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WESTLAKE : Filipino Veterans Shelter in Jeopardy

October 04, 1992|IRIS YOKOI

Burdened by county budget cuts and a recent heavy influx of immigrant World War II veterans, the Filipino-American Service Group Inc. is concerned that plans to expand its transitional housing program could be jeopardized without more funds.

Money woes have left the 11-year-old agency three months in arrears on rent for its eight-room emergency shelter for homeless senior citizens and could dash plans to open a 12-room home in six months. If the county grant money the group needs to operate the 12-room house materializes, the agency will vacate the smaller shelter.

The agency is counting on its only source of private support, an annual fund-raising dinner, to bring in at least $10,000. With a growing demand for services, the group recently used about $540,000 in state and city housing funds to purchase the 12-room home on Park View Street that will house as many as 20 people at one time. But the uncertain financial outlook leaves the future of the home in doubt.

The need for a larger home has taken on greater urgency in the past year. As one of the few Los Angeles agencies that specifically helps Filipino immigrants, the center has been inundated with more than 100 World War II veterans. The veterans arrived after the 1990 Naturalization Act, which enabled Filipino soldiers who fought for Allied forces to become U.S. citizens.

"Most of them arrive and they don't even know where they're going," said Connie Guerrero, executive director of the group.

Such was the case with Pastor Amarillento, a 74-year-old army veteran who fought under Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Amarillento arrived in Downtown Los Angeles in mid-December, a day after he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in San Francisco. He said he planned to stay with a cousin, but learned from a cab driver that her home was in Orange County, 50 miles away.

Penniless because a pickpocket took his last $200 on his bus trip to Los Angeles, Amarillento spent his first three nights in the city sleeping on sidewalks.

On the fourth day, Amarillento sought help at City Hall, where a Filipino aide to Mayor Tom Bradley fed him some cake and an apple and then took him to the Filipino-American Service Group center.

"I was frightened because I thought he was going to bring me to the jail," Amarillento said. "But we drove and drove and he came here. There was a seniors' Christmas party going on, and they said, 'We've got all you want to eat.' "

Amarillento lived in the group's transitional home at 156 N. Robinson Blvd. for a few months before moving to a low-cost apartment that the agency helped him find.

The agency opened the eight-room transitional home in 1989, using county and state grants. The home is leased from another private agency which has been patient about the past-due rent. Annually, about 100 senior citizens use the shelter, which provides free medical treatment and counseling and help finding jobs, low-cost housing and public benefits.

"Without (the agency), I don't know what I'd do," Amarillento said.

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