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Refuge for the Homeless in San Pedro Faces Closure : Safety: The building that houses The Crossing is seismically unsafe. Occupancy of the 1923 brick structure will be the subject of a hearing Nov. 19.

November 11, 1990|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jimmy Lloyd swears he would still be on the streets if it were not for The Crossing. Ed Baca figures it gave him a second chance when he was down and nearly out. And Ronald Pace says the Christian mission in downtown San Pedro has turned his life around, both physically and spiritually.

For four years, The Crossing has been a sort of temporary refuge for the homeless in San Pedro. A place that served up hot meals and hope. Four nights a week and Saturday mornings its doors were opened to the needy.

Now, however, the doors may be closed. And no one knows for how long.

The only tenant of a 1923 brick building at 7th and Centre streets, The Crossing has been told that it must move because the two-story structure has been judged seismically unsafe by Los Angeles' Building and Safety Department inspectors.

"From an earthquake standpoint, it's one of the worst buildings in San Pedro," said Jim Gatlin, a city building inspector.

The building's owner, Mercy Ships Ministries, has known of the building's problems since 1986, when city officials first ordered earthquake repairs. But a spokesman for the Texas-based Christian foundation says Mercy Ships did not have the estimated $100,000 needed to complete the repairs and, after some initial work last year, postponed further improvements because the building was put up for sale.

Now, however, city officials say they can no longer wait for the building to be made safe. A Nov. 19 hearing is scheduled at City Hall to discuss possible criminal penalties against Mercy Ships if the building is not repaired or closed. And Mercy Ships, awaiting sale of the property, has opted to board it up, forcing The Crossing to close.

"We need some help," said Harlan Heyer, The Crossing's executive director.

Since learning of the City Hall hearing recently, Heyer said, he and other volunteers with the agency have been hoping to win more time for relocating. "If we had one hope, it would be that the city would allow us to stay here a few more weeks," Heyer said.

The extra time, he said, would allow The Crossing not only to search for a new location but resume negotiations to buy the building from Mercy Ships, which has seen prior sales of the property fall out of escrow. "We'd like to stay here and think there's room to talk," said Heyer, whose agency has never been charged rent by Mercy Ships.

But Mercy Ships' official Richard Mackey says that the property has finally been sold and the buyer will close escrow next month. He declined to identify the buyer or say whether the new owner might allow The Crossing to stay.

"We are very interested in the ministry of The Crossing. It would be my desire to see them continue," Mackey said. "But it is not my place to talk about what the new owner will or will not be doing with the building."

Even if The Crossing were allowed to remain as a tenant, however, the building remains unsafe until it is repaired, city officials say.

"We don't like to vacate a building, especially one that provides a public help," building inspector Gatlin said. "But what do we do when a building is unsafe and the owner is either unwilling or unable to do the work?"

Ernesto Padilla, another city inspector, said he would be inclined to give The Crossing some additional time to relocate as long as there were assurances that the building would finally be repaired.

"If I could help them (The Crossing) get another week or two, I would say, 'Yeah. OK.' But it is an unsafe building."

Although Heyer and other volunteers at The Crossing understand the city's position, they are still hoping that the closure will only be temporary, that somehow they will reopen again to resume serving the community's homeless.

In the meantime, they say, they will ask the city at the Nov. 19 hearing for permission to temporarily reopen The Crossing until a new site is found.

"We don't have any beef with anyone," said Mark Granich, treasurer of the nonprofit agency. "We just want to present our case and see if we can get more time."

Without the reprieve, Granich said, The Crossing will have to suspend its services while it finds a new home and raises money to pay rent. For those who have come to rely on the agency, even a temporary closure is a bleak prospect.

"I don't want to see this place go," Ronald Pace, 37, said the other day outside The Crossing.

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