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Group Opens Third Facility for Mentally Disabled

October 02, 1994|LESLIE BERESTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For several years, a Wilshire-based group of nonprofit developers called A Company of Friends has dedicated itself to providing the mentally disabled with a chance to live on their own. Last week, the developers opened their newest affordable housing facility in the renovated Parker Hotel at 725 S. Witmer St.

It is the third facility opened by A Company of Friends, which was recently named "developer of the year" by the Southern California Assn. of Nonprofit Housing. Two of their facilities are in Hollywood, and four more are scheduled to open before December throughout the city.

"We're investing in areas outside of Skid Row, because mental illness knows no neighborhood boundaries" said Robert Sanborn, executive director of the group. Most services catering to impoverished mentally disabled people have traditionally been located in the Skid Row area, he said.

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The Parker Hotel is a three-story brick structure, about 50 years old, that the developers acquired 2 1/2 years ago from an owner accused of slum violations. It will house 32 people who can take advantage of on-site counseling and social services as well as job training, employment referrals and a meal program.

A Company of Friends spent about $1.7 million in public and private funds renovating the rooms, which will each have a private bathroom. A community room and kitchen is located on each floor.

Although the facility is targeted for mentally disabled people capable of living on their own, six units will be reserved for low-income residents infected with HIV.

Many people with mental illnesses tend to have a compounding addiction, Sanborn said, such as alcohol or drug abuse. Sanborn said that since the group's first Hollywood facility opened in 1991, he has seen a steady stream of former drug users with mental disabilities who acquired the virus that causes AIDS by injecting drugs intravenously.

"It's an issue of poverty," he said, noting that many of the mentally disabled residents were once homeless. "They became infected sharing paraphernalia."

Applicants who wish to live in the six units reserved for HIV-positive residents need not be mentally disabled, however. The only requirement is that they be physically well enough to live on their own, Sanborn said.

Most of the Parker Hotel's mentally disabled residents will be living on their own for the first time. Sanborn believes that by allowing them that opportunity, his group will help them break the cycle of dependency that often keeps the mentally disabled--particularly those who are homeless--from moving beyond transitional shelter programs.

A Community of Friends is in the process of screening applicants for the Parker Hotel. Information: Craig Fenner, director of residential services, (213) 480-0809.

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