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SIMI VALLEY : Homeless Push for Permanent Shelter

East Ventura County Focus

May 11, 1995|TRACY WILSON

A group of Simi Valley homeless people have launched a crusade to establish a permanent shelter, saying existing social services are inadequate.

And they may have found a compassionate audience in the Simi Valley school system.

On Tuesday, about a dozen homeless men, women and children asked the school board if they could refurbish an abandoned firehouse on district-owned land and turn it into a shelter.

But the old building at Blackstock and Los Angeles avenues is in disrepair and scheduled to be razed this summer, officials said. The Simi Valley Unified School District plans to build an adult school on the site.

Moved by the group's unusual request, however, trustees said they plan to ask city and park district officials to join forces and find an alternative.

"We have buildings, the city has buildings, and the park district has buildings," said Trustee Norm Walker. "I know there is a need for some kind of place where they can stay."

Homeless advocates said finding a permanent shelter for Simi Valley's homeless is a matter of growing concern.

"I think the churches have been extremely generous with letting the homeless use facilities," said Dianne Hooley, director of the Samaritan Center. "I think it would be a lot easier on everyone if there was one sleep site."

The Samaritan Center--which opened last September after years of fits and starts--provides clothing, showers, mail service and counseling to the homeless three hours a day, five days a week.

The center's services are designed to supplement two other programs in Simi Valley: a dinner program operated by church volunteers and Public Action to Deliver Shelter, or PADS, which provides overnight shelter during the winter.

PADS operates only from November to March, however, and advocates argue a 12-month site is needed.

"We have well over 100 homeless people in Simi Valley," said Michael Smith, a homeless man who addressed the school board Tuesday. "On any given night, they have no place to sleep."

Smith asked the City Council on Monday about converting the fire station, but was referred to the school board since the district owns the land.

School officials acknowledged that housing assistance is neither their area of expertise nor their responsibility, but said they still want to help.

"These are the parents of our children, and they are the responsibility of our community," Trustee Debbie Sandland said. "I definitely intend to address the concern and see what the school district can do to help these people."

Trustee Carla Kurachi said the district's involvement in assisting the area's homeless would be an investment in the community.

"People who get assisted," she said, "when they get on their feet, they never forget that. And they are people who always give back to their communities."

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