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Help for Homeless and City Policies

May 06, 1990

In my opinion the story about the homeless and almost-homeless (Times, April 1) was right on the mark. Interfaith Community Outreach moved to El Monte from Arcadia because that was where the majority of the clients came from. In the first few months of 1990, IFCO served an average of 6,000 people per month. About 90% of the clients list El Monte as their home.

In the spring of 1989, the IFCO board realized that the program was outgrowing its space at the First United Methodist Church, and they started looking for another location. They found one in a home on Basye Street. The board had two options: to move quietly and not worry about zoning regulations or to play square and approach the city for a conditional use permit. They decided to play square. In the process, I talked with city planning staff several times. They assured me, an IFCO board member, that the new location was allowable and gave me information on how to apply.

But when I tried to submit the application, I was told in no uncertain terms by another planning staff member that IFCO's plan was not allowable. The staff member refused even to accept the application.

In October, the county asked IFCO to operate a cold weather program, vouchering homeless people into shelters on cold and rainy nights. This was a last-minute request because no other agency was willing to take it on. As it turned out, operating this program from IFCO's quarters was a big mistake. It brought in clients that IFCO does not normally serve, at a time of day that IFCO was not normally open. A few of those clients misbehaved. This caused a good deal of concern to IFCO's landlord and a few of the neighbors.

To solve the problem, IFCO tried to find a new location in El Monte, but city departments would not allow IFCO to move this program elsewhere in El Monte. As a result, it was moved to Baldwin Park.

In my opinion, IFCO has seen a need, and it has been doing its level best to meet that need. Everything went well as long as IFCO's existence was not made officially known to the city. But when IFCO sought to play the game square and aboveboard, many roadblocks were placed in its way. My opinion is based on my actual front-line experience as a volunteer, working with IFCO clients and going through the process of trying to relocate. There are now some indications that some of the roadblocks are being removed.

It is my earnest hope and prayer that the need for IFCO and related organizations will someday disappear.

HOWARD A. TOPP

San Marino

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