As I worked with the Los Angeles Police Department this morning to solve a major crime (more details to come in weeks ahead), I began to reflect on all that URM and our staff have accomplished to bring change to the streets of Skid Row. Many others rightly get credit for the major turnaround on these difficult streets. Our friend, Steve Lopez, author of The Soloist—the book on which the soon to be released movie, The Soloist, is based—opened the eyes of all of LA to the realities of Skid Row in his series, Life On The Streets in 2005. Commander Andy Smith, labeled Super Cop during his time serving at Central Division, and his courageous officers brought order to what he described as Mardi Gras on crack. Less apparent to our great city, has been the work of URM and our staff.
In 2005 we took decisive, bold action and purchased a safe place called Hope Gardens Family Center, so that we could move our women and children from the streets of Skid Row and make sure that no women or children were left living on the streets of Skid Row. We fought a lengthy battle to win the right to move our women and children to Skid Row, at a time when there was a great deal of talk about opening regional centers to serve people who were homeless. In the words of Steve Lopez, “Union Rescue Mission was the only one who succeeded in opening up one of those regional centers, and it is called Hope Gardens!” We welcomed LA County Family workers on site and provided offices for them so that we could work together to make sure that no woman or child was left on these mean streets.
We recently received a nice Thank you, from LA County CEO William T. Fujioka for doing our part.
When Chief Bratton moved ahead with the Safer Cities Initiative, we were one of the few and the first agencies to support them in bringing extra officers to the streets of Skid Row. We helped prepare the new officers with how to deal with our sensitive friends who are homeless and struggling on the streets; we joined them in outreach as they went out to enforce the law; we are still called on by the LAPD to go out and alert our friends who are homeless before the LAPD carries out a maximum enforcement of the no sleeping ordinance in effect from 6:00 A.M. to 9 P.M.
In March of 2006 we caught a hospital drop-off on video, a video that played throughout the world and provided strong evidence that “hospital dumpings” were not an Urban myth. This led to proper care for this particular patient, helped lead to the development of a proper protocol for the release of future patients and even led to a city law that prohibits such patient dumping. Just last week, a press conference was held on our URM rooftop, as a hospital and the city came to a settlement over the dropping off of 150 mental patients onto the streets of Skid Row. URM and our staff found the first fellow wandering the streets. We gathered evidence and turned it over to the City Attorney’s Office, which led to the finding that at least 150 mental patients, our most vulnerable citizens, had been dropped off by this Orange County Hospital—40 miles away—onto the mean streets of Skid Row. This has now led to the development of a new, Patient Safety Zone, and a proper protocol for the referral of Mental Health Patients.
When the economic downturn hit hard last Fall, we recognized early that 2 parent families were losing their homes, and while other agencies cut staff and services, our Board of Directors provided the leadership that allowed us to transform our 5th floor from volunteer housing to temporary living quarters for 2 parent families and single Dads with children. We utilized our Chapel as a kind of Red Cross like Emergency Shelter for families living in tent like structures called EDAR units. We stepped up to meet the growing need as we assisted nearly 4 times the number of families than we had the previous year. URM has not done this alone. Our faithful staff and bold Board of Directors have played a key role in making a powerful impact on Skid Row, and we move ever closer to the day when we truly can describe our city as the City of Angels, and Skid Row will be better known as Hope Central. I am honored to serve here at Union Rescue Mission. It is the greatest honor in my life.