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2-Year Resident of Bench at City Hall Finds a Home

May 31, 1990|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Politicians and community leaders expressed relief last week when Creadel A. Jones pulled his suitcases out of six shopping carts and agreed to leave his bench in front of Glendale City Hall and move indoors.

For the past two years, Jones, a 50-year-old homeless man who says he once sang backup in a popular soul group, has lived on a concrete bench beneath shady trees at the southwest corner of the City Hall lawn. He has rarely spoken to passers-by while barricading himself behind a growing collection of shopping carts containing his possessions.

Glendale officials have been reluctant to force Jones out, citing humanitarian reasons as well as concerns that evicting a homeless man from City Hall could create bad publicity.

The bench that Jones called home is part of a veterans monument and, last week, as Memorial Day approached, city officials and a Salvation Army officer persuaded Jones to move, at least during the ceremonies. When Jones agreed, city officials saw an opportunity for a long-term solution and seized it.

After meeting with Mayor Larry Zarian, Jones agreed to move into a low-rent motel temporarily, then into an apartment. Working with the city, the Salvation Army promised to pay the apartment deposits that Jones said he could not afford.

For city officials, the relocation of Jones and his shopping carts eliminated an unsightly reminder of Glendale's homeless problem and reopened a parklike rest stop beside the government offices.

"We were trying to be tolerant, but we recognized we were going to have to confront the situation," City Manager David H. Ramsay said. "For a while, it was one or two carts and then it was six carts. It simply wasn't appropriate. For a civic center where a great deal of city business is conducted, it wasn't appropriate to have six shopping carts lined up."

Ramsay said the matter took so long to resolve, despite complaints from the public, because the city chose not to use legal tools to force Jones out. For example, Glendale police did not cite him for illegal possession of shopping carts.

For the Salvation Army, which plays a role in helping Glendale's homeless, Jones' resettlement provided a reason to rejoice. Representatives have been talking to Jones since 1986 but were never able to persuade him to accept help, said Lt. Kenneth Hodder, commander of the Glendale unit.

The Salvation Army receives city funding to provide temporary housing to the homeless through a motel voucher program. Last week, city officials awarded the organization a $200,000 federal grant to help it provide short-term shelter for homeless families.

Hodder had no harsh words on Glendale's handling of Jones.

"The city had every right to treat this as a criminal issue," he said. "The city decided not to do that. They wanted to address his fundamental need, his need for housing. I was just thrilled when they called the Salvation Army and asked us to get involved."

Nora J. Golsh, who spent three years raising thousands of dollars to build the veterans memorial, may have been the happiest to see the shopping carts vanish.

The stone and concrete monument, called a peace memorial, was dedicated in 1976. It includes a lighted globe, a plaque honoring those killed in the armed forces and the bench occupied by Jones.

"I was just sick when I saw that happen," said Golsh, whose son Stephen was killed in Vietnam. "It's like desecrating the memorial to me. It made me sick that the man lived there. I talked to the council people, and they said, 'We don't know how we can get rid of him legally.' "

Once, while placing flowers by the memorial, Golsh said she asked Jones if he was a veteran. She said the man, who was reclining on the bench, would not respond.

Golsh is a past national president of American Gold Star Mothers, an organization for women who have lost a child in war. The La Crescenta resident organizes Glendale's annual Memorial Day services.

After this year's service, Golsh admired the peace memorial, which was spruced up after Jones' departure. "It looks beautiful," she said. "It's so neat and clean."

City officials were also pleased. "I have always been concerned that one person had taken over an area that belongs to the public," Zarian said.

The mayor said he decided to meet privately with Jones last week to work out a solution. "He was very congenial," Zarian said. "He knew me by name."

Hodder said he had come to City Hall to talk to Jones and joined the mayor's meeting. "I happened to walk into the office while he was talking to him," Hodder said. "I honestly believe in situations like this that the Lord has a hand in it."

As a result of the meeting, Hodder said, Jones "finally felt he was cared about and loved."

Although Zarian and Hodder seem to have solved the homeless problem outside City Hall, both acknowledged that many people continue to sleep on benches or in doorways along Glendale's bustling Brand Boulevard.

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