Setback But Not Deterred

November 2010 - Skid Row Clean & Quiet

Something dreadful is happening on Skid Row in Los Angeles, and it seems no one is taking notice or talking about it. I guess I will be one of the first. Most of the incredible work done from 2005-2010 by the community to restore hope, bring order, and reduce the numbers of precious people living on the streets has been reversed over the last 12 months.  After Steve Lopez and the LA Times published Life on The Streets, much needed overdue attention came to LA’s Skid Row, and the number of people on the street was reduced from 2000 to 600.

In the last 12 months the number of people on the streets of LA’s Skid Row has grown from 888 one year ago, to 1662 on the street last week according to the Central Division of LAPD, and crime has risen.

I attribute this to 3 major factors: the worsening economy bringing high unemployment and a lack of services to people in need, the one size fits all move to Housing First which has caused the limited resources available to move away from emergency services and to permanent supportive housing only, and the recent federal court ruling in favor of LACAN which protects the property of people experiencing homelessness to the extreme point that any type of clean up of Skid Row by anyone is not allowed.

Current Condition of Skid Row

Click on this link to take a quick poll and let us know if you think it should be illegal to remove abandoned property from Skid Row

We’ve seen no reprieve since the Great Recession hit hard in October of 2008, as the tsunami of families and individuals continues to pour into Skid Row and into Union Rescue Mission.  Each hot day that we take cold bottles of water out on the streets, we can see newbies, brand new arrivals to Skid Row walking along in a state of shock, as they’ve either lost their  home, their temporary bed, or have been recently released from prison without any substantial support system or any hope of employment.  I believe the only solution for this is a jobs program similar to the WPA and CCC of the Great Depression era that kept families like my own father’s working and alive as they lived in a tent in Azusa Canyon while my granddad helped build the Azusa Canyon Dam.

The move to Housing 1st is a key to ending homelessness among chronically homeless individuals and veterans, and added to other strategies could be a very good thing for the 10 to 20% of people experiencing homelessness who are indeed chronically suffering on the streets. But instead of adding this strategy to others, proponents of Housing 1st have made it a singular focus, one size fits all approach, and garnered the support of government officials, foundations, and corporations, causing a shift of resources away from the services that support 80% of the people experiencing homelessness.  This has caused many service providers to shrink services or disappear completely, leaving more people than ever out on the mean streets while the limited few who can be served by Housing 1st are saved from the streets.   I believe this has greatly added to the number of people on Skid Row, and while the few are served by Housing 1st, many within the other 80% who drop into homelessness, including children, are left unserved, and will become the chronically homeless of tomorrow, in effect adding to the homeless numbers rather than ending homelessness, as Housing 1st advocates intended.  We needed a both/and approach, continuing emergency services while adding permanent supportive housing to the continuum of care,, not a dropping of emergency services and shifting of all resources to Housing 1st!  Permanent supportive is one of the many steps needed to end homelessness, not the one solution to ending homelessness.  Many may disagree, but the numbers speak for themselves.  The number of people on Skid Row has doubled since the shift of resources to Housing 1st.

Finally, LACAN activists, who seem determined to keep Skid Row, Skid Row, played a key role in shaping a Federal Court ruling that now bars anyone from picking up left behind items from Skid Row.  Believing the pendulum had swung too far in police and street crew clean-ups of abandoned property belonging to people experiencing homelessness, the Federal Court, according to police, did not even consider both sides of the argument and ruled that no one can clean up the streets of Skid Row lest they wrongfully remove the property of persons experiencing homelessness.  This has left piles of debris on the sidewalks, human waste now intermingled in the piles of debris creating a health hazard, and according to Captain Chamberlain of the LAPD, “has taken Skid Row back 10 years!”  LACAN activists are even reportedly dropping off old computers and garbage at the debris piles to make a point!  It seems that a compromise for the sake of all is needed.  Perhaps the CCEA could store left behind property and a 3 day notice could be left at the site of the abandoned goods letting people know where they might find their property?

We’ve definitely suffered a setback in ending homelessness as we know it on Skid Row in Los Angeles, but we will not be deterred.  Union Rescue Mission has pledged to do all that we can to see less than 100 precious souls on the streets of Skid Row by June 2016.

Let your voice be heard on this.  Skid Row is in Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard’s district.  Go to to contact her.

Then please go to to see how you can become involved.

Blessings, Andy B.