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Community News: South

WATTS : Homeless Shelter Is Facing Closure

August 21, 1994|LUCILLE RENWICK

After a year of closure threats, the doors of a homeless shelter at 250 W. 120th St. are scheduled to be shut at the end of the month, putting more than 100 residents back on the streets.

At a meeting Tuesday night, more than 20 people, including representatives of several elected officials, brainstormed about how to find at least temporary residences for the 115 people staying at the Family Services Center. The director of the organization has sent out a plea for community leaders and elected officials to help keep a roof over the heads of the families.

Sarah Smith, founder and director of the 1 1/2-year-old facility, said the center has been struggling for the past several months to pay overdue bills.

Smith started the Family Services Center in January, 1993, to assist homeless families--couples and single parents with children--in southern Los Angeles. The shelter operates from a former hospital that had been abandoned for about three years before Smith's organization occupied and renovated parts of it.

"I've wanted to do this for a long time," Smith said about helping homeless families. "I found a lot of need for homeless families so I wanted to do something to help them."

Smith's troubles began in March, shortly after she assumed the lease for the shelter. She faced more than $22,000 in utility bills, mostly from the owner of an adult day-care center that shared part of the building until it closed in October, 1993. Smith negotiated with the Department of Water and Power to reduce the charges to $9,000, but the center has struggled to raise funds to pay the bill, she said.

The biggest blow came in April when the building's owner, Dr. Herbert Singer, gave Smith three days' notice to vacate the building, she said. After going to court in May, Smith was allowed to keep the shelter in the building until Sept. 1.

With no money and the end of the month quickly approaching, Smith said she is out on a limb again. Representatives for Assemblyman Willard Murray (D-Paramount), City Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., Mayor Richard Riordan and County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke agreed to write letters to the building's owner requesting that the shelter be allowed to remain in the building until another location is found.

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