First, the opening graphs of the story:
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.