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HOTEL WITH A HEART : YWCA Hotel for Women Gives Not Only Shelter but Hope for the Future

September 01, 1989|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

At 5 feet, 11 inches and 190 pounds, she seems an unlikely target for a mugging.

But Carol Lockhart, a one-time nightclub bouncer, was sitting on the lawn in a Santa Ana park and had just gotten to her feet to check on a woman companion using the restroom when someone came up from behind and struck her on the head with a wine bottle.

Lockhart says she was hit repeatedly by two women before she fell down, her head bleeding.

"It was horrible," she said. "I just kept getting hit."

The two muggers wound up with $50 from Lockhart's coin purse; Lockhart wound up with 20 stitches in her head.

Although circumstances forced Lockhart, 39, to live on the street for nearly two months this summer, she said she had never been mugged before.

Ironically, she was a resident at the YWCA Hotel for Women in downtown Santa Ana--a safe haven for homeless women--when the attack occurred recently.

But she is thankful she had a place to go.

After the mugging, she returned to the hotel where a staff member called the police and paramedics, who took her to the hospital.

"If that had happened to me while I was living on the streets, I don't know what would have happened," said Lockhart, seated in the quiet hotel lobby a few days later. "I probably would have fallen down and just kept bleeding. Somebody told me, 'You're lucky to be alive.' "

For the estimated 4,000 homeless women living on Orange County's occasionally mean streets, robbings and muggings--or worse--are not uncommon.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the women, by the time they get here, have been robbed, or they have had their purses stolen," said Dianne Russell, director of the Hotel for Women. "They tend to not have cars, are out in dangerous times of the night, and they tend not to be in a safe place. Having been assaulted is pretty much standard, many of them physically and some of them sexually."

Since it opened in March of 1987, the 19-room, 38-bed YWCA Hotel for Women has provided temporary housing and support for about 775 women from all walks of life, who, for a variety of reasons, have found themselves homeless.

The Hotel for Women was built over the gymnasium of the existing YWCA of South Orange County on North Broadway. Designed for what the Y calls "women in transition," the $1-million hotel was built with city, county, state and federal money--along with donations from individuals, foundations, corporations, service groups and churches.

To eliminate the need to continually seek outside funds for the hotel, the YWCA of South Orange County has launched a $5-million endowment campaign led by Virginia McDermott, former senior vice president of Allergan; Betsy Sanders, vice president and general manager of Nordstrom, and Sandi Weber of Newport Beach.

Income from the endowment would pay the hotel's $268,000 annual operating costs and fund services such as counseling on weekends and a mentoring program with businesswomen in the community. In addition, two apartments would be made available as "second-stage housing" for women who have not been able to find a place to live within 60 days.

The hotel is a clean, well-lighted place--an oasis of security bathed in trendy pastel shades of peach and sea-foam green.

"I figured there would be cockroaches all over the place, but this place is gorgeous," Lockhart raved.

For up to 60 days, residents receive free food and shelter in one of the hotel's small, double-occupancy rooms. Six low-cost rental rooms--$294 a month, with breakfast and dinner included--also are available for a maximum of 30 days.

The hotel's residents, who typically hear about the hotel from other agencies or by word of mouth, have ranged in age from 18 to 83. (The latter was a woman who was forced to leave her apartment when her Social Security check did not arrive on time.)

While there, the women receive job-finding assistance and, if necessary, referrals to financial, legal and health resources. They also meet individually once a week with a counselor to discuss whether they are progressing with their goals, such as finding employment or taking care of health or legal problems. And each Tuesday evening, they meet as a group to talk about everything from individual problems to complaints about the menu.

In exchange for room and board, the women are required to take care of their own rooms and do assigned chores such as helping set up for meals, cooking and housekeeping. They also must follow the house rules: They can't smoke in the building and must adhere to a 10 p.m. curfew.

Only women willing to work toward supporting themselves and finding their own permanent housing are eligible to stay. Those with serious problems involving behavior or mental health--and those who are abusing drugs or alcohol--are not accepted.

"They must be willing to help themselves because they're the only ones who can do it," said Mary Douglas, executive director of the South Orange County YWCA, who says there has been a full house since the hotel's doors opened 2 1/2 years ago.

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