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Emptying Harbor View House

When the drumbeat of progress drowns out the voiceless

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

Where are the residents of Harbor View House?

That was what Linda Martino and Jane Ferrari wanted to talk about when they visited the office of Random Lengths News Nov. 19 — that and the real reasons they had to leave, besides a broken elevator.   If the women’s mood seemed urgent, it’s because they were among the 140 residents of Harbor View House who had been given one week to move out, and only two days remained until the Nov. 21 deadline.

But this was a week in which everybody was hurrying against a deadline —  the Thanksgiving holiday. At RLn, they left their contact information, took our advice to focus on finding shelter and moved on while we wondered if there was a plan in place for when that deadline came.

Four days later — two after the deadline — a chance meeting with Ferrari near Harbor View House provided a clue. She was standing outside the historic structure on Beacon Street, but the doors weren’t locked and it didn’t look as though she’d spent the night outside. Inside, tables were stacked and staffers were bustling about. She explained that she’d chosen to sleep in the post office.

“I was given the option to go to a [residential] facility located off Sunset Boulevard near downtown Los Angeles,” Ferrari said. “It was too far from my family. Being up in the hills … is too far from public transportation.”

Ferrari’s family, including two grown children, live in Westchester.

Ferrari also reasoned taking the place in Hollywood, she would have left her without easy access to her personal belongings, which were in San Pedro. But this morning she was without many of them, anyway, and her plans for the day involved retrieving them and putting them in storage.

“I was told my paintings were left out because they couldn’t fit the moving boxes and they had no answer to what happened to my jewelry,” Ferrari explained.

It hasn’t always been like this for Ferrari. “I used to have a car before I came to Harbor View House,” she said, but residents without the means to stay in a board-and-care facility like Harbor View House often have to reduce their income and assets to a level that would qualify them for Social Security (a fixed income)  and be charged a monthly rate set by the State of California.

Ferrari said that before she entered Harbor View House, she worked as a U.S. customs broker — custom brokers are licensed, regulated, and empowered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to assist importers and exporters in meeting federal requirements governing imports and exports. According to the US Bureau of Statistics, custom brokers earned on average of $65,000 a year.

Ferrari came to Harbor View House three years ago when her sister died. She’d been working hard, seemingly non-stop, she recalled, and saw Harbor View House as an opportunity to take a break from life.

“I came here on my own account,” Ferrari said. “I was told Harbor View House wasn’t necessarily a rehabilitation center, but it was close to the beach.”

Five Days After the Deadline

Harbor View House had been home to Linda Martino for 10 years when she suddenly learned that she had seven days to leave.  She never expected to live there forever. The building had been sold last summer, but residents had been told they would not have to be relocated and rehoused until June 2019.

Now, on Nov. 26, Martino returned to Random Lengths News to report that, five days after everyone was supposed to be out, seven people were still living at Harbor View House. She brought the memos  from the administration of HealthView Inc., that informed residents that because the elevator had broken down, they would have to be relocated and rehoused much sooner than next summer. This memo was, in effect, their 30-day notice giving them until Dec. 13.

The memo was dated Nov. 13 — the same day the Daily Breeze published a story about the irreparable elevator.  But the story said residents had to be relocated in a week’s time, by Nov. 21.

After Martino passed along her documents she noted Harbor View House staff would no longer allow Ferrari inside. The women now believed that Ferrari had been manipulated into signing the discharge papers with a storage unit for her belongings dangled in front of her as bait.

“Jane [Ferrari] was on a contract, when that contract was up, she was no longer paying rent,” Martino said.

“All residents have to sign a release form to be discharged,” Martino explained. Martino noted that many of the residents didn’t have the mental wherewithal to make decisions for themselves.

“Most of the residents there aren’t able capable of understanding that. Most of the residents aren’t capable of defending their rights,” Martino said. “I saw on a daily basis the residents’ rights being violated.”

Martino estimated that about 70 percent of the residents at Harbor View were pushed out of the building after a couple of days.

Martino believes a significant number were sent to Grandview Retirement home near downtown Los Angeles, a facility down the street from MacArthur Park. This is only rumor given that the information is difficult to verify due to HIPPA privacy rules. What we do know is that downtown Los Angeles wasn’t among the destinations that Harbor View House officials mentioned in stories reported by the Daily Breeze.

Martino charged that the counseling and the transition that was supposed to happen didn’t happen because the process was so fast.

“The interviews conducted by other facilities asked questions like, ‘Do you do [illicit] drugs?’ and couple of other questions,” Martino explained, drawing on her experience. “We didn’t have a choice. They didn’t tell us what our options were.”

Unlike a lot of Harbor View House residents, Martino said she had a few options other than moving to another facility, including moving in with her daughter in Orange County, or her siblings in Apple Valley.

She chose not to go that route due to a list of health issues, including high blood pressure. She said she suffered a stroke in 2010, about two years after she moved to Harbor View House. Martino said she didn’t want to leave because all of her doctors were in San Pedro. She decided to rent an apartment in Long Beach once she gets Harbor View House to refund monies she paid earlier in the month.

By her estimate, Martino believed only a few of Harbor View House’s residents were capable of living independently.

“But still, we were all under [Harbor View House’s] care.”

Martino has been a California resident since 1987. She left New York and followed her children, parents, and siblings to the Golden State after splitting from her husband of 12 years. She still speaks with a strong New York accent.

“I come from a very close-knit family,” Martino explained. “I really didn’t have any immediate family out there [New York]. So I came out here.”

Martino has worked many jobs in her adult life. She said her last occupation was that of a drug and alcohol counselor at the Tarzana Treatment Center, a residential program for women and children in Long Beach. She worked there for six years. She said that when her mental-health issue started interfering with her ability to do her job, she resigned. She said she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and agoraphobia, and started receiving help from the Long Beach Mental Health Services.

“It started taking over certain parts of my life so I had to turn in my resignation, so I could get treatment,” Martino said.

Martino opened up a series of sober living homes with a partner in Long Beach, called “Quality of Life.”

“I had a good network. A lot people were involved. A lot of people in Long Beach know me and we were doing that for 10 years,” Martino said.

Martino said it all came to an end when her business partner betrayed her by taking all the money out of the accounts for a year. The banks foreclosed on the houses one after the other, and she ultimately lost the business.

She moved to Orange County and lived with her daughter after her business failed. She returned after a few years and continued her care under Long Beach Mental Health Services. A fight with one of the male residents there resulted in her arrest. A social worker was sent to interview her, and she was transferred to Harbor View House. Then, before she knew it, as she said, 10 years had gone by.

“It was the most horrible 10 years of my life because of all the stuff that went on there,” Martino said.

“I got harassed [by staff] a lot because I advocate a lot and get staff members written up a lot for things they shouldn’t be doing,” she said. “I told on them all the time. So I got harassed.”

The building was sold and closed escrow in June 2018. In Martino’s event timeline,  Harbor View House’s parent company, HealthView, Inc.’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeffrey Smith informed residents at the time and told them they had a year.

“He said not to worry about anything. Everyone that was still in the building could move to the new place HealthView, Inc. was purchasing.

 The Official Narrative

“That’s the thing. We were only given one week,” HealthView, Inc.’s chief financial officer said. Smith was explaining the particulars of the order to comply issued by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to repair the elevator in one week.

Smith noted that the comply order included the code section for which HealthView, Inc. was in violation and noted that the order covered all occupied levels regardless of the number of stories the elevator serviced.

When the Hillcrest Company, the buyers of Harbor View House, closed escrow in June 2018, Smith explained HealthView, Inc. had started to look at other properties in which to purchase and relocate.

Smith took great pains to explain how the city and county stepped up to offer assistance if he needed it.

“We were able to relocate [the residents] on our own, with them [Councilman Joe Buscaino’s and Supervisor Janice Hahn’s offices] on standby,” Smith said.

Relocating and rehousing 140 residents with special needs in a week sounds daunting. But by Thanksgiving, all but seven were found suitable places, Smith said. The administrator admitted that four to five of these residents were hard cases. They couldn’t comprehend what was going on, Smith said.

The administrator explained that the Los Angeles County of Mental Health was called in to assess these four to five patients to determine if they qualified to be placed in 5150-hold—the Welfare and Institutions Code, which allows a person with a mental illness to be involuntarily detained for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization. These clinicians evaluate clients to determine whether they are at risk of harming themselves or others or are unable to provide food, clothing, or shelter as a result of a mental disorder. If the client is deemed to be at-risk, they are detained, then sent to a licensed facility.

Smith also noted that HealthView, Inc. had the help of family members in relocating clients. Families were notified of what was transpiring and were included in the relocation effort, Smith explained.

It was only after arrangements were made either with family members or destination care facilities that residents were asked to sign discharge papers. Smith denied allegations of manipulation and coercion to get those discharge papers signed.

My goal was to lessen the impact for the residents by relocating them with their friend groups and family members, Smith said.

Smith admitted that some residents wanted to remain in San Pedro, but only a small percentage ended up staying in San Pedro.

Smith says he understands why residents would fixate on him as the reason why they are being relocated, [or dislocated, depending on your perspective]. But this wasn’t a decision made by him. HealthView is a corporation. This was a decision that came from the top.

In answer to an allegation that residents belongings were still at Harbor View House and being thrown away, Smith said all but a couple of clients have their belongings with them. He said none of them required storage.

In regard to questions about staff still working at Harbor View House, he pointed out they are subject to the The WARN Act, the 1988 law aimed at preventing mass firing of workers without notice of at least 60 days.

“We had all hands on deck working through the weekend,” Smith explained of the days before the Nov. 21 deadline. “We were dealing with over 20 different facilities. Everyone had a choice.”

ERASING The Distinction Between The Sheltered And The Unsheltered

In law enforcement and guard work circles the California Welfare and Institutions Code is shorthand for a person suffering from mental illness and that meaning was interchangeable with “homeless person.”

When institutionalized, persons experiencing homelessness or mental illness, all distinctions separating the sheltered and the unsheltered are erased in the eyes of our judicial system, law enforcement, the news media and the public’s imagination.

Irrefutable evidence is unlikely to emerge showing the irreparable breakdown of Harbor View House’s elevator was simply cover for a business decision made midstream. We won’t know if all of these residents were truly displaced throughout Los Angeles County. We’ll just wonder if the next 5150 we see on our streets were a former resident of Harbor View House.

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