A proposed $1.2-million comprehensive center for the homeless, which West Hollywood officials had hoped could be in operation this summer, may not be ready to open for another year, city officials disclosed this week.
City Manager Paul Brotzman said that plans for the 70-bed permanent facility, to occupy the second floor of a furniture company warehouse on the city's east side, have proceeded more slowly than expected because of design changes to improve fire safety.
"The most optimistic assessment would be seven months, or it could be another 14 months" before the center opens, he said.
Meanwhile, the leader of a group opposed to the center's being placed at the warehouse at 1033 La Brea Ave. renewed a threat to go to court, if necessary, to halt the project.
"We've got 114 business people from the east side of town who are ready to go to court to make sure (the shelter) never goes in there," said Michael Radcliffe, an east-side businessman and critic of the center.
While insisting that they are not opposed to caring for the homeless, some east-side merchants and residents have questioned whether West Hollywood would be taking on more than it can handle if the shelter attracts homeless people from surrounding areas.
Calling the plan "too ambitious," they fear that it will serve as a magnet for homeless people from surrounding communities and create an "overflow" transient population near their homes and businesses.
On Tuesday, city officials sought to allay their fears during a public forum at Plummer Park attended by about 40 people. And, as happened at a similar meeting several months ago, they were given a less-than-cordial reception.
After listening to several homeless advocates talk about the need for the shelter, Radcliffe and others accused city officials of ignoring the concerns of the merchants and residents.
"This thing (the shelter) was created in a closet and dropped on us like a bombshell," he said. "You've got a long way to go to ask the business community on the east end to participate at this point."
He and others expressed their dissatisfaction during a question-and-answer session and pressed several members of the project steering committee for details about how the proposed shelter is to operate.
The center is to include a 50-bed emergency shelter and a 20-bed transitional shelter for those who qualify for up to 18 months of help in making a transition from homelessness.
In the past, city officials have said the shelter, touted as a potential model for future facilities in the region, would include a drop-in center, a food program and counseling services.
But on Tuesday, steering committee member Joel Schwartz, who fielded most of the questions, said that the food program might be located elsewhere and that officials of a soon-to-be-created nonprofit corporation that will operate the center might choose to serve clients by referral, rather than on a drop-in basis.
"Many of these things are still undecided. That will be up to the board of the new nonprofit (corporation)," he said.
The opponents have expressed concern that, if homeless people are allowed to drop in for services, it would create an atmosphere similar to that at Plummer Park where long lines of people form each day to receive free meals provided by the city's Homeless Program.
Besides making recommendations regarding articles of incorporation and bylaws, the 10-member steering committee is also expected to suggest people for appointment to the corporation's board. The City Council is expected to approve the formation of the corporation next month, Brotzman said.
Composition of Board
On Tuesday, steering committee member Sandra Jacoby Klein said the board will include between 15 and 19 members, adding that "at least a third" of them would be either residents or business owners in West Hollywood.
"Only a third?" blurted a woman in the audience. Opponents of the shelter have also criticized the fact that several steering committee members are from outside the community.
The warehouse agreement, ratified by the City Council last September, calls for a 10-year lease at $119,000 a year. Officials estimate that it will cost $600,000 to renovate the warehouse, and $500,000 a year, in addition to the lease expense, to operate the center.
Brotzman said that $575,000 in state, federal and county funds have been allocated to help operate the center.
"That money is available to us, although none of it has been spent. It's simply a matter of getting the shelter into operation, which we're attempting to do as fast as we can," he said.
Parks Closed Since June
Plans for the permanent shelter have taken on greater urgency since the City Council decided last June to close the city's two main parks--where about 150 of the city's estimated 300 to 700 homeless people were living--from midnight to 6 a.m.
Authorities said they closed the parks because of an increase in crime there, often involving homeless people as victims.