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ISSUES

Do We Need Year-Round Shelters?

April 12, 1998

A recent decision by the county to extend its emergency shelter programs through April 30 because of unseasonably cold, wet weather has won praise from advocates for the homeless and hungry in the San Fernando Valley.

The additional month of operation, approved by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, is being financed by about $300,000 left over when shelters underspent their monthly budgets. The shelters had been scheduled to close March 31. Under the extension, 1,975 beds will be made available when temperatures drop below 40 degrees or there is a 50% or greater chance of rain.

KARIMA A. HAYNES asked social services agency representatives whether emergency shelters should be open year-round.

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ANNE WILLIAMS

Case manager, Women's Care Cottage, North Hollywood

There is a need for emergency housing. All of our spots [15 beds] are filled up. When women come into our resource center and there is no available shelter, they have no place to go.

We give out a certain amount of vouchers that will allow them to stay overnight at a hotel, but there is no guarantee that we will always have vouchers. . . . We have a family that would have been in the streets, [but] we took them and they are sharing a room with another family. How can you go home at night knowing that a mother and children are sleeping under a bridge somewhere, especially in this weather?

Emergency shelters should go all year-round. Anything is better than living in a park. We have had women [here] who have lived in a bathroom of a fast-food restaurant because the doors locked from the inside. Any additional help is always wonderful; it certainly couldn't hurt.

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SARA FLETCHER

Homeless Outreach Team member, Glendale Service Center

With seasonal emergency shelters, it is hard to develop a relationship with clients--and even harder to reconnect clients to society.

Lack of funds is the only thing that's keeping the shelters from being open year-round. People should voice their opinions, volunteer at agencies and try to help make people aware that homelessness is a real problem.

The homeless . . . are accustomed to the shelters closing and [to] having to find someplace to go. It's a lifestyle for them. Now that they are open, people are taking advantage of the extension. . . . They were really happy about it, but they were concerned, too, that it will end at the end of the month.

Food, clothing, cleanliness and general health are issues for the homeless in the winter and summer. In August, it isn't [cold] outside, and it is easier for the homeless in that aspect, but it is a constant hardship for these people.

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BARBARA AUSBURN

Volunteer director, Loaves and Fishes, Van Nuys

Part of me wants to say "yes," there should be year-round emergency shelter. But another part of me wants to say "no."

When something is readily available, people will take advantage of it and not go out and fend for themselves. I don't want to sound harsh--believe me, I am in this to help people--but people need to have the incentive to go out and try to get a job so that they will be able to afford permanent shelter of their own.

I think it would be great if the shelter season ran nightly from November to April. I don't think shelters should switch back and forth between being open every night and then only open on a weather-activated basis.

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TED LERCHENMULLER

Food pantry director, St. Janes Frances de Chantal Christian Service, North Hollywood

It is not reasonable just to have the emergency shelters open only during inclement weather because the need is there all year-round. We are able to give out vouchers to put people up in a motel overnight, but that is for emergency purposes--like battered women and children--and it is a limited amount of money.

People are homeless for a variety of reasons. Some lose their jobs and can get back on their feet when they find work. Others have drug, alcohol and mental problems, and they are unemployable. They need to be treated like human beings. They need to be given a place where they can take a hot shower and lie down in a bed. They shouldn't have to live in the bushes.

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