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Around the Foothills

'We're looking at families, little children. They go without resources.'

November 29, 1990|DOUG SMITH

There are rumblings that the problem of homelessness may be coming up again in Glendale.

The problem never really goes away, of course. But it's one of those intractable human conditions, not unlike day laborers lining the city streets, that few people enjoy talking about. So they don't, until the burden of silence becomes too great and someone finally speaks up.

That happened a few years ago when the City Council briefly toyed with an ordinance that would have declared it illegal to be homeless in Glendale. As it deserved to, that proposal died, but more from the absurdity of its syntax than any lack of constitutional authority, it seems. Recently, Santa Barbara resurrected the idea in more logical language, prohibiting the homeless from sleeping in public places.

Now a downtown realtor who announced her candidacy for the Glendale City Council last week has spoken up on homelessness.

In the context of preserving Glendale's small-town charm, Mary Ann Plumley said she would like to review the Santa Barbara ordinance to see if it would apply here.

It could be a volatile issue.

To say "the problem of homelessness," by the way, is to be perfectly ambiguous, and there are those who use the phrase to mean the opposite of what Plumley did, referring to the problem experienced by those who are homeless.

That is how the subject was cast Tuesday when about 100 members of the Glendale Community Coordinating Council confronted the problem during a lunch meeting at Glendale Adventist Hospital.

A pamphlet on display, "How to Get Food and Money: The People's Guide to Welfare, Health and Other Services in Los Angeles County," left little doubt as to how the day's panel would lean.

Among those speaking were representatives from Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, the county Department of Public Social Services and Interfaith Hunger Coalition. Glendale Police Lt. Wayne Williams, who rounded out the panel, did his best to be non-confrontational.

There wasn't much new to report. The old news has just gotten more dire. The number of homeless is still on the rise in Glendale, and more than ever the new homeless are families.

"The population that is growing by leaps and bounds are those that you do not necessarily see," said moderator Lynda Rocamora, who oversees community social services for Temple Sinai of Glendale.

"We're looking at families, little children. They go without resources."

Theresa Burks of the Catholic Loaves and Fishes program said her agency on Orange Street sees 2,000 people a month for food, clothing, emergency shelter and referral services. About 10% of those are homeless, and half the homeless are in families, she said.

"We are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of homeless families," Burks said.

The word was the same from the Salvation Army.

"We've had over a 156% increase in the number of families we've seen from 1986 to 1989," said Lt. Lee Lescano, commanding officer of the Glendale center. "So, the typical person that we think of as homeless or in need is changing. We see more children, more women, more families."

So it went on down the line. Only Williams, who commands the department's juvenile bureau, offered a variant viewpoint.

Line officers also see the homeless population expanding, he said. But they are encountering more single people from broken families--who do not want help--and more mentally ill men and women living on the street because there are no clinics to help them and they are not ill enough to be committed.

"We're kind of under the gun, really, because the public expects us to do something about it, but we have no place to take these people," Williams said.

Rocamora asked each panelist to make one wish for the homeless.

"It's difficult to just say one wish," said Melanie Stephans of the Interfaith Hunger Coalition.

"I hate to boil this down to a crass solicitation," Lescano said. "But. . . ."

Collectively, the panel wished for volunteers and money, more affordable housing, full funding of lagging federal programs, health care for everyone, more attention to the needs of homeless children, and--from Williams--the arrest and incarceration of the 7% of the homeless who commit crimes.

Wishing can easily get out of hand: "What I would like to see, which is not really going to happen, is child abuse stopped," said Jane Piquette, administrative deputy of the Glendale office of the Department of Social Services.

Yet, in their wildest dreams, none dared wish for a constructive political debate on the homeless in Glendale.

Elective officeholders here, when they speak of homelessness at all, like to elevate it to the national scale, as a problem far too big for the city to tackle.

And so constructive action remains an individual burden to be carried by people such as the small, white-haired woman in the audience Tuesday who raised her hand.

"I would like to say that I do go down and feed the hungry, and it is one of the most satisfying things that I have done," Helen Gregory said.

She meant in her whole life.

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