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Controversial Common Ground Program to Move Out of Santa Monica  


By Jorge Casuso

April 16, 2012 -- A program for homeless youth that was at the center of the controversial relocation of Common Ground will be moved immediately to Venice as the agency begins work on its new facility in Santa Monica, agency officials said.

The Homeless Youth Prevention and Education (HYPE) program was part of Common Ground's move south on Lincoln Avenue from near Pico Boulevard to the former site of the Skin Paradise massage parlor on Cedar Street, where officials said they will begin renovations on Monday or Tuesday.

The latest developments comes two months after more than 60 neighboring residents packed a community meeting to air concerns that the non-profit center that provides HIV education and treatment for the under-served would bring crime to the area.

"This program has been drawn the attention of many in the community and arguably may have been the single largest point of contention related to our relocation," Jeff Goodman, Common Ground's interim executive director and board president wrote in a letter to City and community leaders Wednesday. "So we are hoping this will be well received news by all."

"Common Ground remains highly committed to serving this critical population and their needs," Goodman wrote. "However we have been able to restructure and increase our services while being sensitive to our neighbors’ needs."

Goodman, who is the agency's president, also announced in his letter that Executive Director Lisa Fisher, who worked for Common Ground for seven years, "has left us to pursue other endeavors."

"We will be conducting a thoughtful search for a new Executive Director in the coming months but I will be leading our efforts to re-open and strategically assess our needs," Goodman said.

Renovation work will likely take eleven weeks, which "includes a certain amount of padded time," Goldman said.

At last Tuesday's City Council meeting, the Board of Directors of Friends of Sunset Park handed a letter to City officials opposing the relocation of Common Ground, especially the homeless youth program.

"While we support the goals of Common Ground in HIV testing and prevention, letters from business owners/managers and residents near its former location at 2012 Lincoln raise concerns, especially regarding CG’s Homeless Youth Program, which seems to recruit young people from locations outside Santa Monica, such as Venice Beach," neighborhood officials wrote.

The letter noted that the new facility is "adjacent to a residential neighborhood, within a few hundred feet of 3 preschools and on the walking path for students at John Muir Elementary School, the Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH), and Santa Monica High School."

The letter and attachments elaborated on the concerns aired at the February 13 community meeting, where residents said they'd directly experienced crime at the agency's old location and that the non-profit's clientele had harassed them, engaged in drug deals or been publicly intoxicated.

When they complained to Common Ground staff, their complaints went unanswered, residents said.

Agency officials have said that the new facility would not be offering a needle exchange, something residents were adamant about. At the old location, clients could dispose of their needles, which residents claim encouraged many drug addicts to frequent the facility.

At the February meeting, Common Ground presented a draft Good Neighbor Agreement that outlines some of the steps the agency will take to address residents' concerns.


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