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HOLLYWOOD : Mentors Guide Homeless Youths to Hope : Branch of Los Angeles Free Clinic provides medical care, counseling, job training and the confidence to succeed.

January 13, 1994|ADRIAN MAHER

Most of Hollywood's homeless youths spend their days and nights running a gantlet of predatory adults in the form of pimps, perverts and thieves. It is an atmosphere hardly conducive to the youngsters' learning to trust adults.

The Los Angeles Free Clinic's Hollywood Center, near Hollywood Boulevard and Gower Avenue, hopes to change that.

The clinic, a nonprofit human services organization, provides medical care, counseling, job training and placement to homeless youths in addition to running the 2-year-old center, which is recruiting mentors to guide street kids from homelessness to self-sufficiency.

"A lot of these kids don't have any relationship with a supportive adult," says Julie Jaskol, a spokeswoman for the center, whose mentors meet weekly with the youths to help them set goals or discuss their problems.

"Many of these children are ill-prepared for life's most basic routines--they've never been told what to wear, what to say, how to get a driver's license, get a job," Jaskol said.

The program has 15 mentors for 35 young people from 12 to 23.

The mentor program aims to have at least 20 volunteers by the end of the year to meet its increasing demand. Up to 80 youths a month are turned away because of a lack of mentors, said Stephen Knight, the program's chief administrator.

Knight said many volunteers have come away transformed. "Their perception of homeless youth has completely changed," he said. "We have lawyers and producers coming in here who used to see them as hoodlums. Now they see talented, smart kids with the same goals and desires as so-called normal children--they realize the problems are in their backgrounds."

Billy Hayes, the writer and producer whose life as a young drug smuggler inspired the 1978 movie "Midnight Express," has worked as a mentor for several years.

"I'm doing it as much for them as for myself--it's a way of balancing my karmic scales," he said. "I just helped someone learn how to drive the other day and I was (as) excited as they were. I'm contributing in a concrete, positive way. If you can't afford to give one hour a week, you're bulling someone. No one's that busy.' "

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