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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : A Model for Homeless Help

October 03, 1994

It isn't obvious from the outside, but two Westminster buildings are a lifeline for eight families down on their luck. The housing is the result of a partnership among the city government, the private sector and community volunteers that should be studied by other public agencies.

For families without money, the housing is free, but tenancy is limited to six months. For those able to pay, a two-bedroom apartment rents for only $360 per month, with a maximum one-year stay.

City officials emphasized from the start that the housing was transitional, giving families a temporary place to stay while they got their lives in better shape. The limited stays are a good incentive for residents to get new or better jobs and move into more permanent housing.

The Westminster City Council made the right move last year when it bought three rundown apartment buildings for $300,000 each. Volunteers from the community and from a builders' group called HomeAid renovated the buildings inside and out. Work on the third building is expected to begin shortly.

This is not the city's first good job helping the homeless or those about to lose shelter. Last May, Westminster found additional temporary housing for a dozen homeless people whom Caltrans evicted from a makeshift outdoor shelter near a San Diego Freeway exit.

HomeAid, too, has been an asset. A nonprofit offshoot of the Orange County chapter of the Building Industry Assn., it has built housing for hundreds of people threatened with homelessness. Unfortunately, a task force last year said that thousands are homeless in Orange County.

Homelessness is a regional problem, and the other cities in the county seeking solutions should look at the Westminster example.

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