ALERT: LA officials to move homeless encampment from

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 18 May 1999 08:34:33 -0700 (PDT)


FWD  [California, USA] Los Angeles Times - Wed May 12, 1999

     THEY CALL IT HOME

     Officials seek to move Sunland-Tujunga homeless
     out of hillside encampments.

     Claudia Peschiutta

SUNLAND-TUJUNGA -- After a day of collecting recyclable goods and
performing odd jobs, Benny Colon used to walk up a narrow dirt path to his
home -- a small group of wooden shacks hidden away in the hills above the
Foothill (210) Freeway.

He would often spend his evenings sitting under the stars in one of the
dilapidated old chairs in the "living room," a beer in hand and his three
beloved dogs at his feet.

But Colon and the other people who have made a home of "Jurassic Park" left
their wooded haven, a Sunland homeless encampment believed to be on private
property, last week.

After being notified that police had received authorization to arrest them
for trespassing, Colon, recognized by his companions as the camp's
unofficial leader, and fellow park residents began searching for a new
place to call home.

However, this group of homeless people and others like them are no longer
as likely to find seclusion and refuge in Sunland-Tujunga.

An increase in complaints earlier this year from residents noticing camp
fires along the foothills, a high fire hazard area, began to raise concern
among local officials. This, along with police reports of an increase in
transient crime, led to the formation of an informal committee of police,
fire and city officials and members of social service organizations.

The effort is being coordinated by Pat Davenport, a local field deputy for
Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, whose district includes
Sunland-Tujunga.

In March, the group began an unofficial homeless relocation campaign, with
local police informing the homeless of services and shelters available to
them and outreach efforts being made by several agencies, including the Los
Angeles Family Housing Corp., which provides medical attention and other
services in a mobile unit at Sunland Park two times a month.

Davenport said a homeless resources fair will be held at Finn Park in
Tujunga on May 27.

A tentative date of July 1 has been set for the removal of the encampments
in the mountain fire district, but officials have no plans for any
additional action on or after the deadline.

Two major camps, Jurassic Park and another near Tujunga Canyon Boulevard,
and several smaller ones have been identified in Sunland-Tujunga.

Brush inspector Ken Brondell of the Los Angeles City Fire Department said
although no major fires in recent history have been attributed to any of
the encampments, they offer a potential threat of brush fires to nearby
homes.

But some officials say the local homeless population poses other dangers to
the community.

A summary of a Los Angeles Police Department Foothill Division project
dealing with transients loitering around Foothill Boulevard businesses
reported an increase in the local transient population over the past two
years and a jump in incident calls attributed to its members.

"These transients are responsible for trash on the properties, urination
and defecation, blocking of the sidewalk and business entrances, removal of
shopping carts, makeshift dwellings and probable misdemeanor and felony
crimes," said the report.

Sgt. Bob Kirk said since officers were asked in March to step up
enforcement and arrests in Sunland-Tujunga, there has been a significant
drop in the visibility of the homeless population and a decrease in
complaints from community members.

"Everything we had wished would happen is happening. The homeless
population is moving out. They are not sleeping in doorways, drinking in
public or loitering," Kirk said.

But Benny Colon said although some people in the area panhandle and
intimidate customers, he and the rest of the Jurassic Park family recycle
and take odd jobs for their money.

"We don't steal. We don't panhandle," Colon said. "We keep it clean."

Aside from not wanting to "burn bridges," Colon said he recognizes that
business owners also need to make a living.

"That's why I mandate up here, `No panhandling,"' he said. "Kicking us out
isn't going to help," he said. "Work with us."

Officials respond that they are working to assist the homeless in receiving
medical treatment and finding jobs and housing, but say many aren't
interested.

Officer Glenn McNeil, who has been patrolling the area for more than two
years, said he is often refused when he offers the homeless referral
numbers and, in certain situations, rides to shelters and treatment
facilities.

"There are a lot of them that don't want the help," he said.

But some homeless people are saying the help they are getting isn't very
helpful at all.

Charles Bolin, who once lived in a relatively cozy shack in Jurassic Park,
said he doesn't feel safe in homeless shelters.

"Shelters don't work," he said. "There are so many problems with the
fighting, the alcoholics and people stealing your stuff."

Patricia Colvin, another former park resident, and Colon both said a friend
of theirs, who is an alcoholic and is in need of a detoxification program,
was passed around from one facility to another until he recently found his
way back to the area with a case of pneumonia.

"Here are people saying they are out there to help you and they're not,"
Colvin said.

Dennis O'Rourke, a service aide for the L.A. Housing Corp., said he
personally took the man to a facility instead of simply providing him with
bus tokens and was told he would be referred to a detoxification program.

"We are here trying to provide services so the homeless do have a place to
go," O'Rourke said.

Colon said he has become suspicious of officials because he and others at
Jurassic Park were told they had only until May 7 to leave.

"They've been lying to us because they've been telling us that we had until
July 1," said Colon, who lost "Sweets," one of his three dogs, in the rapid
departure from the camp.

"I've seen the way they care for us -- they move us. They don't really care."

Terry Stone, a field deputy for Councilman Wachs, said officials are
concerned about the homeless and are trying to figure out the best way to
handle the situation.

"It's tragic and we want to help," she said. "We're torn between the people
who say they want a clean neighborhood and those who need the help."

And she conceded that there will be no simple answers.

"It's not going to be an easy fix," she said. "We'll see what we can learn
from this and keep trying."

END FORWARD

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