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Community News: South

WATTS : Donations Bail Out Homeless Shelter

October 02, 1994|LUCILLE RENWICK

Thanks to donations ranging from a couple of bucks to thousands of dollars, a transitional shelter for homeless families has relocated after a shaky month that left it on the brink of shutting down.

The Family Services Center was out of cash and facing overdue bills in August when the owner of its rented building at 250 W. 120th St. decided to sell the property and gave the shelter one month to vacate. Sarah Smith, who founded the shelter 1 1/2 years ago, feared that the dozen or so families living there while seeking permanent housing would be pushed back to the streets.

But a plea from Assemblyman Willard H. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount) and some media attention about Smith's plight helped bring in donations ranging from $5 to a $5,000 check from an anonymous donor. Smith has now resettled her facility in a collection of motel-style apartments at 122nd Street and Avalon Boulevard.

"I feel like someone up there is smiling down on me," said Smith, 49, who also serves as director of the facility, which helps find permanent shelter for homeless families. "I think someone was really looking out for these families because they really didn't have (anywhere) else to go."

A week before her scheduled Sept. 7 eviction from 250 W. 120th St., Smith struck a deal to lease the Avalon Boulevard apartments. Over the subsequent four days, Smith and volunteer helpers worked on crude renovations on the buildings, all of which had broken windows, filthy carpeting, dingy walls and lacked heaters. Smith's brother and a friend helped with the maintenance, and some tenants cleaned and painted their own rooms.

"When I first looked at the place, I got real worried 'cause it looked bad and I didn't think we could live here," said Xavier Seals, 27, who moved his wife and six children from the old building into the new shelter. "But Miss Sarah said to have faith and do a little bit of cleaning, and now it looks pretty good."

Of the nine separate bungalow-like apartments, seven house families who double or triple-up depending on space. Seals shares the two-bedroom apartment with a single woman and her baby.

Smith said she is looking into buying the building. All she needs now is to raise the $360,000 price tag.

"There's always a hurdle," Smith said of the fund-raising task ahead of her. "I got over the biggest one getting into this place. So raising a few more dollars shouldn't be too bad--I hope."

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