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City Official Presses County for Aid

Concern for homeless sends councilwoman to supervisors to seek funding for shelters.

February 26, 2003|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

After a stormy night that left Los Angeles slick with rain, it was hardly a surprise to find City Councilwoman Jan Perry hunting down fresh funding Tuesday for year-round homeless shelters that offer warm beds at night.

The twist was that she left City Hall to do it, marching up the hill to urge the county Board of Supervisors to help scrape together the cash.

An estimated 84,000 people are homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County. During the chilly winter months, the city and county pool resources to run an emergency shelter program that provides about 2,000 beds at 19 locations countywide. Even on balmy nights the shelters are often full, and when it rains, they squeeze in more people than they are equipped to hold, said Mitchell Netburn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

The winter shelters are scheduled to close their doors March 15, as they do every year. But Perry, whose council district includes downtown's skid row, said she wants the county to help raise the estimated $9 million it will cost to keep the facilities open year-round.

"We are in dire need of emergency shelter services," she told the county supervisors. "We cannot keep people legally from forming their own makeshift housing on the sidewalks if we do not maximize the number of emergency shelter beds in Los Angeles County. We cannot, as a city, continue to enforce the laws against such behaviors unless we offer alternative emergency housing for the homeless."

The councilwoman's appeal came as the Los Angeles Police Department continues to crack down on skid row with daily sweeps aimed at clearing homeless people off the sidewalks. Citing a city ordinance, officers advise the homeless to move on or face citation or arrest. Any blankets or clothing left behind are swept up and sent to the dump.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the city to stop the police sweeps. In a separate move, Perry tacked a plea for more federal funding for homeless people onto an antiwar resolution that the City Council approved Friday.

After listening to Perry and several homeless-service providers for nearly an hour, the county supervisors offered a few tentative solutions of their own. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, himself a former city councilman, encouraged Perry to comb through the city's redevelopment dollars to see whether some might be diverted to housing. Supervisor Mike Antonovich suggested that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a government agency, seek out private donations.

And Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke tabled until next week a motion she had drafted recommending that mental health and substance abuse experts accompany the LAPD "to ensure that sweeps are initiated in a humane manner." Instead, she gave county staff four weeks to report back about potential sources of funding for more emergency beds.

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