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Setting Up Homeless Camp Has Its Skeptics : Shelter: Riordan has called for a drop-in center in Downtown. Although complaining about the problem, some call for a comprehensive solution.

October 15, 1994|FRANK B. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sandwiched in the middle of the debate over Mayor Richard Riordan's plan to build a campground for the homeless in the eastern part of Downtown Los Angeles are the people who live and work Downtown. For years, they say, the homeless have pestered them by asking for money and disturbing their lunchtime meals and strolls to work.

"They just get in your face. They get mad if you don't give them any money. It gets scary sometimes," said Angie Roman, a clerk with the city who was having lunch at the Downtown county mall Friday.

The mayor's proposal, which goes to the City Council and later to the County Board of Supervisors for a vote, calls for using a vacant city block in the city's core industrial area as a drop-in center for the homeless. The $4-million shelter, funded by a federal housing grant, would provide a place for the homeless to take showers and sleep. One purpose of luring the homeless there is to make Downtown friendlier to tourists and more attractive to businesses.

Roman and her lunchtime companion and co-worker, Sandra Sims, thought that Riordan's plan, though good on paper, will not solve a problem that needs more comprehensive government action.

"Downtown is too accommodating. There are too many bars and missions down here. Giving them a place for the day won't move them out of here," Sims said.

Both Sims and Roman said the homeless have become too comfortable Downtown, going so far as bathing themselves in fountains and falling asleep in front of buildings during business hours.

Sims, who has worked Downtown for 26 years, said she has seen the once-booming area turn into a place where pedestrians often have to sidestep "ranting" homeless people.

"The only reason I come to Downtown L.A. is because I work here," Sims said. "Otherwise I would avoid this place like the plague."

Mario Dominguez, 28, an insurance case manager having lunch with his daughter Morgan at the Downtown mall, said the idea is novel, but added that the homeless need a permanent alternative.

"We need to teach them some job-training skills," he said.

Store owner Robin Ely, who owns Kian's Flowers on Winston and Wall streets, said his shop has been robbed four times in three years.

"If you don't constantly check your merchandise, they will run up and steal things really fast," Ely said.

Residents in the city's artists loft district, part of the Downtown industrial area, say the shelter would hurt efforts to revive the area.

Artist Enzia Farrell has lived in the loft district for seven years. Near her home on 5th and Palmetto streets, homeless men and women congregate on the sidewalks and wait for trucks to bring free food. Farrell said the homeless will stay near such food source areas, finding ways to scrounge for money. She and her roommate, J. Payne, said homeless people break into their cars and vandalize their building.

"It's a tough situation," Farrell said. "But I'm very irritated with the way the city is handling the situation. They are trying to be too politically correct about it."

The 28-year-old artist said she had to call her City Council representative more than 30 times before "somebody would give me an answer."

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