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Drop-In Center Seeks OK to Offer Beds to Homeless : Ventura: The downtown, daytime facility for the mentally ill would expand to allow 10 clients to spend nights. Reactions of area business owners are mixed.

May 24, 1994|PHYLLIS W. JORDAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A downtown Ventura center for the mentally ill would expand its services to allow 10 homeless men and women to spend the night there, under a proposal before the city Planning Commission today.

The Turning Point Foundation, located at Thompson Boulevard near California Street, is now a daytime center where the mentally ill drop in for food, health care and companionship. The proposal would allow the facility to roll out as many as 10 beds each night for its homeless clients.

"We have a responsibility to all the members of our community," said Ted Temple, a Planning Commission member who favors the proposal. "I know there will be people affected by this . . . but you have to look at the overall good of the community."

But some neighbors fear that expanding the center programs would only increase loitering and vagrancy in the Thompson Boulevard area.

"Is this thing for the homeless or the bums?" asked Sammy Abdulhai at Clarks Liquors, on California Street near the center. "I don't care if some women and their children stay there. But I don't want bums from the (Ventura) river bottom.

"They are mentally ill. They panhandle. They harass my customers."

In part, Abdulhai's opposition arises from a 1991 incident, when he was shot by a panhandler he had asked to leave the storefront.

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Ventura County Superior Court Judge William Peck, who owns an apartment building next to the homeless center, also opposes the expansion of services. "We already have difficulty caused by the current operation, people urinating on our property, yelling back and forth," Peck said. "They have to go somewhere, and I wish they weren't right next to my apartment complex."

Other nearby businesses, though, voiced no opposition to the planned shelter.

"If they want to put beds over there and take them in, I'm for it," said Hilda Cooper, manager of Livery News & Books on California Street. "If they had a place to go to sleep, maybe things would get better" for them.

At B.J.'s Restaurant, across Thompson Boulevard from the center, employees routinely give food to the homeless visitors and let them use the restrooms. "I think that they seem to respect us," said manager Sabrina Yates.

When the city first approved the center in 1987, Cooper and other neighbors protested loudly. But since then, she said, the homeless people and staff members she met have persuaded her that the project is worthwhile.

Project manager Chris Dodge said, "The people around here really look at us as a service, because we keep people off the street."

The center has a roster of 269 mentally ill men and women who drop in at least three times a month. As many as 20% of them live in the Ventura River bottom or in abandoned cars around the city, Dodge said.

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On Monday afternoon, about 20 people filled the center, playing pool, listening to music and talking to each other. Turning Point expects to add laundry facilities and showers for the homeless as soon as promised funding is available.

With roll-away beds and partitions for privacy, the community center could turn into a shelter at night. In addition, Turning Point has already received approval to turn the second story of the building into single rooms for 10 homeless people. Construction on that project should begin in September.

Before becoming a nighttime shelter, the center has agreed to meet certain conditions, including:

* Homeless residents would spend no more than 90 nights in a row at the shelter;

* At least two employees would remain on duty at all times;

* Lighting would be added to the back of the building to discourage homeless people from sleeping there;

* Guests who leave the shelter after 9 p.m. would not be allowed back in the building.

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