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Officials Halting Cold-Weather Motel Vouchers : Homeless: New system ends squabbling between cities and county. Resources are being pooled together. Needy will be centrally housed where services are more accessible.

December 14, 1989|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Homeless Westside families with children will no longer be able to obtain vouchers for motel rooms under the cold-weather emergency shelter program, but will be centrally housed where services are more accessible, officials said.

The phasing out of the voucher program was announced this week at a news conference at which Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, Santa Monica Mayor Dennis Zane and a county representative presented this winter's cold-wet weather plan for the Westside.

In contrast to last year, when local jurisdictions quarreled over who was responsible for which homeless people, the two cities and the county are pooling resources and working together. "What we've decided is it's everyone's responsibility," Galanter said.

According to Gene Boutilier, an emergency services specialist for the United Way, people without shelter last year were transported past one shelter to another because of "city homeless versus county homeless." He called it a "bureaucratic travesty."

The city of Los Angeles and the county are suing each other over who bears the fiscal responsibility for providing care for the growing number of people living on the street, in a cardboard box or in their cars.

On the Westside, separate shelters will now be available for families with children, while single adults and couples will be sheltered at two armories. A families-only cold-weather shelter is opening this winter in the San Fernando Valley.

The shift away from motel-hotel vouchers for families represents an effort to more easily provide services in a cost-effective manner, Zane said. It is difficult to deliver services, including meals, to families spread through the community in motel rooms, he said. People with special needs, such as a disability, may still qualify for vouchers.

Moving away from vouchers and sharing the responsibility among jurisdictions translates into more homeless services for the Westside, the officials said.

In an interview, Boutilier said motel-hotel vouchers for families with children stretched the budget thin last year. In addition, affordable motel rooms were hard to come by on the Westside.

Typically, homeless shelters are segregated, with families with children separated from single adults, he said. "The purpose is not so much to discriminate but to provide protections and as high a comfort level as possible for the populations being served." It is hard to mix a person with mental illness with children left homeless by a temporary economic setback, he said.

The downside of centrally housing families is a loss of privacy. But Boutilier said that overall, "I think this is an improvement."

On the Westside, two armories, each of which can house 200, will be available for single adults and couples. The city of Los Angeles will operate the West Los Angeles Armory at 1300 Federal Ave., while the Culver City Armory, at 10808 Culver Blvd., will be run by the county.

The city of Los Angeles and Santa Monica will share responsibility for the new family emergency shelter, which has a 200-person capacity. On cold, wet nights, until Jan. 15, families will go to Penmar Recreation Center in Venice. From Jan. 15 to March 31, the shelter will be at Memorial Park in Santa Monica.

The cold-wet weather shelter program goes into effect when the forecast is for 40 degrees or 50 degrees with a 50% chance of rain.

The plan includes transportation pickup points in Venice and Santa Monica and a toll-free telephone number so those without shelter can find out when the weather is cold enough to trigger the emergency measures.

Mary Lee Gray, a deputy to County Supervisor Deane Dana, said there are an estimated 10,000 homeless people on the Westside.

Controversy erupted over housing the homeless in cold weather during the winter of 1987 after four street people died of hypothermia. Later that year, Gov. George Deukmejian ordered the National Guard to make its armories available for cold-weather shelters.

COLD SHELTERSWhen: Forecast is for temperature of 40 degrees or below or 50 degrees with a 50% chance of rain.

Where: Dec. 14 to Jan. 15, Penmar Park Recreation Center gymnasium, 1341 Lake St., Venice; Jan. 16 to March 31, Memorial Park, 14th Street and Olympic Boulevard, Santa Monica.

Transportation Sites: Venice Pavilion, 1530 Ocean Front Walk, Venice; Ocean Park Community Center, 1616 7th St., Santa Monica.

Pickup Hours: 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Information: (800)548-6047. Toll free.

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