Friday, March 10, 2006

The LAPD, The LA Times, Skid Row and San Julian.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-skidrow10mar10,0,4697903.story

http://www.laist.com/archives/2006/03/10/am_news_cleaning_up_all_over_town.php

First, the opening graphs of the story:

THE STATE

LAPD's Skid Row Divide

The more radical of two proposals under debate would rid area of 'box cities.' The other would target crime. Bratton is expected to decide soon.

By Cara Mia DiMassa and Richard Winton Times Staff Writers March 10, 2006

Los Angeles Police Department officials are divided over two proposals for cleaning up skid row - one an ambitious and controversial effort to move thousands of homeless people off the streets, the other focused primarily on reducing crime.

The debate comes as the city struggles to develop a comprehensive strategy for solving the downtown district's many long-entrenched problems. Despite the intense focus on skid row in recent months, progress so far has been hard to measure.

Last week, the LAPD declared one of skid row's most notorious sections - the 600 block of San Julian Street - a "drug-free zone" after a series of altercations between homeless people and officers. With increased patrols, San Julian's large homeless population scattered, and for the first time in years the street looks largely like a ghost town.

But officials acknowledge that it was far from a long-term solution, noting that most of the transients simply relocated elsewhere downtown. The more radical of the two master plans under consideration by the LAPD is being pushed by Asst. Chief George Gascon, who is calling for the department to permanently rid the area of its ubiquitous tent and box cities.

Gascon, one of Chief William J. Bratton's top deputies, argues that the department's efforts so far simply have not had a strong enough effect on the homeless problem. His plan is similar to Bratton's original policing idea for skid row when he arrived in 2002. The chief called for removing the tent cities, but the department scaled back its plans after the American Civil Liberties Union sued, saying the practice violated homeless people's civil rights.

But others in the LAPD are backing a blueprint for skid row drafted by George Kelling, the noted Rutgers criminologist who is a co-author with James Q. Wilson of the "broken windows" theory of policing that Bratton has adopted.

The theory holds that punishing lesser offenses leads to reductions in major crimes. Kelling argues that rather than removing homeless people wholesale from the streets, the LAPD should focus on criminals, including drug dealers and prostitutes, who he says create a "culture of lawlessness" in the area.

The divide is generating anxiety among service providers and officials. Bratton has said he is mulling what approach to take, with a decision expected in the next few weeks.

OK - deep breath. All the article tackles is how do we solve the problems of crime, drug usprostitutionion and homelessness - and we are given two options to chose from.

Option A or option B.

To begin with, my one small quibble with the otherwise excellent article is that it says that San Julian now looks like a ghost town.

I strongly disagree.

It now looks a like a normal street. The kind of street that the residents of any neighborhood in Los Angeles deserve to have - including the residents of Skid Row, the vast majority of whom do NOT sleep or camp out on the streets.

My second comment is that Skid Row has the largest population of people in Los Angeles who are trying to either stop drinking or stop using drugs - or who have already stopped and who are trying to say sober and/or clean.

But every time they walk out their doors, a flood of dealers comes up to them to give them free drugs to get them hooked again. And many of those dealing live in the government subsidized non-profit SRO's. A walk up and down Main Street every night will see drug dealers openly conducting business out of the front doors of at least four of these taxpayer subsidized hotels - and some of these hotels have even had in the past managers and security guards who were doing the drug selling.

For this reason alone, all of Skid Row must be made a drug free, zero tolerance zone.

Now as for the methods to use, first, San Julian is a unique situation. It borders some of the major missions in the area and it is as close to a literal hell on earth as exists in this country. There is no question that when any streets gets as out of control as it has, that drastic actions need to be taken.

San Julian, though, is a rare exception and it is not typical of the rest of Skid Row.

As for the short term methods to be used by the LAPD, I far more strongly lean towards the Broken Windows approach. Get rid of the drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps and other criminals from the area so we can deal with the problems of the people who are truly homeless and who not just using the streets as a cover to conduct illegal businesses.

I might add that of the fifty people I have helped get off the streets in the past five or six years - every single one of them has to leave Skid Row to get off the streets. Of all the homeless I have gotten housing on Skid Row - 100% of them have ended up back out on the streets.

I can not report a single success story in five or six years.

It is also clear to me that any new SRO built in downtown should never, ever house anyone who has ever - even once - sold drugs in the past. And mandatory drug testing should be required of anyone who has taken drugs in the past. And the Huntington Hotel - where the security staff is still allowing the sale of drugs and where drugs dealers are still openly operating - should be where this policy starts.

Now as for more long term solutions, I have a number of conflicting opinions.

First, being homeless has been made far too easy in this city. A few politically powerful organizations are more concerned with people having the 'right' to live in their own filth, camped out on the street as opposed to working to get them off the streets.

If you live on Skid Row you can give five or six free hot meals a day (no one ever goes hungry on Skid Row), take showers, use public rest rooms, have your stuff stored for free on a daily basis, get free medical treatment - if you avail yourself of the services, sleep in a shelter on nights when it is raining or too cold - and you are not held accountable for any of your actions out on the streets when you receive any of these services.

There are also misguided people out there who give away tents, shopping carts and sleeping bags to the homeless that help them stay out on the streets rather than seek help in one of the shelters. There are also good-hearted people who give pan handlers money on a daily basis that enable them to buy drugs and get drunk. In my opinion, a special place in hell should be reserved for each and every one of these people.

For too many people, being homeless has become the easy default when an army of enablers is giving them what they need to be able to continue to live on the streets and endanger the health of themselves and others.

As an example, right now I am regularly working with eight homeless trying to get them off the streets. One of them might - and with a little luck will - come in tonight and have his own room for the first time in over eight years.

This is Ernest Adams, the man who was almost beaten to death last year.

But it has taken a small army of us to get him to this point and at every turn we have been thwarted by all the well meaning people who have made it easier for him to live on the street than for him to go into an apartment and get the help he needs. And even now, he is starting to turn against the lead person in this week's effort because so great is his fear of giving up the security of living on the street - a street he was almost beaten to death on - for the unknown world he will face living in his own apartment.

Because of this five or six years of dealing with this, it is clear to me that in some ways, the police making it harder and harder to live on the streets is the best thing that could happen to Skid Row. It HAS to be made more attractive to seek shelter than to live out on the streets to get the shelter resistant into housing.

But just sweeping people off of every street is also not a solution. There needs to be a balance. Carrots and sticks.

And this leads us to what the real solution is. Each person who is gotten off the street does so when they are treated as an unique individual with unique problems - and unique qualities.

That is the secret. And it takes a special breed of person to work with those people and obtain their trust so that that will - finally - do what they know is best for them despite all of their fears about a future off of the streets. And many times that can only happen when life on the streets becomes too hard to deal with - and it will take tough love on the part of the LAPD for that to happen.

But we also need to restructure the vast - and competing array - of services and service providers that have flooded Skid Row. Right now, each of the homeless can come into contact with literally dozens of different providers each year - and none of them is communicating with each other on what they have done for each client - or have communicated what they have learned about each of their clients.

Yes, we are all sitting in rooms and talking to each other (to the point that twice in the past month it has been suggested to hold a meeting about how to have - fewer meetings) - but we are just talking about who we are and what we are doing. We are not talking about the individuals we are trying to help so that we can work TOGETHER on each person's case.

We somehow need to find a way to collectively work with each person as an individual. Far more can get done if there was only organization for each of the five or ten that exist now. Right now there are simply too many options, too many safe harbors competing with each other for a rational distribution of services.

And then there are those handful of organizations funded by brain dead Westside foundations that do not provide services, but instead see it as their mission to 'protect' the rights of people to shoot up drugs and sell heroin and live on the streets to further complicate the situation.

So - getting back to the article - which 'solution' do I agree with?

I agree with both of them in parts - and I disagree with both of them in part. But the real crime out there is that this has been allowed to become a problem that the LAPD has been forced to address.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You could not have said it better.

The general public has no real understanding of the issue and mostly has closed eyes.

The media reports the problem from a distance, fearing that it may step on toes.

The politicians like to brag about the millions of taxpayer money that they funnel to non-profits to end the problem 'once and for all'. But every election brings more homeless and the cycle goes on.

The non-profits are like the military-industrial complex in my mind. I don't think that there is one of them that really want the problem to go away. The ACLU, supervising the entire fiasco, makes sure that the hopeless find it easy to get in trouble and keeping public defenders busy. I have never seen any real evidence that the institutions care if an individual ends out in the morgue. They know there will be plenty more newcomers to replace the corpse. Aren’t they using cadaver stats for fund raising?

Which reminds me, I recall reading something about a project in, I believe, Seattle about a homeless shelter was to provide all the free booze anyone wants as long as they stayed out of trouble. Don't you love these thoughtful people? They could call it the 'Holidaycaust Inn'.

This is not charity!

Reality tells me that only discipline will solve the problem, but that approach is as likely to be adopted as if it could be used in our failed school system. So that leaves diffusion. Spread it out. There should be homeless shelters all over town. In fact there should be one next to every school, from Chatsworth to San Pedro, serving dually as monuments to failed public policy.

In all, I don't see anything happening until Downtown people rise up in rebellion. And then, I don't see anything happening as the rest of the city 'up rises in revulsion’ to ANY solution.

Personal charity, like your efforts, is the best way. But Brady, you are like someone with his finger stuck in the dam. There are not enough of you. Today, personal charity is a $1 bill without eye contact for most.

But if nothing is done, Downtown will never be the place we envision.

Keep up the pressure, you have many supporters.

Anonymous said...

Brady,

The "Broken Windows" approach does nothing to fix the real issues of poverty, lack of jobs, and lack of mental health-related services available for the homeless in downtown Los Angeles. Bratton, needs to remember that New York is not Los Angeles. NY spends hundreds of millions of dollars for 40,000 NYers; yet, Los Angeles spends $40 million for 87,000 homeless residents. LA politicians are beholden to the developers and could care less about Skid Row. Nothing would have changed, if the LAT didn't write those articles about dumping. Mind you, those same "dumping" articles were also written in the late-1990s.

JE

Anonymous said...

There are 87,000 homeless people in LA County?! WOW!

Since downtown LA, and particularly Skid Row, is the county's capital of homelessness, I guess it therefore must have at least 5,000, 11,000, 20,000 (maybe more?) people living out on the sidewalks?

Oh, and I'm sure the homeless problem in San Francisco isn't out of control the way it is in LA because they, unlike us, spend so much money on their destitute. Yea, you really never see lots of beggars milling around the sidewalks and streets of Baghdad by the Bay.


The Los Angeles Police Department recently released the first in a series of counts of homeless people on Downtown streets. On Feb. 21 from 11:30 p.m. to early the next morning, 1,354 homeless people were tallied in the area bounded roughly by the 110 Freeway, the Los Angeles River, Washington Boulevard and Chinatown.....The number comes nearly two months after the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority pegged the county homeless population at nearly 82,000 on a typical night.

oward said...

Its no wonder that anonymous at 9:38, signed his/her piece without eye contact, to avoid being checked directly or have any real accountability for statements made. That way you can flame whoever you like, you don't have to check the facts or even approach transperancy or truth. Whoa "Military Industrial Complex"...I'm a Gil Scott Heron fan too...but what he was referring to in the song 'Work for Peace'(find lyrics here: http://www.zmag.org/Songs/workforpeace.htm)was the idea that the government creates war to create econonmic opportunity...maybe yes and maybe no...I ain't got no dog in that race so I'll yield rather than comment...the writer intimates that non-profits are doing the same thing, i.e.,create homelessness to stay in business...the fact of the matter is this non-profits have been battling homelessness much longer than our government, in particular faith-based organizations have been doing this without much government help at all. The majority (62 percent) of faith-based programs receive no government funding at all and the vast majority (90 percent) receive less that one-half of their funding from government sources. Among secular non-profits, less than one-quarter receive no government funds and only 40 percent receive less than one-half of their funds from government agencies.
Twenty-two percent of secular non-profits rely on government funds exclusively, compared to less than 3 percent of faith-based programs. I bring this up to center our discussion on Central City East, which has the highest concentration of providers in the region. The larger facilities are faith-based, or privately funded organizations (like mine - Midnight Mission) that address homelesness one person at a time with good results. As you drive-by the issue it is easy to miss positive results, but those that take the time to dig know take are programs worth replicating out there. To state that N/P don't want the problem gone is crazy, and obviously stems from not taking the time to visit them and check out what they ARE doing. Homelessness grows because poverty grows, poverty grows for a lot of reeason...(maybe here you can insert your allegory modified to read the Poverty Industrial Complex), I don't know. The Seattle project, of which I am taking a wait and see attitude, doesn't provide liquor, but doesn't disallow the severely addicted individual from weaning off at his/her pace, as long no one else is harmed and rent is paid...they call it Harm Reduction, ie., and provide services that will help the willing person to change their behavior as the particpants sees fit. The project is blessed by Seattle downtowners, who figure its better to have these folks hooused somewhere, where they may get some help then have them on the revitialized downtown streets...again I'm on the sidelines for this one. Brady is a good example of one person stepping up to do something/ anything to make a difference, don't just support him do something, like the song says,
"Each one reach one, Each one try to teach one".

Nobody can do everything,
but everybody can do something,
everyone must play a part,
everyone got to go to work, Work for Peace.

Spirit Say Work, Work for Peace
If you believe the things you say, go to work.
If you believe in Peace, time to go to work.
Cant be wavin your hand no more, go to work.

Anonymous said...

Brady you have done absolutley nothing to make Downtown a better place. You have many detractors and you will lose your place on the neighborhood council.

Anonymous said...

"Brady is a good example of one person stepping up to do something/ anything to make a difference, don't just support him do something, like the song says,
'Each one reach one, Each one try to teach one'."

To put it all on LA's citizens is unfair. I work 50+ hours/week, sit in traffic another 15 hours/week, and in my spare hours I pay bills and barely have enough time to take care of my daughter. I can (and do) occasionally volunteer, but for the most part the best I can do is give. And I do, both in charity and in taxes.

Where does that leave us? That leaves us hoping and praying the govt. and charities we are giving to are doing the right thing and being effective. If they are not, we have few options. We can keep giving, and hope they someday reform. Or we can stop giving, and thus contribute to nothing really happening.

I don't appreciate people in the charity business giving working people grief for not "reaching out a hand to another human being". You show me how to get by on a part-time job, and I'll be down there to help out. But until you can do that, my money and my trust is all you're going to get.