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Single Parents Find Support in Shelter

December 05, 1990|SHERRY ANGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ANAHEIM — Greg Bradley is a quiet, serious man with a lot on his mind. Since the wife from whom he has long been separated brought their four children to him in June and said, "It's your turn," he's been raising them alone.

With the need to find a job and a permanent home weighing on him as he tries to keep four boisterous youngsters--three boys and a girl, ages 9 to 13--under control, he doesn't smile easily these days.

But his face lights up when his neighbor, Linda Rodriguez, drops in and asks "What's for dinner?" and teases him about his cooking. Rodriguez, a single mother with 4-year-old twins, has plenty of worries of her own. She doesn't have a job either, nor does she receive child support from her ex-husband. But her troubles haven't put a damper on her gregarious nature and infectious laugh, which have often helped Bradley keep his own problems in perspective.

Bradley and Rodriguez (who did not want her real name published) are among the estimated 5,000 to 10,000 homeless people in Orange County, but they consider themselves lucky.

Last summer, they both discovered the Halcyon/Anaheim Interfaith Shelter, where they found not only housing, food and a chance to save for the future, but also the unexpected bonus of a friendship that helps them face the hardships of homelessness.

Before they came to the Halcyon shelter--named for the legendary bird that calmed stormy seas--both Bradley and Rodriguez were living so close to the edge financially that they were unable to help themselves when a crisis threw them off balance.

Bradley, a 35-year-old high school dropout, had been working as a handyman and living in the garage of a house that his brother was renting when he suddenly gained custody of the kids. They lived with him in the 10-by-10-foot garage for a few weeks before the landlord forced them to move. Then they camped out in a tent at Featherly Park in Yorba Linda for two weeks while Bradley sought help through social service agencies that led him to Halcyon.

Rodriguez, who is also in her mid-30s, had been living in a motel with her twins, waiting to obtain a subsidized housing certificate through the city of Anaheim, when her purse was stolen. She lost the entire welfare payment she had just cashed, and she had no savings. She might have ended up on the street with her two toddlers if a friend hadn't directed her to Halcyon.

The shelter is giving both Bradley and Rodriguez a chance to become self-sufficient. Both say they would rather not have to depend on the shelter, but they had no other place to turn for help, and being there has given them a chance to look ahead with optimism toward a time when they can get off welfare and earn enough to pay for their own housing.

"Living here is not something to be ashamed of," says Rodriguez, who plans to brush up on her skills in insurance billing and return to work when her daughters start school. "It's an honest, decent way to get yourself back into the stream of life."

Situated at the end of a quiet residential street that is jarred periodically by the rattle of passing trains, this temporary haven for the homeless is a nondescript, tan apartment building badly in need of renovation.

But as homeless people living in the streets of affluent Orange County face the cold nights ahead, the families who have found refuge in shelters like Halcyon are especially grateful for their modest accommodations.

Beverly Perez, Halcyon's administrator, says most of the families who come to the shelter have been living either in their cars or in motel rooms paid for by social service agencies. When they leave, 88% are able to afford permanent housing, says Perez, whose staff works in an airy converted garage behind the apartment building.

The shelter, which now has about 50 residents in its 10 one-bedroom apartments and 30 families on a perpetual waiting list, accepts only people who have a history of employment and agree to save 80% of their salaries or welfare checks while they are receiving free room and board at Halcyon.

In return for their furnished apartment and weekly allotment of groceries, residents agree to have their savings records monitored and to do their share of chores. They also participate in counseling and educational programs designed to help them find employment and learn to manage their money and plan for the future.

"Many people live day-to-day, which is why they're in this predicament," Perez explains.

Most of the residents are single mothers who lack job skills and can't find work that pays enough to allow child care for their preschoolers, she says, adding that many have been traumatized by divorce or abuse.

Most residents leave the shelter within two months, but they may be allowed to stay longer if they need more time to save money so that they can make it on their own.

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