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Salvation Army Turns Off Harbor Light on Skid Row

"This is a heck of a time to be closing down a drug rehab center, " said the interviewee who requested anonymity.

The center in question is the Salvation Army's Harbor Light residential facility on 809 E. Fifth Street, which has served homeless men on Skid Row battling alcoholism and drug addiction since 1947. Last week, according to the individual quoted, the center's employees were told that Harbor Light would be closing October 26. The reason given was the declining economy and deteriorating condition of the building, which the Salvation Army owns.

Robert Brennan, media manager of communications for the Salvation Army's Divisional Headquarters for Southern California, confirmed to the L.A. Weekly that Harbor Light's Skid Row center is shutting down, a move that will affect about 140 men who stay there.

"We're consolidating," Brennan said, "because of the economic climate and because it's a very old building. We'll have a continued presence as a storefront, so we're not going away - we will still have a presence on Skid Row." Brennan said the Salvation Army is not selling the building.

There is a difference of opinion, however, about the level of the

Salvation Army's presence. The anonymous source claimed there is no

need for Harbor Light's exit from Skid Row and suggests the move shows

the Salvation Army is embracing a bottom-line obsessed business model.

"The building is 80 years old but it's sound," the source said.

"Other centers are losing more money. The irony is that a nonprofit is

being closed for not making a profit, though actually [Harbor Light] was beginning to show a surplus. There are other ways [they]

could be cutting - why are senior staff members given new cars to

drive, or get help to send their kids to college?"

Brennan disputes the charge that Harbor Light was being closed as though it were a Saturn plant.

"We don't run a profit organization," he said. "It's a matter of

making sure the lights stay on and of providing a safe, nuturing

environment." Brennan said the Salvation Army cannot afford to rehab

the rehab center.

And, while the anonymous source claimed the shutdown of Harbor Light

only occurred because of the recent emergence of a new, profit-oriented

national senior leadership, Brennan says the decision to pull the plug

on Harbor Light was made locally by the Southern California divisional

headquarters, which he says enjoys a significant amount of autonomy

from the national office. He also dismissed accusations of inordinate

perks for the local senior leadership.

"I can tell you that many of these people are highly trained and

give of themselves immensely -- they get nowhere near the full-fledged

compensation of private companies," Brennan said. "If [Southern

California Division Commander] Victor Leslie was the CEO of a company

this size he'd be making a million dollars a year. He has a law degree

and an MBA."

Brennan said the Salvation Army was currently preparing to move the

current remaining residents of Harbor Light to other regional

residential facilities, including one at Grand Avenue near USC that was

formerly called Harmony Hall and which will be renamed Harmony Harbor.

"We've spent several million dollars," Brennan said of the Grand

Avenue site, "refurbishing a new building that will be in a location

that will offer less temptation to clients."


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