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The state's independent watchdog group Wednesday heaped praise on a pilot program for runaways and abused youths in Hollywood that is sponsored by Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, and argued that more programs like it are needed across the state.

Officials with the so-called Little Hoover Commission--an arm of state government that examines issues and investigates state agencies--used a news conference at the Greater Los Angeles Press Club in Burbank to urge the state Legislature to approve approximately $1.5 million for more programs to help get wayward teen-agers off the streets. One area in particular need is San Diego County, where commission officials said nearly one of three youths seeking help is turned away because of a lack of money and facilities.


"This is a crisis and we'd better face the music," said Commission Chairman Nathan Shapell.

Experts believe that there may be between 20,000 and 25,000 homeless children in California on any given day. The small collection of private agencies and nonprofit groups that now exist are unable to adequately provide services to most of these youths, experts say.

In asking for more funds, the commission singled out a three-year shelter program administered by Childrens Hospital, which received more than $1.5 million from the state. The initial installment of money in 1986 helped pay for a 20-bed shelter in Hollywood at the corner of Franklin and Highland avenues. The state money made up about half of the shelter's operating budget. Even after the initial state grant ran out, the shelter continued to attract funds from private sources.

Operated for the hospital by L.A. Youth Network, the shelter provided counseling, housing, medical and other services to an estimated 2,000 youths a year. In the shelter's first two years, 537 youths who had been on the streets were placed in permanent homes. In 21% of those cases, the youths returned to their families.

"We have a staff specializing in the chronic runaway," said Youth Network Executive Director John Peel. "The kids can leave if they want to. I think we're successful because the kids can say, 'I have some control to stay (off the streets) and I'm choosing to help myself.' "

The commission, formally known as the Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy, said the Hollywood project was particularly effective since it cost less than $900 a year to provide services to each youngster in the program. The services may vary from providing food or shelter to monitoring a youngster's progress after placement in a home.

On the other hand, it costs the state $27,000 a year to maintain a youth in the California Youth Authority or $4,000 a year for foster care.

Also singled out for praise at the news conference was a San Francisco shelter program operated by Catholic Charities, which has received about $1.1 million in state funds in the last three years.

Shapell and Gary Yates, assistant director for adolescent medicine at Childrens Hospital, said any additional funds allocated for Los Angeles County might help finance similar programs in areas such as Long Beach, South-Central Los Angeles and Venice.

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