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Stalled by Opponents, Homeless Center May Be Scrapped : Social services: The project would offer meals, job counseling and other help in a single location. But nearby residents and business owners fear a negative impact on the neighborhood.

March 28, 1993|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — It's a noble endeavor: Establish a center to provide meals, job counseling and a multitude of other services to help the homeless get back on their feet.

But it's the kind of noble endeavor that almost no one wants in his back yard.

As a consequence, Long Beach's proposed multi-service center for the homeless is in jeopardy.

Neighborhood opposition blocked an effort last year to set up such a center on Pacific Avenue. And now a proposal to set up shop in West Long Beach is under fire.

So, Christian Outreach Appeal, a nonprofit organization that has been spearheading the effort, is about ready to give up.

Director Jack Jensen said last week that his organization cannot afford further delays.

"We'll either get approval and do it in the next couple of months or we'll forget about it," he said.

The City Council approved the concept of developing such a center three years ago. And now city officials are working with Christian Outreach Appeal to find an acceptable site for the center.

The focus is on a building at 1700 Santa Fe Ave. in a largely industrial area of West Long Beach. But nearby business owners and residents, fearful that homeless people will loiter, are up in arms. They've made it clear in recent weeks that they do not want the center.

"Our concern is they're going to be dumping people off from the problem that they have downtown," said Gil Ficke, who owns a truck service station and mini market a couple of doors from the Santa Fe Avenue building. "It's not conducive to our line of work to have people bumming money."

So city officials are trying to come up with incentives--such as a community police center in the neighborhood--to make the proposed homeless facility more palatable, Deputy City Manager Henry Taboada said.

"We hope to be able to offer them some benefits," Taboada said. "We'll try to make this a win-win situation for the community and for homeless advocacy."

The prospects are uncertain. Elected officials say they want a homeless service center, but they also understand the objections.

"They have a lot of justifiable fears as to what that population is going to do to their neighborhood and their property values," Mayor Ernie Kell said.

The most recent survey, in 1987, indicated that Long Beach has about 3,000 homeless people. Officials estimate that the homeless population has grown, but no one knows how much.

Christian Outreach Appeal has provided meals and other services to the homeless and poor for more than 12 years at its headquarters at 3rd Street and Linden Avenue in downtown Long Beach, a building too small to house a multi-service center.

Christian Outreach and eight other agencies, including the Traveler's Aid Society and the Alpha Project, would combine forces at the multi-service center.

The idea is to concentrate services in one building so homeless people can spend less time going from one agency to another and more time securing a job and a place to live.

The center's services would include food, clothing, first aid, showers and bathrooms, child care, employment assistance, drug and alcohol treatment programs, programs for the physically and mentally disabled and counseling.

The center would refer the homeless to area shelters and other housing. But about 35 men, participants in a drug and alcohol abuse program, would stay at the center, Jensen said.

Christian Outreach, which is funded through local churches, donations and private and government grants, first tried to expand its program last summer. It wanted to buy a building on Magnolia Avenue, but the real estate deal fell through.

The organization then bought a building on Pacific Avenue near 17th Street.

The city had committed $90,000 from the mayor's homeless fund to help set up the multi-service center there. City officials have been raising funds to benefit the homeless for more than two years, and the fund now has about $130,000, the mayor said.

But the expansion plans were dashed late last year by strong neighborhood opposition. Opponents said it would hurt local businesses and present a risk to students at nearby Washington Middle School and a day-care center.

"We don't want to fight with anybody," Jensen said. "We want to help people."

City officials are trying to help Christian Outreach find a new site and develop an operating plan for the service center that would be less objectionable.

At its current location, for example, Christian Outreach provides about 125 breakfasts and 175 dinners a day to street people who are then free to leave, Jensen said.

At the new center, meals would be provided only to people who try to improve their situation through some of the center's other programs. That should keep loitering to a minimum, officials said.

But some of the details of the operation are still being worked out. Christian Outreach wants to allow men in its alcohol and drug rehabilitation program to live at the center.

City officials want the center vacant at night.

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