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L.A. Homeless Shelters to Stay Open Until July

The city and county kick in millions to fund the facilities, which would have closed after Monday night.

March 17, 2004|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

A network of emergency homeless shelters remained open Tuesday night following 11th-hour actions by the city of Los Angeles and the county to secure funding to extend cold-weather shelters through the summer.

The Los Angeles City Council successfully scrambled late last week to come up with $1.9 million to provide 730 beds a night at six emergency shelters through July 15. The more extensive winter shelter program ended Monday night.

At a news conference Tuesday held at the New Image Emergency Shelter on South Broadway, Mayor James Hahn and other city officials vowed to find a permanent source of funding to continue the program beyond July, even as the city grapples with filling a $300-million budget shortfall.

The city's Community Redevelopment Agency this week will consider a $200,000 grant to help keep the shelters open from July through Nov. 30, after which the long-standing winter shelters open. The winter shelters, operated by both the city and county, receive mostly federal funds.

"For so many people, these shelters are the only safe place to be at night," said Hahn. "They provide the first step for people to get off the street and into the housing and counseling they need."

He said that the shelters were a big part of the effort to revitalize downtown and improve public safety.

The city inaugurated the summer program last year, spending $4.5 million to keep 865 beds open from March 16 through Nov. 30. The program also found permanent housing for 685 people and placed 1,108 in transitional housing, according to authorities.

Drawing on the success of that effort, the county Board of Supervisors last week gave final approval for its own plan: a $2.5-million year-round program with about 250 beds at five emergency shelters that will operate through Nov. 30.

The nonprofit agencies that will operate the county shelters, however, have had difficulty finding locations, and as of Tuesday night only one site, in Lancaster, with 10 emergency beds, was open.

In coming weeks, the county expects to open facilities in Compton, on the Westside (negotiations are underway to use a building on the Veterans Affairs campus), in Long Beach and in the San Gabriel Valley.

The San Gabriel Valley program will use a new approach to accommodate families, 15 in all, staying at three different motels located in Pomona, El Monte and West Covina.

The goal is to provide the families with intensive support services to quickly move them into transitional or permanent housing, said Mitchell Netburn, director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the city-county agency that administers shelter programs.

Netburn and other officials said that the city and county funding actions represented a firm commitment to supporting homeless services during tough fiscal times.

"As we looked at our priorities, our hearts knew that this was something that we could not allow to fall off the table," said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who spoke at the news conference.

Councilwoman Jan Perry said more families -- especially women and children -- were on the streets, and finding them transitional and permanent housing must rank as a priority.

"As basic as the [emergency shelter] service is, the results speak for themselves," she added. "More than 1,000 people were placed in transitional housing and participation has far exceeded expectations."

One of those who found help is Christopher Armstrong, 33, a former entertainment industry publicist who said he expected to move into transitional housing this week after receiving help for months at the New Image shelter.

Armstrong, who had lived in Holmby Hills, said the pressures of his career led to alcoholism and mental instability, and that after exhausting his life savings he lived on the streets of Hollywood for months.

He had worked before to raise funds for AIDS prevention efforts but had not paid much attention to the plight of the homeless. Now, he said that after he regains his footing, he plans to use his experience to help others.

"There are a lot of desperate people and there have to be more programs like this," he said.

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