for the private Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, whose jurisdiction includes Inglewood and Glendale.

As an indication of need, Blasi pointed to the number of applications for emergency shelter at county social service offices that serve Inglewood, Glendale and El Monte.

According to the county, emergency shelter was provided for 683 people who applied at the Glendale office in the year ending Aug. 31, another 1,728 homeless applied in El Monte and 8,979 applied at the Inglewood-area office. The three cities make up only about one-fifth of the area served by the three regional offices.

Spokesmen for homeless groups in each of the four cities also insisted that needs of the homeless there are substantial and often left unmet.

But officials in Glendale, Inglewood and El Monte said they did not see the need, and, in Glendale's and Santa Ana's cases, were also discouraged by the 30-day filing period.

In Inglewood and El Monte, both predominantly minority communities whose average resident earns several thousand dollars less than the county norm, city administrators said they do not think homelessness is a local problem.

"We basically don't have a homeless problem," said Inglewood Deputy City Manager Lewis Pond, who directs housing and community development efforts.

Pond said he decided not to apply for the city's $28,000 entitlement without informing City Manager Paul Eckles, who agreed in an interview that Inglewood has no major homelessness problem.

'Beach Life More Attractive'

"All the homeless people seem to stop at the city boundaries," Pond said. "I don't know why. Maybe the beach life is more attractive to them."

Nonetheless, Inglewood would have applied for the emergency grant had there been a shelter within the city to which it could forward the money, Pond said. Without a shelter, the city did not want to absorb administrative costs that the grant would not reimburse, he said.

Inglewood supports no homeless program with city or federal money, Pond said. However, officials of the Inglewood Counseling Center and the Salvation Army said they see a need for more help for the displaced.

Janice Cole, director of the counseling center, said she is trying to raise money to open a small shelter for the many homeless teen-agers who call her office for help each day.

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