The Letter

Dear Friends,

I’m compelled to weigh in on “the letter” circulating around the community and apparently headed toward Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s desk.  

I received the letter, and was invited to sign on in agreement with the conclusions and corresponding actions it outlines. Instead of signing on, I alerted some LAPD commanders to what I believe to be yet another attempt by some to remove the helpful police presence from Skid Row, and return this area many of us have worked so hard to change back to the deprived, predator & drug infested hopeless state it was in less than a decade ago — depicted so accurately in the tragic scenes featured in “The Soloist”.  

Among the disturbing sentiments made in the letter is the statement that since crime has been reduced by 33% on Skid Row, it is therefore time to move police away from Skid Row and to more dangerous parts of our city.  The police presence is the reason for this crime reduction and an absence of police would be followed by a return to lawlessness.  As it is, there is still far too much crime and violence on Skid Row, especially against women, and some of the crime has moved into the permanent-supportive housing projects of some of the letter’s signers.  There have been documented cases in the last year where leaders of gangs heading up drug sales move in, take over several apartments, require residents to package and sell drugs under the threat of violence. And it has been reported by reputable sources that some leaders of these housing groups actually dissuade their employees from reporting the crimes or cooperating with police.  

I have met people on the street, displaced from their permanent-supportive housing units by the violence inside of these poorly managed complexes. When we gathered for the annual memorial of those who had died on the streets of Skid Row, the longest list of names of those who died came from within these permanent supportive housing complexes. Don’t get me wrong.  I am all for permanent-supportive housing for the people most impacted and devastated by years of homelessness, but we need well-managed, safe permanent supportive housing complete with the much needed services that will help people live a hope filled life.    That is not possible when gangs and drug sellers are allowed to occupy the housing units, and it will take a continued strong police presence to keep Skid Row and the housing units safe.  

I do agree with this statement in the letter; 

“First, SCI should shift towards community policing.  The police on Skid Row should engage residents in a partnership aimed at developing solutions to problems and increasing trust in the police.”  

I am all for this kind of engagement, and partnership with police and residents to develop solutions. However, it is unfortunate and insincere of some of the writers to ask for this shift of engagement, partnership and development of solutions when they have unfairly criticized, exaggerated the facts, and even dissuaded their own residents and staff from reporting crime and cooperating with the police.  

I also take issue with another statement in the letter;

“Second, policing should focus on serious crime, and stop issuing routine citations for such petty offenses as jaywalking, littering, and loitering.” 

Jaywalking is dangerous for all, and especially deadly for those who’ve been left on the streets.  The writers should better study the “Broken Windows” approach to policing that has helped bring about the transformation on Skid Row.  I wish this effective approach would be taken in my own neighborhood, where illegal parking goes unchecked, leads to drug sales, and eventually violence and shootings.  Are the writers already forgetting that it was two of LAPD’s officers on horseback, stopping and apprehending the killer of beautiful young Lily Burk because he was drinking in public on the streets of Skid Row? In the words of Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz of the LAPD, “Samuel was seen drinking beer on a Skid Row street and arrested for investigation of possessing narcotics paraphernalia because he allegedly had a crack cocaine pipe” Diaz said. 

One of the final requests of the writers of the letter has already begun in a strong way;

 “Third, SCI should prioritize connecting residents to services.” 

Agencies like Volunteers of America, PATH, Union Rescue Mission, Midnight Mission, the Weingart Center and others have already been active in an SOS program that provides the option for the residents of Skid Row and other neighborhoods who have been arrested to choose a 21 day program instead of jail time.  The LAPD and City Attorney’s office have been active players in this option as well. 

I am one of the few social service heads to join the LAPD in their community policing and time after time I have seen them assist people in need with appropriate services, from expectant moms to whole families to men ready to give life another try, the LAPD often refers people to the help they need.

I will say it one more time, the LAPD has done and is doing their part to clean up the streets of downtown LA and to transform Skid Row, but their part is only about 10% of what needs to be done.  The rest of the transformation lies on the shoulders of the social service providers and the politicians, those who wrote and received “the letter”.  We need to step up our efforts to provide the resources to build more housing opportunities and services throughout LA, regionalize the solution to homelessness, and after we’ve built the housing, provide the supportive services and management to sustain it and move towards the day when not one precious person will be left on the streets of our city.  

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback and pray that those who can will join us in the fight to end homelessness as we know it in Los Angeles.  Click here to send a message directly to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urging him to maintain the police presence on Skid Row. 


Rev. Andy Bales

8 thoughts on “The Letter

  1. To Andy Bales,

    I wish you the best in your attempt to steer government. I already feel you are one of the most effective people and run one of the most effective organizations but ….. ahhh … the elusive “but” … you are going up against the city of Los Angeles that is one of the most poorly run organizations one will find, only slightly ahead of AT&T which holds last place.

    I would not be surprised to hear excuses of lack of funds or changes in policy. I am not a big fan of our government on any level. I spent 1968 and part of 1969 in Vietnam and that experience and the way I saw them treat military folks from then until now is just criminal. The highest percentage of homeless people may still be ex vets today.

    Law enforcement and the LAPD in general? The officers on the street are first rate folks. They are underpaid and put their lives on the line every day. I walk the streets of Skid Row many times each week in the day and in the evening. I see the police response time to many situations and have watched and listened to their approach to many calls. First rate is all I can say. These folks work in one of the most unstable areas in the city if not the most unstable.

    If anything there needs to be additional resources put toward the law enforcement effort. This is not the time to take resources away and loose what movement is in progress in a positive direction. But …. I will not be surprised if things take a different direction.

    My last blog piece was on the effort for the people of Haiti and touched a little on the subject of your letter Andy. I see so much effort going to other places when there is still so much that needs to be done in our own backyard.

    I don’t want to diminish any thoughts toward the other missions and shelters but I do wish to state from my own observation that you and your staff at the Union Rescue Mission can stretch a dollar farther than just about anybody. I think you and your staff might be a resource worth listening to when it comes to the allocation of resources in downtown Los Angeles. Our current mayor has enough on his plate and a very big part of being a wise person is knowing how to allocate and yield to the expertise of others. Andy Bales; you continue to demonstrate qualities and have a long term proven track record that has no political agenda. You are fair, wise, economically estute and hopefully our mayors office will reach out for your expertise. But …. (sorry for another “but” ) …. if our local government continues down their current path and things decline I will not be surprised.

    I wish you the best. I am not a very religous person but I have become a bit more involved or open to some of these ideas since I became directly involved in the streets with many of the homeless and have learned much more about the infrastructure in Los Angeles in which you are major part.


    Myles S. Rose

  2. bobpal on

    Thanks for speaking out Andy and for letting us join you.

    I too agree that reducing policing in the skid row neighborhood would lead to an increase in crime and find it hard to believe that anyone that ever visits there would disagree.

    In my opinion any group of community leaders should be encouraging the mayor to hire more police, like we’ve been promised for years, and police other high-crime areas of the city more like they police skid row not to let the area slip back toward what it once was.

  3. Thank you, Myles, for sharing your heart and perspective. Your encouraging words are appreciated. Bless you.
    Thank you, as well, to Bobpal, for reading and weighing in. Blessings

  4. Barbara on

    Dear Andy,
    Please know that I, as well, I’m sure, as many other friends and supporters across the country, keep you, Union Rescue Mission, and fellow supporters of caring, compassionate and effective outreach to people in great need in prayer. Thank you for your ceaseless efforts on behalf of individuals and families who need safety, help, a refuge and hope to find their way home.
    May God continue to grant you His great wisdom, grace and strength as you serve those so close to His heart.

  5. Thank you, Barbara, for your encouraging words and your continued prayers. Bless you!

  6. Read the latest from LA Downtown News, what Homeless Advocates Say Ease Up On Enforcement In Skid Row – Los Angeles News – LA Daily , followed by this blog and several comments from the public.

  7. A very good video that will provide more insight into what Skid Row was like before Safer Cities Initiative and the need that still exists for strong policing. Please watch!

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