Advocates for the homeless suffered a major defeat this week in efforts to build a housing project outside the Ventura city limits, but immediately turned to the Salvation Army to discuss the possibility of building a shelter downtown.
The possibility that Project Understanding and the Salvation Army might join forces was raised just 24 hours after the Ventura City Council rejected a proposal to build a transitional housing project on county land two miles north of the city.
Almost in shock at the surprise City Council action--taken after city officials balked at meeting county requirements that they guarantee water to the project for 60 years--Project Understanding officials at first denounced the council vote as a "devastating setback" for the homeless in Ven tura.
Pat Driskell, executive director of Project Understanding, telephoned Salvation Army Capt. Ed Patterson on Tuesday, however, after being informed by local Salvation Army board members that the organization might be willing to add its resources to the hunt for a local shelter.
Under a tentative plan to be discussed by Driskell and Patterson in coming weeks, the Salvation Army might provide space for some housing units for the homeless at its Community Center at 155 S. Oak St. in downtown Ventura.
Project Understanding's contribution to the joint project would include construction costs, to come from a $200,000 grant already provided by the City Council on condition that the poverty agency find a suitable site in the next year.
The Salvation Army, which had unsuccessfully bid for that grant earlier this year, emphasized this week that any future involvement with Project Understanding is at a preliminary stage and must be approved by the Salvation Army's state leadership.
Nonetheless, Patterson said, his organization could initially provide about 10 beds for the homeless at its present location and could expand that after moving next year into a new site in East Ventura at Henderson and Petit roads if a decision is made to join Project Understanding.
"The most important factor in joining with Project Understanding would be the cooperation of agencies that would be produced," Pat terson said. "Second is the fact that they have the money, while we have the building. Third would be the opportunity of pooling our resources in this effort.
"We have to hash this over internally first," Patterson added. "If we were to go ahead, we could start with a 10-bed capacity by building onto our present location, and gradually expand when we move. I would say ultimately we could provide transitional housing for maybe 10 families and 10 to 15 single men and women."
Although any possible site for the homeless remains subject to City Council approval, initial reaction from council members to the prospect of the Salvation Army's involvement in the effort was favorable.
Has 'Most Experience'
Mayor Jim Monahan, who favored the Salvation Army over Project Understanding when the council was first debating the matter, said the Salvation Army has the most experience in operating homeless facilities, and he voiced some support for an Oak Street site.
"No matter where you go, you are going to have some opposition," Monahan said. "But I think a shelter can work there. I'm not going to rubber-stamp whatever they want, but they are probably the best-equipped group to do this sort of thing."
Also praising the prospect of a joint venture was Councilman Richard Francis, who stunned Project Understanding officials Monday by leading the council turn-around on the issue of build ing a housing project just off Ventura Avenue at Bard Lane.
"I love the idea of Project Understanding working with the Salvation Army," Francis said. "Project Understanding has a great track record of genuine concern for the poor, but they are naive politically. The Salvation Army has more political acumen and probably could pull it off."
Francis, one of the council's most vocal supporters of Project Understanding's earlier efforts to find a site for the homeless somewhere in the Ventura area, introduced the council motion killing the proposed county site after the issue of a 60-year guarantee of city water for the project was raised during a meeting last week called by Ventura County Supervisor Susan La cey.
Project Understanding had proposed building about 100 units of transitional housing on 4.5 acres of a decaying lemon orchard on the city's outskirts. The land would have been donated to the group by developer Richard Komorowski on condition that the City Council give him the right to build 77 houses on an adjoining 21 acres.
Though several council members had voiced unhappiness with Komorowski's handling of the proposal--the developer at first had of fered 25 acres to Project Understanding and proposed building 25 homes--the council was leaning toward support of the project until county officials raised the water issue.