LOS ANGELES (AP) — Skid Row resident Dadisi Komolafe points indignantly to the sign reading “Union Rescue Mission,” and grumbles that the name no longer fits since the shelter started charging for a nightly stay.

“They should change it to ‘Union Hotel’,” said the nearly toothless jazz musician, who sleeps on the street. “If you have to pay to stay there, it’s not a mission. A lot of people are getting turned away.”

For decades, four missions have given out “three hots and a cot” for free in downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row, where 4,000 down-on-their-luck people cram a 50-block area to form the nation’s densest concentration of homeless people. The overflow from the shelters — nearly 1,000 people — spills nightly onto urine-stained sidewalks in a bedlam of tents, cardboard boxes and sleeping bags.

Two months ago, Union Rescue started charging $7 for an overnight stay, and cut its three free meals a day to one.

The move was driven by budget woes caused by the pinch of plummeting funding and soaring demand. But Andy Bales, the mission’s chief executive, said he had been trying to institute fees for several years under a philosophy that homeless people should learn self-sufficiency. Faced with similar crunches, more shelters are taking that view.

“We’ve increased our sustainability, but we really think people are feeling better about themselves if they’re not just taking handouts,” Bales said.

Most homeless shelters across the country are free of charge, reflecting the concept that shelters are meant to be a safety-net of last resort before a berth on a sidewalk.

“Our aim is to get them off the street,” said Herb Smith, president of Los Angeles Mission in Skid Row. “I don’t think charging them is going to generate relationships to help them do that.”

But others take a tough-love philosophy — free services create dependency and expectations of a free ride that don’t motivate people to take responsibility for their lives.

They point out that most homeless are not destitute. The majority receives Social Security disability, which is about $845 a month in California, or general relief, about $221 a month. Some have jobs.

“It’s a choice if they want to spend their money on a homeless agency or on something else,” said Amanda Fewless, spokeswoman for the Orlando Union Rescue Mission in Florida, which charges $6 a night after offering the first seven nights for free. “It’s a choice they’re making with the money they do have.”

In Honolulu, the nonprofit Institute for Human Services started charging fees at its two shelters three years ago. The shelter gives 90 days free, thereafter charging $70 per month for a single person, or $90 for a family, said spokeswoman Kate Record.

“It really encourages them to get on their feet and prepares them for paying rent,” Record said. “It prevents people from taking advantage of the shelter, coming and going like a hostel.”

Like Union Rescue Mission, both shelters say they will not turn away people who truly cannot afford to pay.

But the idea of charging fees grates many homeless advocates, who note that even $7 is a lot for a homeless person.

“Shelters are becoming very difficult to afford,” said Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. “These are people in dire economic conditions. They have very limited disposable income. It doesn’t do anything for their economic situation.”

Pushback from homeless advocates last year caused New York City to derail a plan to charge income-based rent at its homeless shelters.

Instead, the city’s Department of Homeless Services now mandates that shelter residents maintain a savings account, with the amount of their deposits based on income. They can withdraw their savings when they move on.

“It creates an incentive to leave,” said department Commissioner Seth Diamond. “This is about building behavior of self-sufficiency.”

A savings account is also part of Union Rescue Mission’s program. Of the $7 fee, $2 goes into an account that is turned over to the residents when they leave.

Residents receive three free nights. If they choose to stay and pay, they receive perks — three meals a day and permission to remain in their dormitories instead of having to leave early in the morning. Mothers with children do not have to pay and can eat all meals for free.

When the fees started April 1, the shelter’s 300 beds emptied overnight with some residents angrily claiming it was illegal for missions to charge fees. “One guy ripped down the sign,” Bales said. “People thought it was a cruel April Fool’s Day joke.”

Since then, 200 beds have filled back up. If all beds are occupied, the program would generate about $45,000 annually, which Bales noted barely dents the mission’s $1.4 million budget hole this year. The agency, which relies on donors after local government funding dried up, has already cut staff, salaries and benefits.

The policy has had some unexpected advantages.

Residents say the shelter is much calmer and cleaner since the fees started and paying guests seem more serious about getting their lives in order. There are fewer fights and emergency calls.

“Beforehand, it was like a madhouse,” said Ronald Wells, who has been living at missions for a year. “People really weren’t interested in doing anything for themselves.”

Edward Bravo, who became homeless after being evicted from his apartment, said paying his way makes him feel better about himself. “When everything was free, it was okay,” he said. “Now I feel inside of me, it’s helped me.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (24)
  1. Mike Schieffer says:

    Sure…let’s impose “self reliance” and “self esteem” expectations on the homeless of OUR country that would be considered “heartess” “mean spirited” and the ever popular “racist” when applied to ILLEGAL immigrants and their entitlements. Let’s also continue to give it up to welfare recipients from whom little accountability is required or expected. Damned shamefull.

    1. Saber 1 says:

      Cut the services of welfare and the homeless shelter to the ILLEGAL ALIENS and we would be able to assist our American Citizens.

  2. Vog Voo says:

    Wow that just does not make any sense at all dude.


  3. amc says:

    You are obviously a RACIST. Why does everything have to be about illegals? Have you ever been to skid row? Have you ever tried to and feed the homeless? Have you ever gone and passed out blankets and clothes? All of this done out of a car by the way, bought by your hard earned money. Have you ever had your food rejected because they want money instead of food? I don’t care if a person is illegal or not, if someone is hungry or cold I’m not going to ask them to show me their papers before I help them. People like you make me sick. YOU are what’s wrong with society today.

    1. ES says:

      My thoughts exactly even prior to reading amc’s reply. We are humans first.

    2. Rick says:

      Mike, many of the Veterans on the street are as far back from the Wars in Vietnam & Korea. They were not treated for their post war medical and mental problems that arise from such Tours. In addition, many were not welcome back at all.

      If it was not for these Veterans the Illegals would not have as an attractive Country to try and hang their hat in.

      With that said, we as a Country are obligated to help/feed are own, especially those that fought for us. The Illegals should be toward the bottom of the Totem Pole. That’s the way it is, it should be and always be.

      Now all you bleeding hearts, call me what you want!!

    3. Jeff says:

      amc aka Moron,
      Everything has to do with ILLEGALS because they are the reason CA is bankrupt you bleeding heart dbag. People like YOU make me sick. Keep on caring about the people who are here illegally and we’ll see where that gets you and the rest of the legal citizens of this country. America isn’t in a position to give hand outs to illegals anymore. We need to take care of our citizens. Following your logic, CA will be as big a dump as Tijuana in 10 years. Go fuk yourself if that’s what you want.

      1. NA says:

        @ JEFF

        The reason why CA Is bankrupt is BECAUSE we spend more than we make. We kept borrowing and borrowing until it blew up in our face. Start taking your own responsibility for causing this recession and not blame on the illegals. I’m pretty sure the illegals didn’t cause the trillions in deficit in our country. Like it must be the illegals that purchases houses they are afford right?

        I won’t argue that SOME illegals do get free benefits from US citizens, but I am not going to say that they are the one’s that takes ALL the free benefits. I agree we do have a problem, but it’s not going to be solved if we keep shifting blames to illegals. It just wouldn’t make sense to blame illegals for why some mentally ill homeless choose to not to work to make money, rather why don’t we create a institute that helps them get better.

  4. ArmyStud says:

    I Def agree with MIKE 100%, we cant even help our own people 1st. but we give out Welfare to ILLEGALSall the time Medical / Housing etc… plus we always send money to other countrys with something happens but we cant use that money for our own people… I work near skid row it makes me sad where I cant do nothing more for all of them… I served this Country Army 88 to 97 for WHAT !!!!!!

  5. Jamaican Josh says:

    Mike & ArmyStud are right! @ amc, YOU are what is wrong with the American Society today! Skid row is full of drug addicts, criminals, people feeling sorry for themselves. Sure there are the few that really have had bad luck or are mentally ill, but majority enjoy hand outs and not having any responsiblities! People like amc are the reasons we have mass homeless because they know someone is going to help them with food or a little money for the next hit or 40 once! Also, it is completely wrong that we allow illegal immigrants to benefit from the American Tax Dollars! I think amc should help the illegals and homeless since he or she has so much to give……

  6. Truth says:

    I have case managed many people who were on and off skid-row homeless. Having them pay is a good idea. They get wnough money and benefits from the state to live in a board and care . . . full room and board, plus have spending cash. They wind up on Skid Row when they spend all their cash on a drug binge . . . some say it is actually fun.
    They have a choice. They have free medical/dental/meds, and then stipend. Free programs . . . school, employment, if they want it.
    When they are on skid, they are choosing skid to free up their money.
    Plain and simple. Free shelters should only be provided to famillies with children.

  7. Jamaican Josh says:

    Truth, i agree that shelters should be provided to families with children! Thank you for your input Truth, you have first hand experience with these people that supposedly can’t take care of themselves on skidrow.

  8. Ren says:

    This might be the ticket to cleaning up the homelessness problem in downtown. The “freeloaders” hopefully will disperse into other areas of the L.A. Downtown residents are rejoicing.

  9. Mark says:

    What most of you don’t realize is that a majority of skid row people are drug addicts and criminals. No pity here. Get your s h i t together, stop using drugs, stop raping, stop murdering and stop robbing, then maybe i’ll have some pity left for you.

  10. Sara says:

    Have any of you actually been to skid row? I’m white, I was in a car with two friends. We were heckled, called racial slurs and approached several times by these people in a threatening manner. F u k these lowlifes.

  11. Primetime Editorials says:

    i know shelters should be free of charge
    but this alone teaches homeless people to take charge of there lives
    u got pay to lay
    visit my blog

  12. Jamaican Josh says:

    Cherokee, that is a great idea! (sarcasm)…. so when EVERYONE leaves they should take all thier technology and ideas Oh and the alcohol to! lol aka Fire water. lol…

  13. proud cherokee says:

    we were doing great without your diseases, cancerous technology , cars, oh and please take that juvenile sarcasm too.. we dont care for stupiud white boy humor. alcohol? you mean , heroin and all those great drugs you white people like. take those too. Leave us with nature, our organics, great good people (no matter the race and i promise you we wont need any help…

  14. proud cherokee says:


  15. Joel Lanuza says:

    Its Time LAPD Cleans Up Skid Row and Mccarthur Park Area. Its not easy task but it can be done.

  16. Gabrielle says:

    At first I was shocked that a homeless shelter would charge a fee to stay. After I read the whole article about how it’s $7 for the night with three free meals and they get $2 for each night they stay, that totally change my mind. Its like a small savings account for the people staying there. I think it’s a great idea, nothing in life is free.

  17. cosmetic dentistry prices says:

    This post couldn’t be more factual

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