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'On the Streets, Promises Unkept'

November 20, 1987

It is painful to be attacked by authors whose cause one champions so strongly. Authors Dear and Wolch can only be lauded when they outline the tragic consequences of emptying the nations' mental hospitals onto the streets without first setting up a community-based support system to protect and care for them.

But Irvine has a different problem and one no less urgent. In fact, neglect of its problem can only compound the difficulty for the mentally ill homeless in other areas. The vast majority of the Irvine homeless are not mentally ill; they are mostly mothers with children or families with children who have suddenly come upon hard times. But when people are thrown onto the streets they are driven out of Irvine and compete with the homeless of other less affluent areas, thus compounding the problem.

This has quietly been going on for some years. The five apartments that Irvine has set up to stem the tide of more than 639 cases documented by just one Orange County shelter in 1986 are totally inadequate, so emergency measures are now being taken to house this special group. Since the permitted 30- to 60-day period in the Irvine shelter will be so brief, merely long enough to give the family a financial breather, plans are under way to develop longer term, dispersed individual quarters for those who cannot recover so quickly. Above all we are pressing for low-cost housing as a permanent solution that must be developed in every community, if this "urgent national emergency," as Congress designated it, is to be solved.

We feel that the authors would benefit from learning that the proposed shelter in Irvine is not in an isolated area, as they think, unless they would feel that a bus stop within a block, Irvine Valley College, and the splendid La Qinta Inn, across the street from the city property, create an isolated area.

Even the descriptions of the proposed shelter have been misrepresented. It was built about eight years ago, in a very elegant style, air-conditioned and heated, and then left unused. No animals have ever been housed there.

As soon as the citizens of Irvine can raise enough money, through corporate and other private means, there will be plenty of individual, dispersed, living quarters for the homeless. But until that happy day arrives, we must do the best we can with the HUD grant and rescue our homeless from the streets and from the other area shelters where we have been sending them until our shelter is completed.

I would hope that the authors would not underestimate the number of unemployed in this country, the number of low-paying jobs, and above all the great dearth of low-cost housing that is creating such a blight on the nation.

But we feel they are right on the mark when they cry out against the treatment of the homeless mentally ill and the injustice of their being warehoused in our prisons. We look upon them as an allies and hope that they will see us in the same light.

SYLVIA EASTON

Convener

Irvine Task Force

on the Homeless

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