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Shelter draws complaints

Council criticizes actions of homeless facility’s operators after residents express concern about the site at meeting.

February 11, 2009|By Zain Shauk

CITY HALL — Residents blasted the City Council on Tuesday for continuing to support the operation of a winter homeless shelter near Bob Hope Airport after police discovered four sex offenders had stayed there.

Council members responded with firm criticism of shelter operator Union Rescue Mission for being misleading about its previously stated policies of screening shelter residents and prohibiting walk-ins to prevent homeless people from walking through the community surrounding the National Guard Armory, where the program is taking place.

Residents have spotted and taken photographs of homeless people urinating, loitering in the community and spending time in nearby Pacific Park, even after officials from the city and Union Rescue Mission assured the community that shelter residents would be bused in and out of the area to avoid loitering in the neighborhood around the Valhalla Drive site.

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But in seeking answers from Carrie Gatlin, the mission’s vice president overseeing operations at the Burbank shelter, the council was frequently bewildered by responses about inaction or policies that were more lax than expected.

Asked about community concerns regarding shelter residents arriving on foot and walking through the community, Gatlin said about 15 people a day are being accepted to the shelter as walk-ins.

“Honestly, I recall being told that there wouldn’t be walk-ins,” Councilwoman Anja Reinke said. “And now I’m being told there’s at least 15.”

The mission accepts walk-in visitors who prove they cannot make it to the bus pickup points on time because of work schedules, a practice that is consistent with the organization’s policies, Gatlin said.

Council members did not recall hearing of the practice, echoing the community’s concern that shelter residents should not be moving through the surrounding area.

Kenwood Street resident Lorena Garcia addressed the council, arguing that she was concerned for the safety of her 10-year-old son since the shelter began operating.

“My son now, he knows he cannot go to play in the park anymore,” Garcia said, adding that her fears have heightened after hearing that sex offenders had lived at the shelter.

Police discovered in January that one sex offender had been staying at the shelter, said Sgt. Thor Merich, who oversees police activity related to the operation.

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