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Groups battle over shelter

Those opposed to shelter cite safety problems, but some argue that homeless should be treated as human beings.

April 06, 2009|By Christopher Cadelago

BURBANK — A group of passionate residents filled a public hearing Thursday to argue that the city’s winter homeless shelter caused loitering and drug and alcohol use in the neighborhood, while others insisted the shelter provided a needed service to a new class of homeless hit hard by the recession.

About 100 neighbors of the winter shelter converged on the Fire Training Center to speak directly to the City Council and shelter directors and to articulate concerns about the safety of the area.

The winter shelter, a 150-person-capacity refuge in the 3800 block of Valhalla Drive, closed last week after its second year operating at the National Guard Armory in Burbank.

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But despite it closing for the season, resident Brian Blevins said he continues to spot and photograph homeless men panhandling and sleeping outside in the neighborhood, which contains schools, a park and a baseball field.

“They don’t care about the rules. They don’t care about the neighborhood. All they care about is feeding their addictions,” Blevins said.

Others stressed that it is unacceptable for the City Council to support an organization that failed to keep sex offenders, of which there were eight, out of the area.

“You are insulting us with a dagger,” Armando Perez told shelter directors, including staffs of the Los Angeles Union Rescue Mission and EIMAGO Inc. “We still have to deal with transients.”

Still, the shelter had its share of advocates. Mary Kay Hunefeld said the photographs Blevins posted on his website, www.unitedburbank.com, are of a man in need, walking down the street with a shopping cart containing all of his worldly possessions.

“Five days a week, I served dinner at the armory,” she said. “There, I met a lot of people that some of you call homeless and I call my friends, human beings.

“To all the neighbors around the armory who are worried about the resale value of their houses, maybe you can say that this is such a warm and inviting neighborhood that three months out of the year you host a shelter.”

Carrie Gatlin, vice president of government relations and special projects for the Union Rescue Mission, presented to the City Council and community a list of changes implemented by the shelter last month.

Operators began screening for violent criminal and sex offenders by instituting a process by which volunteers could search the national registry.

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