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Plan to Erect Tents for Homeless Stalls

December 20, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A plan to erect three huge tents Friday to shelter 300 homeless people over the Christmas holidays became stalled for lack of insurance, organizers said.

The tents were to have gone up on state property in the shadow of City Hall and stay up through Jan. 2. But the construction was delayed while organizers tried to raise $2,500 for the insurance premium.

″We expect to get the money and get this going,″ said Jay Melnick, chief deputy for City Councilman Ernani Bernardi.

″You don’t see tents today, you see barren ground and homeless people,″ organizer Ted Hayes said during a news conference attended by a dozen street people. ″All of this has been put on hold. We need a miracle.″

Hayes said the state late Thursday recanted on an agreement to waive the insurance requirement.

But Gene Marquart, chief of the state’s Office of Insurance and Risk Management, said the permit to set up the encampment was contingent on obtaining liability insurance.

Marquart suggested organizers misinterpreted the insurance issue. ″They had sought a waiver, which we have not given,″ he said.

The tent city would follow similar demonstrations in other years. There was a weeklong Christmas tent city in 1984, called Justiceville, Hayes said. Last year, a less ambitious effort by the Justiceville organization set up tents again at Christmastime.

″This is to be an example of what we as human beings are capable of doing if we want to do it,″ Hayes said. ″We are alive. You cannot forsake us.″

The setback came a day after a survey was presented to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, showing Los Angeles to have the nation’s highest rate of increase in homelessness.

An estimated 33,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County due to a lack of affordable housing, care for the mentally ill, unemployment and the influx of illegal aliens, private and government agency officials said.

″The reason why L.A. has more homeless is because of the harsh weather in the Midwest and the East Coast,″ said Stephen Keen, 24, who came here from Toronto, Canada, via Florida. He has been living on the streets here for 11 months and calls a parking garage home.

″I lost my (body shop) business and came out here. I sleep at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion,″ Keen said, noting there are many more homeless on Los Angeles streets in December.

Another Skid Row resident said the tent city project would allow him to spend Christmas in safety with a warm place to sleep and a meal. He choses to live on the street because ″the shelters are run like prisons.″

″There is still a killer loose down here, and we are afraid. We don’t like being on the street,″ said Lewis Williams, 26, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who came here in February 1982 and couldn’t get a job as a clerk-typist.

At least nine homeless men have been killed by a serial killer stalking lone men citywide since September.

″People are shot down here over a bottle of wine,″ said Williams, who sleeps near a bush in the tent city project area. ″At least tent city will show someone cares about the plight of the homeless.″

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