I heard about this injunction to block the LAPD from removing possessions which can often take the form of sidewalk-blocking items such as soiled mattresses and unattended bags in my neighborhood late Thursday night at a meeting between Estela Lopez of the CCEA and her staff with my building’s tenants. Friday morning I read the headline, (blogdowntown.com article titled, “City Banned from Taking and Destroying Possessions on Skid Row”, June 24, 2011 by By Eric Richardson) http://blogdowntown.com/2011/06/6288-city-banned-from-taking-and-destroying-possessions
My building’s “Community Outreach Committee” has learned to following today:
(From the offices of the CCEA): This ruling is specific to LAPD but it also says that it leaves open the opportunity for LAPD to implement a system like we have at our warehouse. We are able to remove property because of the detailed system in which we proceed in those cases. From tracking the time and location where the property was removed, to the bagging and storing of the property. Unfortunately, CCEA is now left to picking up items by ourselves without the assistance from LAPD because of this ruling. But please be assured we will continue our efforts to keep the streets clean.
I started this blog to write about trees and neighborhood beautification in Skid Row. I will continue to do so, however to ignore the issue of trash as well as the homeless people’s personal effects for whom the streets ARE their home is to ignore the elephant in the room. This issue must be addressed and debated consistently and thoughtfully if everyone who lives here is to coexist-everyone being residential landowners, renters, and the homeless folks. It is this blogger’s opinion that solutions can be reached that would engender mutual respect however difficult this process may continue to be.
My building, The Little Tokyo Lofts @ 420 South San Pedro St. currently houses the only residential landowners within Skid Row boundaries. We are unique here in this sense, but there are several thousand people who also live in Skid Row in rented artist lofts, SRO buildings (Single Room Occupancy) and on the streets themselves.
Any talk or action involving clean, green, safe and walkable public sidewalks within these 50 blocks must include discussions about the people who call the sidewalks home.
As much as I had initially intended to blog only about types of trees that would grow well in our microclimate, bike lanes for our streets and flowers for our empty flower beds, none of this is going to blossom if there cannot be some consensus or at least outreach to ALL the people who live here. Why were we, as the only residential landowners in Skid Row never asked our opinion of trash removal or what does and does not constitute trash? For that matter, why were we not asked about what may or may not be safe for our own neighborhood? What about public urination and defecation on our sidewalks—this is a major problem here with still no resolution. What about our rights? Do we HAVE any in Skid Row? Why are our rights different that they would be just few blocks north or a few blocks west? In all fairness to the lawyers who brought this case, they may not even know we exist here at all, but shouldn’t they?
For some background on my perspective, I grew up in a small town in the East Bay of Northern California nestled right next to a town called Berkeley. There exists, close to the University a place called “People’s Park” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Park).
People’s Park is a park in the middle of Berkeley with a fabled past emanating from the city’s tumultuous 60’s where the Free Speech Movement was born. It is a public park that people have lived in for over 40 years. It is a place I visited frequently as a curious teenager. There was always something exciting happening there- a protest, a concert, drum circles with people dancing, free food, community gardening, etc. and always in the background of the park were the lawyers. Since People’s Park’s inception, there have been points of contention and lawsuits between the neighbors and the lawyers representing the Park’s homeless. This dynamic is part of the fabric of the place I grew up in and I’d like to think had the effect of distilling in me a tolerant attitude towards street people.
Skid Row may have drawn me closer to it considering the blurry boundaries about “home” that I saw around me as a child. Homeless people are as natural as the wind one could say-after all; every society of every country throughout history has had their homeless people, nomads, wanderers, Roma, what have you. It is how the City of Los Angeles has chosen to strategically design and contain Skid Row through the decades that make it such a quagmire to unwind, let alone understand.
Something seems real to me here, seems worthy of the effort to create harmony, seems impossible yet within reach. It’s almost like living a philosophy course to call this place home. I am constantly asking myself, “How did Skid Row get this way?”, “Why is this place like this?”, “What were the city’s forefather’s thinking when they created this place?”, “How can all walks of life live peacefully here together?” or “Is this even possible?”
To people on the outside looking in, you might be asking yourselves, “What kind of person would buy a loft in Skid Row?” Well, I did. There are also families here, retired people, artists, professionals, social workers, health care workers, teachers-the gamut.
In reading and listening to the local press about Skid Row I have often heard the word “gentrifying” about my buildings influence on the neighborhood. This word is misused so as to pit “us” against the homeless people here. I reject this pigeonhole and would put forth that what I mostly hear out of my fellow loft resident’s mouths is, “how can we make this work?”, “Let’s figure out a way to live together”. I don’t think anybody has the answers for just how this is going to work, but believe me we are asking the questions. A first step is to get a seat at the table and be included in the discussions about “What to do with Skid Row?” We want to help. We love our neighborhood.