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City Passes Up U.S. Housing Grants for the Homeless

October 15, 1987|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

Glendale is one of only five local governments that were eligible for emergency federal housing grants for the homeless but did not apply.

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

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

Palau, a Pacific island territory near Guam, is the only other qualified U.S. jurisdiction that did not submit an application.

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, said John J. Flynn, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. All applicants were guaranteed funding if they applied, he said, adding that most applications were three to four pages long.

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 Glendale, Inglewood and El Monte officials say they did not apply by the Sept. 28 deadline because they thought that 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.

"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 Glendale and Inglewood.

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

Unaware of Program

Glendale City Manager James Rez, unaware of the grant program until last week, said he has heard the number of homeless in his city estimated as low as 10 to 20. "It's a pretty fluid sort of thing. We don't have a chronic problem that I've observed," he said.

Glendale's housing director, Madelyn Blake, said her office decided not to apply for homeless housing assistance until an ongoing study of the problem is completed, if then. "We thought the money would be better used" in other cities, she said.

Glendale provides $20,000 annually to two private agencies that help the homeless and passes another $15,000 in federal money along, Blake said. One of the recipient agencies is the Salvation Army, which through its Glendale office has arranged 450 nights of lodging this year and 1,800 free meals, about double last year's figures, a spokesman said.

Sarcastic Response

Attorney Kenneth H. Carlson, who founded an organization to assist Glendale's homeless, said he would not have expected the city, whose median household income is about the county norm of $26,000 a year, to apply for the grants.

"This is Glendale. We don't have problems here," Carlson said sarcastically. "This is the same city that was considering enacting an ordinance to arrest the homeless for vagrancy about a year ago. If an emergency shelter might present an inducement for these undesirables to live in our community, then we don't want the money."

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