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Shelter for Battered Women to Be Closed

May 26, 1988|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

Following a county investigation into allegations of mismanagement, the Young Women's Christian Assn. will close the Phoenix House for battered women in Glendale.

Los Angeles County officials, who oversee the facility as a part of the funding agreement, said this week that the Y is ill-equipped to handle crisis intervention. In place of Phoenix House, they said, the Y plans to convert the shelter into a transitional home for victims of domestic violence who have passed the crisis stage.

"Over the years, they have come to the realization that they are more of a social-services agency rather than an agency handling the kinds of issues involved in crisis intervention," said Vincent Terry, assistant director of the county Community and Senior Citizen Services.

He said the new program "will be much more compatible" with the Y's programs.

Different Explanation

The YWCA, however, offered a different explanation for the closure. In a news release issued Tuesday, Y officials said they are shutting down the crisis center because of the rising costs of operating the shelter and a shortfall in revenues.

In the release, Rahla Hall, YWCA executive director, said, "We have looked at the current program from every angle and, considering the enormous costs of a crisis intervention program, we simply can no longer afford such an effort."

Hall said the Y's direct costs for operating Phoenix House, aside from government grants, rose from $30,000 in 1987 to more than $82,000 this year.

Hall could not be reached for further comment, but the Y last year lost its annual $50,000 in federal Community Block Grant funds due to a communications mix-up between the Y and the county, which allocates the funds, officials said. The Y was not eligible to reapply for the grant until late this year.

The decision to close the shelter was made by the Y board of directors Monday after a long-running dispute between Y administrators and the staff at the Phoenix House.

Last week, a staff member was fired and another suspended for five days after they ignored the Y's orders to stop accepting new clients at the shelter, according to staff reports. Workers claimed that the Y unnecessarily cut back programs and staff hours at the shelter, which offered a 45-day treatment program.

'More Compatible'

In the news release, Hall also called the transitional housing program "more compatible to the YWCA's 130-year history as a social services agency, offering positive living alternatives to women rather than a mental and physical health crisis unit."

Terry said he was told in a meeting with Hall and Marge Rodak, YWCA board president, that the Y plans to transfer about five women now at the shelter to other crisis centers within the next week or two. He said the house will then be shut down until about mid-August while an estimated $20,000 in earthquake damages are repaired and the building improved for transitional housing.

Phoenix House was operated out of a five-bedroom house in Glendale, where refuge was provided for up to 18 abused women and their children at one time. The YWCA had operated the program, which served about 100 women a year, since 1979.

Under the new program, the Y will provide housing for women and their children while the women look for employment and new housing. Y officials also said the Phoenix House name will be dropped to avoid confusion with a New York program with the same name that treats drug abuse. The new program will be called the YWCA Shelter.

There was no comment from the Y on whether or not employees at the shelter will be retained.

Terry said he has urged the association to apply for government funds for the new program. "We would like very much to maintain a domestic violence shelter in that area," Terry said. "The Phoenix House has been there a long time."

Staff workers at Phoenix House said that county officials visited the home Wednesday and told residents that grant money for operating the program would cease May 31. "They called each of the women one by one to let them know they would have to go somewhere else," said Monika McCoy, a social service advocate at the shelter. "They are all very upset."

McCoy blamed the closure on "the inability of the administration of the YWCA to run the program and to handle staff matters." McCoy said the rift between the Y and the staff "started building up last October, then really heated up during the last few weeks."

YWCA officials said they expect fund-raising efforts will be easier for a transitional home for women who have decided to move out of an abusive household environment. They said efforts for the Phoenix House were often hampered because the location of the house has been kept secret to protect victims from their attackers. The locale will now be made public, they said.

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