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A New Focus on the Homeless : Program: South-Central Los Angeles, East Los Angeles and greater Downtown are identified in $3-million proposal.

June 02, 1995|MARILYN MARTINEZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The plans are big, and surprisingly, the money is there to back it up.

With an infusion of at least $3 million in federal money to operate services for the homeless in South-Central Los Angeles, government officials hope to create a network of services in the sprawling community.

Each night, an estimated 14,000 homeless can be found in South-Central, a number too great for the small, underfunded agencies in the area to serve.

The result: Many abandon the community for such sites as Skid Row, where food, clothing and overnight shelter are easier to find. "It's better to provide services in the community; this way they only have to work their way up into the community and not back into the community," said Carma G. Henning, executive director of the year-old South-Central Continuum of Care Network.

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"We are hoping that homeless services are going to be decentralized from Downtown."

Along with East Los Angeles and greater Downtown, South-Central Los Angeles was identified as an "urban core area" by the Los Angeles Homeless Initiative, a three-year proposal funded by a $20-million grant from the U.S. Department of Urban Development.

The Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, a city-county agency that administers the grant, is supposed to ensure that the money spent in these three areas goes toward alleviating homelessness through prevention, emergency response, transitional housing services and permanent housing placement.

Of the $20 million, $11.6 million was allocated to individual social service agencies in the targeted areas.

The rest will be spent on two homeless service centers Downtown and on the creation of affordable housing for shelter graduates.

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South-Central accounts for about 17% of the county's homeless (a population estimated at 83,900) because it suffers from high rates of poverty and unemployment, said Eugene Boutilier, executive director of the Homeless Service Authority.

Those facing crises such as losing a job, mental illness, or drug addiction often end up homeless. But in a largely residential community such as South-Central Los Angeles, their numbers are hard to see.

"You don't find them sleeping on the sidewalks, but they're there," Boutilier said.

"They are in somebody's back yard, maybe staying at a friend's [house] or living in their car."

While those who work with South-Central's homeless said their ranks include a good share of mothers with children, a majority are African American men, many of whom end up on Skid Row.

"We are trying to get clients to be self-sufficient," Henning said. "They face a setback and get frustrated and they just go Downtown where they can get food, clothing."

With the federal funding, which is scheduled to start arriving in South-Central in July, providers are expected to be able to deliver services more easily to the homeless and help prevent those about to lose their housing from having to hit the streets.

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The money coming into the region includes $871,466 for overnight shelter; $93,000 for substance abuse rehabilitation; $250,000 for long-term case management, and $560,000 for outreach teams.

Anchoring it all is a $420,000 access center to be created on 108th Street by the Watts Labor Action Committee, which already runs a 30-bed shelter for women and children.

At the center, the homeless or those at risk of becoming homeless could find on-site services ranging from case assessments and job training to referrals to off-site services.

"We want to make a difference in South-Central Los Angeles," Boutilier said. "It is targeted money, like an empowerment zone."

Longtime providers in the area applaud the new funds. Many said their work in the community had been stunted because of a lack of funding and the skills to get it.

"If you don't have somebody on staff that can do the [proposal] paperwork because you can't pay them a decent salary, then you miss out," said "Sweet" Alice Harris, executive director of Parents of Watts, which provides overnight shelter.

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"It doesn't mean you can't do the work. It means you don't have the resources."

Harris' agency is scheduled to receive a $129,168 portion of the grant designated for overnight shelter.

Henning said during a recent meeting with Boutilier that she stressed the need for the more well-established, stronger homeless service agencies outside of South-Central Los Angeles to share their knowledge and skills in raising money.

A lot of small agencies struggle just to provide for 10 to 15 people, Henning said.

"They struggle to pay the gas and water bills," Henning said.

"We want them to be able to connect into a network base of support services."

The placement of the new funds is designed to increase the number of places, such as the Watts Labor Action Committee's shelter, where the homeless can turn for help.

The agency, which administers the largest homeless service program in the area and is the best funded, runs the shelter for women as well as a transitional housing program, and it issues vouchers for overnight shelter.

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