The sprawling five-bedroom house near the border of Los Angeles and Culver City is ideal for children, with its large, fence-enclosed yard providing plenty of room for romping and playing.
But a year after the nonprofit group Caring for Babies With AIDS began paying rent on the facility, in hopes of turning it into a group foster home for children with the deadly illness, not one baby has been cared for at the home.
Sherry Szeles, who has worked as director of the program for two months, said the project has not opened for business because it has come up against one bureaucratic snag after another. The latest problem, she said, is that her organization cannot find an insurance company to provide liability and worker's compensation coverage, which it is required by law to carry.
"Everyone seems to be blocking us everywhere we go," Szeles said.
The group home would be the first of its kind on the West Coast, say those who work with AIDS projects.
But the agonizingly slow process in opening the center should be a lesson to other groups wishing to set up such a facility, Szeles said.
The group has raised thousands of dollars in private and public grant money to carry it through this far, but the money has been used to maintain an empty house.
The county appropriated $40,000 in June to pay for a director's salary after a study showed there was a need for a group foster home for babies infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. Eventually, the $3,500 per child that the county allocates to foster care providers will pay for most of the program's $320,000 annual operating budget. The group plans to find the rest of the money through donations and grants.
Geraline Clark, one of the group's founders, said paying rent on the large house since last year "has placed a financial drain on us." But in order to apply for state licensing, the group had to have a facility and submit a floor plan.
Clark also said the group did not want to give up the house, even though the monthly rent went up from $800 to $1,800 three months ago, because it is ideally suited for their needs and because real estate is so expensive and difficult to find in Los Angeles.
A nonprofit organization called Christopher Street West gave the group a $6,000 "emergency grant" to help pay the rent.
But a formidable stumbling block right now is acquiring worker's compensation and liability insurance.
The home has already been turned down by several insurance carriers, and a broker working to find them a carrier has warned that coverage will probably cost double the $17,000 they had estimated.
Also, Szeles just found out that the state probably will not allow the group to operate with a community care license--which group officials were planning to obtain. Instead, they may have to seek a license for a health care facility, which has different requirements and a longer application process that may further delay the date of the foster care home's opening.
County officials say they are not discouraged by the amount of time it has taken to get the project off the ground. John Schunhoff, assistant director of the county's AIDS Program Office, which authorized the $40,000 grant, said he expects the home to be operating by the end of the year. He said his office will evaluate the grant to make sure any delays are reasonable.
Mary Strong, a group home developer with the county's Foster Care program, said she believes that the program is "on track."
"We wouldn't have encouraged them to do this project if we didn't believe it was badly needed," she said. "Starting a group home has to do lot of things. . . . It generally takes any facility a year to get going. But I'm not discouraged."
Clark, a former vocational counselor with the state Department of Rehabilitation, said she got the idea of starting a group home for AIDS babies 3 1/2 years ago, when she learned that some foster parents were refusing to take children who had tested positive for the HIV virus.
Until homes were found for the children, they were being placed in county shelters to await placement.
"When I heard that they were taken to live there pending placement, I said to myself, 'No, this is not acceptable,' " she said. "No child deserves to live out (its life) in an institution."
She and several friends, most of whom work in the social services field, formed the idea of founding Caring for Babies With AIDS. They anticipated that many of the children would not yet have the symptoms of AIDS-related illnesses, and therefore would need room to live and play like other children.
Officials who work in the AIDS and child care fields say there is definitely a need for such a program.
Figures collected through the end of October show that there are now 199 cases of children under the age of 13 in Los Angeles County who have tested HIV positive, according to Dr. Lorene Mascola, who is conducting a study for the county's Department of Health.