Five of the 102 mobile homes purchased two years ago by the city of Los Angeles as shelters for the homeless are being used as temporary offices for city employees, including some who work at a parks maintenance yard near Rancho Park.
The Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners voted last week to formalize a little-known deal among the city's Housing Authority, the Community Redevelopment Agency and the Department of Recreation and Parks. Under the arrangement, the parks department has been unofficially using the five trailers as offices since early this year.
"It is upsetting to me," said Toni Reinis, southern region director of the California Homeless Coalition, which was one of several homeless groups that supported purchasing the trailers from a Utah power company. "I would like to see homeless families being sited because that was the purpose of the trailers."
'They Were Available'
The Housing Authority originally had been instructed by Mayor Tom Bradley to put the 102 trailers on land at public housing projects. When opposition of some project tenants made that task difficult, then-Housing Authority Executive Director Leila Gonzalez-Correa last fall offered to lend the five trailers to the parks department.
"We really needed the additional office space," said James E. Hadaway, general manager of the Department of Recreation and Parks. "I was talking to the head of the Housing Authority one day, and she said they were available."
Bradley spokesman Bill Chandler said the mayor supports the arrangement because the five trailers were unused and in storage. To date, the city has made 61 of the trailers available to homeless families. The remaining trailers are being stored in a maintenance yard near Torrance, city officials said.
"It wasn't like there has been a great demand from people asking for the trailers (to house the homeless)," said Michele Roth, a spokeswoman for the Housing Authority. "We have had requests, but we have had difficulties placing them."
Georgiann Rudder, who oversees city parks in the harbor area and Westside, said the trailers provide badly needed office space, storage facilities and rest rooms for maintenance employees in different parts of the city.
Rudder said the trailers give her work crews greater flexibility in caring for parks in the department's Pacific region, which extends from Mulholland Drive to Point Fermin. With trailers in both the Westside and South Bay, she said, crews are able to save time.
Under the agreement with the parks department, the Housing Authority can reclaim the five trailers on 30 days' notice. Chandler said that provision guarantees that the trailers will be available for transitional housing as soon as the city finds sites. In the meantime, he said, the city is also saving storage costs for the trailers, although he did not know how much.
"The trailers program is working, and it will continue to expand," Chandler said. "We will place 15 more in the near future. We are getting very close."
As of last month, according to city statistics, 178 families have been housed in the trailers since the first ones were placed at Ramona Gardens housing project in northeast Los Angeles early last year. With the assistance of local agencies, 75% of the families have found permanent housing during their stay in the trailers, city officials said.
But the city's success in helping homeless families by providing the temporary housing only makes the arrangement with the parks department more difficult to swallow for some activists for the homeless.
"If they can use them on recreation and parks property for offices, why can't they use them for homeless families on recreation and park properties?" asked Reinis, of the homeless coalition. "If they were able to site them for offices, they definitely should have been able to site them for families."
Others said they would rather see the trailers housing homeless families but had no objection to the city's using them in the meantime.
"I hate to see any resources being wasted when they can be used for something," said Lynn Davis, director of housing services for Volunteers of America, which provides social services for homeless families in five trailers in Hollywood. "There is a tremendous need for the trailers, but I think there needs to be care taken to find the most appropriate sites."
Chandler said the city has conducted an extensive search for available sites, but, he said, the parks property now being used for the five offices is not appropriate for homeless families.
"It is not simply a factor of finding a piece of property where you can fit a trailer," he said. "The whole point of this program is offering job training possibilities and helping to get the head of the homeless families to enter the work force. There certainly is a lot that goes into providing the services for the people who would live in the trailers."