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Arden House Celebrates Its Reprieve From Closure

September 28, 1989|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

They are a close-knit lot, the bunch that meets regularly on the second floor of the grand old Glendale Moose Lodge building.

Old and young, men and women, white, black, brown, they share a common bond: knowing firsthand the pain of being cruelly shunned as outcasts or slighted for their shortcomings.

They are members of the special fraternity of Arden House, a day-care center for severely and chronically mentally ill adults.

On Tuesday, they had reason to celebrate.

That is when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors partially restored funding to some mental health facilities, including Arden House.

Dozens of Arden House members whooped and cheered when Anne Middaugh, program director, shouted the good news after receiving a phone call from her supervisor at the Verdugo Mental Health Center, which operates the program.

"We're ecstatic and very relieved," Middaugh said, adding that many members had complained that they had been unable to sleep nights because of worry over the future of the program, which had been in jeopardy for months after Gov. George Deukmejian cut state funding to counties last summer.

The supervisors allocated $4.7 million from a property tax windfall. Arden House, which costs $250,000 a year to operate, relies heavily on state funds channeled through the county. State money accounts for 80% of the annual $1.8-million budget at the Verdugo center, a private, nonprofit organization that provides contract services to the county.

Staff Cut Loomed

Without the supervisors' action, the center would have been forced to cut its staff by 20% Friday, significantly curtailing the scope of the day-care program, which regularly serves about 120 mentally ill residents of Glendale, Burbank, Eagle Rock and Highland Park, Middaugh said.

The cuts were threatened at a particularly critical time, following closure in June of the East San Fernando Valley Mental Health Center in North Hollywood, which referred 88 patients to the Verdugo center, said Lynn Brandstater, Verdugo's director of administrative services.

The caseload in Glendale is expected to increase again Monday with the closing of the West Valley Mental Health Center in Canoga Park, one of eight county clinics where services will cease or be severely curtailed this week.

For weeks, members of Arden House wrote letters to their state and local representatives pleading that the Glendale program be spared. Fifteen members Tuesday joined more than 700 other mentally ill patients and counselors who demonstrated for more funds before the supervisors.

"I got pretty shook up," Charlotte Bear of Burbank said when she first heard of the threat to Arden House, where she is learning secretarial skills. Middaugh said part of the center's program is to teach clients skills that will help them find work.

Dowdy Quarters

The program features daylong, largely unstructured activities in the dowdy, unheated and unair-conditioned upstairs of the Moose Lodge at 357 Arden Ave.

Members are assigned to work units such as the kitchen crew that prepares the daily lunch. The tablecloths in the dining area were sewn by members, who are now making handcrafted Christmas decorations.

Remedial classes are taught by an adult education teacher from Glendale Community College, and a pool table and game areas are provided to encourage members to socialize.

Bink Fiese, a counselor who has been with the program since it began almost eight years ago, said the fraternity-like atmosphere of the center helps members develop their personalities in a safe and stable setting. "There is no place else for them to go," he said.

Some Find Jobs

There is no limit on how long members can participate. But many have dropped out of regular attendance after finding part-time jobs in the community, Fiese said. He estimated that the program costs taxpayers about $25 a day for each of those who use it, far less than the alternative faced by many of them--hospitalization.

Yvonne Whitrock, 60, said she "was a bag lady" before she joined Arden House three years ago on the advice of a doctor. The mother of three, who gave up her youngest to a foster-care home, said: "I lived on the street at Brand and Colorado for two years. I had a lot of friends on the street but they're mostly all dead now. I see a lot of new people on the street. I don't know them, but I feel bad for them."

She now has her own apartment in Los Angeles and gets up long before dawn on weekdays to ride two buses to the center, where she helps plan and prepare the meals and assists in the remedial education class. "This is home for me," Whitrock said.

Members of Arden House will quietly celebrate their victory with a special lunch today--homemade enchiladas. Whitrock has baked a cake.

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