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Grace House Is Home to Homeless Mothers : Shelter: Newly dedicated YWCA center is county's first to specialize in transitional housing for women and their children.

November 14, 1991|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Grace House, a new transitional shelter catering only to homeless mothers and their children, was dedicated Wednesday by the YWCA South Orange County and about 100 supporters and volunteers.

The cheery four-bedroom flat, located above a child-care center, was renovated through the combined efforts of the YWCA, HomeAid Orange County and the Homeless Foundation of Orange County. It has a communal kitchen, living room and dining room.

Eight to 10 mothers and children are expected to move in later this month. They will be selected from among the residents of the YWCA's emergency Hotel for Homeless Women located a few blocks away.

To qualify for the limited beds, the women must have jobs and will be charged a $425 monthly fee that will include child care at the attached center.

"They'll have support and know they can stay there until they can make the next transition to independent living," said Mary Douglas, director of the YWCA.

The facility is the first in the county to specialize in transitional shelter for homeless mothers and their children, Douglas said. It is also the first to offer child care--a key factor in helping the women become self-supporting, she said.

"It's a package," she said. "Transitional housing, child care, support services of the Y and counseling."

Families with children are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, homeless advocates report. Most of those families are headed by women. In Orange County, an estimated 40% of 11,000 homeless people are children.

In recent months, the YWCA has seen an increase in the numbers of single mothers who became homeless when they lost their jobs, said Dianne Russell, director of YWCA transitional housing services. "People get caught in a downward spiral," she said. "Single mothers who have a full-time job lose that, take one that pays less, or two part-time jobs that have no benefits, then they lose that job and can't find anything else. Especially with the cost of living going up."

When the Hotel for Homeless Women opened five years ago, Russell said she had to turn away five women a day for lack of space. Now she said she is turning away 20 women a day. The 38-room hotel offers emergency shelter for 60 days.

Observing the women who came to the hotel, Douglas said the need for the transitional shelter became apparent. More often than not, social workers from the county's Protective Services Department had removed their children from their care, and placed them in a foster home. The mothers were unable to have their children returned until they had re-established themselves, had a permanent residence and proved they could take care of themselves.

In one tragic case, Douglas said, a mother had been living with her children in their car. When they were in school, she came to the hotel for food and clothing. One day, when she went to pick them up, she learned the social workers had removed them from the school and placed them in temporary custody.

"The reality is, they were surviving, keeping themselves together. It was remarkable, they had the support of one another."

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