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Group Working With Homeless Ordered by HUD to Close Shelter

February 15, 1990|PAUL FELDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles community organization whose leader recently erected a large circus tent to shelter the homeless has been ordered by federal officials to shut down an apartment building that has been used to house up to 10 homeless people because, HUD says, the group failed to meet its standards for building upkeep and let the property taxes lag.

The local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has informed Concerned Citizens for Community Improvement that it must return to HUD a two-story stucco apartment house at 7710 S. Figueroa St. by early March. HUD spokesman Scott Reed said that the building, which had previously been in foreclosure, was temporarily turned over to CCCI more than a year ago for $1 for use as a shelter.

Reed said the group's problems had to do with building upkeep and taxes, but he said Wednesday that he could not immediately give specifics on what is wrong with the building.

He did say that the group is "responsible for maintenance and care of the properties and they (the buildings) were not cared for as much as HUD expects."

CCCI head Glenn Swain said Wednesday that his wife, Sandra, has flown to Washington to meet with HUD officials to appeal the decision of HUD's Los Angeles office.

Swain said that if he is forced to close the Figueroa Street apartment house, the 10 occupants, who have lived there from five days to four months, would be forced to move to other shelters or return to the streets.

"I've come here from El Paso looking for a job and I just don't have any other home right now," said Nicolas Barnol, 30, a resident for five days.

Reed said HUD would "work with anyone who might be living in that home to find an alternative solution," but could provide no specifics.

Meanwhile, HUD regional spokesman Dirk Murphy, in San Francisco, said that helping the displaced homeless find new shelter is "basically the responsibility of the nonprofit organization."

Swain, who works as a supervising tree surgeon for the Department of Water and Power, said he believes his grass-roots charity organization is victim of overly strict bureaucratic standards.

"We are told that the program is not intended for small nonprofit groups," he said. "But I feel that these groups are the backbone of homeless programs."

Swain conceded that CCCI has failed to pay $1,400 in property taxes and has failed to fully upgrade the apartments. But he said that his organization could receive a state emergency shelter grant to pay for taxes and repairs if HUD would allow the group to continue to use the property.

Last December, Swain, using his own funds and donations from the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, set up a 40-by-60-foot tent at Slauson Avenue and Main Street to house nearly 100 homeless people. The shelter, on property owned by the church, remains in operation. CCCI, founded by the Swains in 1983, also operates two homeless shelters and has run a community kitchen--all on property the couple own in South-Central Los Angeles.

HUD officials agreed to lend CCCI the Figueroa Street apartment house as well as buildings in West Covina and Compton under a Dollar Lease program, through which nonprofit agencies could operate emergency shelters for the homeless. The three residences were foreclosed properties that HUD ordinarily would have sold to the highest bidder.

The Compton shelter, in a drug-plagued neighborhood, was voluntarily closed several months ago, Swain said. The West Covina shelter, which currently houses a family of five, also has been ordered closed by HUD.

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