SUNSET PARK — Negotiations between community groups and a nonprofit dedicated to assisting people with HIV jumped a hurdle last week when the organization announced that it would be moving one of its most controversial programs outside of the city.
An unnamed partner organization in neighboring Venice agreed to take in the Homeless Youth Prevention and Education program, or HYPE, which had become a touchstone of neighborhood opposition to the relocation of Common Ground from 2021 Lincoln Blvd. to its new space at 2401 Lincoln Blvd.
The arrangement removes one of the biggest obstacles between Common Ground officials and residents reaching agreement on a “good neighbor” policy, a document required by City Hall of any nonprofit that it funds.
Common Ground receives $90,000 a year from City Hall, but none for the HYPE program, which became central to negotiations when the group’s former neighbors said that its clients were disruptive.
Assurances that the program would relocate to Venice was comforting, wrote Zina Josephs, a leader in the Sunset Park neighborhood group, in an e-mail.
“Sunset Park residents are very relieved to hear that Common Ground’s HYPE program will be relocating to Venice, as the participants in that program seemed to be the major source of problems at the former Common Ground location,” Josephs wrote.
Jeff Goodman, Common Ground’s interim executive director, said that the change was a product of years of work, not a knee-jerk reaction to the residents’ protestations.
Goodman has held the executive director position for the past five days after former executive director Lisa Fisher left the organization after seven years.
“When this opportunity presented itself to us, it gave us the chance to have a stronger program providing additional services to what we provide,” Goodman said. “To me it’s a slam dunk.”
Goodman would not release the name of the nonprofit partner Monday, saying that the group had “been around for a while,” but that there was some hesitancy to bring on the controversial program.
In part, that might be a result of the uproar within the Sunset Park community when Common Ground announced that it would be moving four blocks into the neighborhood.
Although the organization promised to ax the needle exchange from its catalogue of services, a sticking point for neighbors, it only agreed to move the program for homeless youth outside of Santa Monica recently.
Residents were fearful that the program would attract homeless youth from outside Santa Monica to congregate on the streets and in neighborhoods, causing a security problem.
Only a few complaints made it to the Community and Cultural Services Department regarding the youth program, but since negotiations on the good neighbor policy began in January, more have surfaced that were directed to the police and Common Ground rather than City Hall, said Robin Davidson, a human services administrator with the department.
HYPE and the needle exchange may no longer be part of the program at Common Ground, but the “good neighbor” policy negotiations are not over.
Residents still hope to limit the hours of the facility. According to the Common Ground website, the community center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except Thursday when it’s open until 6 p.m.
Common Ground may not be hosting HYPE in Santa Monica, but it’s committed to supporting homeless youth on the Westside.
HIV rates amongst youth is skyrocketing, and there’s an increased risk that homeless youth will be abused or the victims of crime, Goodman said.
“That’s not OK. It’s just not OK,” he said.
The organization plans to launch a study on homeless youth and assess what organizations are offering services and where groups either overlap or need to fill in the holes.
The study will be done primarily with volunteers in an effort to cut costs.
In the interim, Goodman’s primary focus right now is to make sure that Common Ground opens its doors in a timely way.
The organization received all of the permits it needed to do renovations on its new facility and construction is expected to start this week.