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Families on Streets Find Hope Behind Shelter Door

March 20, 1988|ERIC WILHELMUS | Times Staff Writer

Less than two months ago, Shannon Ordaz was working in an East Los Angeles motel in exchange for the room in which her family lived. During her off hours, she shot heroin and ran with a gang.

Life for Ordaz, 22, her husband, John, 29, and their two children varied greatly, "depending on how heavy we were into drugs," she said.

About a month and a half ago, after being evicted from the motel, the Ordazes turned to Pasadena's Monument of Faith Church for guidance.

They were referred to the Door of Hope in Pasadena, a sprawling, turn-of-the-century, Victorian-style house at 669 N. Los Robles Ave. which offers free temporary food and lodging to families down on their luck.

Willingness to Change

The key that opens the Door of Hope to a homeless family is willingness to change and adopt a life style that will keep the family off the streets, said the Rev. Roy Peterson, director of the facility.

The Ordazes say they are willing to change. John Ordaz now has a job as a lab technician, and his wife is going to school to learn to be a telecommunications technician. And they say they have not used heroin for about six weeks.

"The Door of Hope has helped a lot," said Shannon Ordaz, gently rocking her 4-month-old son, Zeke, as she studied at a dining room table. "This place is a blessing."

The Ordazes needed a blessing after their eviction from the motel. It was the first time they had ever been homeless, and they did not know where to turn.

Unlike most facilities for the homeless, which offer single people a bed in a dormitory and a meal at night, the Door of Hope offers families a private room, three meals a day, emotional and financial counseling and religious guidance.

Families can stay at the nonprofit, nondenominational shelter for up to two months. All the services are provided free.

When a family leaves, the Door of Hope, which operates on donations from individuals and churches, supplies it with appliances such as washers, dryers and refrigerators at no cost.

There are a number of other way stations for the homeless in Pasadena, but most of them are geared toward single people. Union Station and Depot, the Lighthouse and the Salvation Army offer food and shelter to the homeless. The Walter Hoving Home shelters and offers counseling to homeless young women. Hestia House, run by the YMCA and the Junior League of Pasadena, provides temporary housing for women and children.

One of the Few

Peterson said the Door of Hope, which can house up to five six-member families at a time, is the only facility in the San Gabriel Valley that provides both shelter and counseling for an entire family.

Such aid is becoming increasingly necessary, shelter officials say, because there are believed to be 300 to 1,000 homeless people in Pasadena, and the number is growing.

"There's a lot of reasons for the increase in homelessness," Peterson said. "Drugs. People come here looking for work and find none. An incredibly low literacy rate."

The Door of Hope opened in 1985 after Pasadena officials asked the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles to replace a shelter for families that had closed earlier that year. The mission bought a house on Washington Boulevard that could provide shelter for three families and sent Peterson to head the staff.

Severed Ties

In late 1986, the facility was moved to the five-bedroom house on Los Robles Avenue, and it gradually severed its financial ties to the Union Rescue Mission.

The shelter has taken in more than 100 families since it moved to the Los Robles address. It has four full-time staff members and two part-time volunteers.

The facility, which receives an average of six calls a day from families seeking shelter, operates on a first-come, first-served basis.

Although it has a mission similar to that of traditional institutions, the Door of Hope operates more like a shared family home than a shelter for the homeless.

"We don't consider ourselves a shelter," said Barry Pendleton, the home's assistant director. "We consider ourselves a home for families who need shelter."

Must Seek Work

But as in all households, there are rules. Adults must seek work or go to school every day, follow a meal schedule, be in by the 9 p.m. curfew and share in the household chores. No substance abuse is permitted.

Any income they earn is turned over to the Door of Hope, which pays any debts the family owes. What is left is returned to the families when they leave.

There is also a religious component to life at the home. Everyone must worship at set times during the week, and on Sundays all the family members are required to attend the church of their choice.

Peterson, who received his divinity degree from Biola University in 1981 and worked for nine years at the Union Rescue Mission, said religion is stressed so that the families will not be tempted to return to the streets.

"I learned a long time ago that people who went into the church are the ones who don't come back to the streets," he said.

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