PASADENA — For many of the San Gabriel Valley's homeless--the poor, the addicted--there is help for the asking.
Then someone like Michael Hanrahan comes along.
He is broke, without a home, and deaf.
"It is much more difficult to place someone when they have an additional handicap," said Burt Wallrich, a spokesman for INFO Line, an information and referral hot line for emergency and non-emergency care in Los Angeles County. "Some shelters can't deal with the disabled because of their facilities. Others simply will not."
When Hanrahan, 36, entered the United States from Canada four months ago, he was determined to find a way to live and work in this country, which he says offers more opportunities for deaf people to lead normal lives.
"There was no place that could really help me though," Hanrahan said through a sign-language interpreter. "Everything I tried to do, I faced walls of frustration."
Hanrahan spent his first few months in the United States moving from one shelter to another in Los Angeles' Skid Row area. "I was able to find food and temporary shelter," Hanrahan said. "But no one could communicate with me or help me with my problems with immigration." Hanrahan has been trying to get working papers from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Although his problems are extraordinary, they illustrate the difficulties handicapped people have in gaining access to the social service network, which in the San Gabriel Valley includes agencies such as Union Station/The Depot, Door of Hope, Our House and Foothill Jobs.
After being shuffled from shelter to shelter, Hanrahan landed at Union Station/The Depot in Pasadena about two months ago, having been referred there by a Catholic Charities service in Glendale.
Although Union Station primarily works with male substance abusers, officials accepted Hanrahan because there was no other place to which he could be referred.
The shelter has been trying to help him for the past few months.
"My problem is difficult for them to handle because they specialize in alcohol and drug addiction," Hanrahan said. "My problems were with immigration and my inability to communicate."
Shortly after Hanrahan's arrival, word spread that Union Station had taken in a deaf man. Several days later, two more deaf people showed up. Both were foreigners, both had been homeless for about 14 months and both were fighting deportation.
"After that, I received three or four calls a day for several days asking if we could accept more hearing impaired," said Larry Corpening, a Union Station case manager working with Hanrahan and the other new arrivals. "We don't have an interpreter and I don't speak sign. We really are not set up to handle this type of problem."
Corpening said that since the three deaf people arrived at Union Station, he has had to cut his caseload in half to try to help them.
"There is discrimination against people with handicaps because they are more difficult to help," Corpening said. "It's not that shelters don't want to help them. They just don't have the facilities or expertise."