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Warehousing the Homeless : Bell Ponders Salvation Army Proposal to Bus Them In at Night, Out in Morning

October 25, 1987|RITA PYRILLIS | Times Staff Writer

BELL — At the suggestion of a federal judge, the Salvation Army has presented government officials with a plan to shelter up to 200 homeless people in an 18,000-square-foot federally owned warehouse next to the California Bell Club casino.

Members of the Bell City Council and the Trammell Crow Co., which is developing 450 acres of office and industrial park property bordering the warehouse, at first strongly objected to the idea of placing homeless people in the prime commercial area.

But after meeting Wednesday with U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Pregerson and representatives of both the Salvation Army and the General Services Administration, several city officials said their fears have been tempered.

"We are still concerned, but we realize there are many questions that need to be answered," City Councilman George Mirabal said.

Cole Remains Uncertain About Plan

Fellow Councilman George Cole, who had assailed the proposal as "horrible social planning," said he nevertheless remains uncertain.

The Salvation Army "still has a long way to go to sell this idea to us," Cole said. "They are going to have an uphill battle. I am opposed to any concept that involves the warehousing of people."

Also at the meeting was Martin E. Slusser, a partner in Dallas-based Trammell Crow--Bell's largest private landowner. Slusser had previously expressed concern that the shelter might "impact severely the efforts the cities of Bell and (neighboring) Commerce have made to attract businesses. From a property owner's standpoint it raises serious security questions. . . . It could introduce a criminal element into the area."

Slusser said after the meeting that his firm will now adopt a "wait-and-see attitude."

Salvation Army officials said they want Bell leaders to feel comfortable with the shelter plan, even though final approval rests entirely with the GSA, which manages the 134-acre warehouse complex.

Almost a mile from the nearest residential neighborhood and tucked among several other warehouses in the Federal Supply Service Center on Rickenbacker Road, off Eastern Avenue, the shelter would house adults who would be bused to Bell each evening from "areas of high homeless density in Los Angeles County," according to a proposal sent last spring to the GSA.

The homeless would spend the night and get food and a shower before being bused back to their original pickup points the next morning. During the day, the shelter would be closed.

Judge Is Advocate for Homeless

Pregerson, an outspoken advocate for the homeless, said he came up with the idea for the Bell shelter last winter, around the time he asked federal officials in Los Angeles to open the U.S. Courthouse to the homeless.

"Judges do a lot of things other than judging," said Pregerson. "I am doing this as an individual."

He said he would like the Bell shelter to be modeled after St. Martin de Porres--a 100-bed shelter for homeless men located on rent-free federal property in Seattle .

If the Bell plan is approved it will be the first homeless shelter in California on federal property controlled by the GSA, said Mary Filippini, GSA Western region spokesperson.

Some Bell officials said they were concerned that shelter occupants would be bused from downtown Los Angeles' Skid Row. Mirabal said he suspected that the plan might be a "political move" on the part of Los Angeles to shift that city's homeless problem to a city "with less political clout, a minority city."

But at the Wednesday meeting, Russell Prince, director of development for the Salvation Army, assured council members that the homeless would be mostly from the Southeast area.

"Our priority area would be within a four-mile radius (of Bell)," Prince said. "It is not our intent to bus people in from Skid Row. There are people on Skid Row who would not want to come to this shelter. Many of them like being so close to (downtown Los Angeles shelters) where they can get food three times a day."

The homeless would probably be taken to a Salvation Army center in Huntington Park for registration before being bused to Bell, Prince said.

Mirabal Questions Number of Homeless

Mirabal also questioned the Salvation Army's ability to find enough homeless people from the Southeast area to fill the Bell shelter.

"Where are they going to get all these people?," Mirabal said. "I don't believe we have the homeless problem Los Angeles has."

Councilman Ray Johnson said he was "impressed with other Salvation Army operations" but would not comment on the shelter idea until he receives more information. Councilmen Jay Price and Rolf Janssen did not attend the meeting.

City officials were also concerned about how the shelter would accommodate families with small children. Prince said some families would probably be excluded if it appeared that they might be better served by an all-day facility.

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