The inaugural OPERATION FACE-LIFT/2012 kickoff campaign turned out better than I could have imagined. All the time and dedication given from the people who came together today makes me heartened that this new movement started from the ground-up, grass-roots style, can and will have legs.
So many people to thank. Firstly, I want to thank Christina N. Wilkerson who was leading up the Skid Row Unit-College Division and also Amber Ellis, who is the Program Coordinator at the Volunteers of America-San Julian Access Center. Without these ladies taking the helm, this could not have come together as seamlessly as it did.
I also want to thank the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation, the ladies of the Downtown Women’s Center (you know who you are!), Hal McMath, Union Church, West LA College, Whittier College, Fun Zone Reading Club for Homeless Kids, Hopes of Praise in El Monte, the VOA, Issues and Solutions, the Skid Row Brigade and all of the other volunteers who showed up. Also, I finally got to meet Officer Deon Joseph “Skid Row SLO”! It was great to have Mr. Joseph stop by and lend his support to us.
Today on San Julian Street- the “heart” of Skid Row- the streets were cleaned, food was shared, clothing was donated, musical performances took place and tons of positive energy was created. The groups coming together for this new revitalized effort is unprecedented. It’s essentially people like me (newbies to Skid Row), and the long-time community activists brought together by the USC college students.
It’s no secret that Skid Row is deeply dysfunctional. All of this City’s unwanted social ills have been allowed to fester here for decades. Systematic problems with the entire infrastructure of this neighborhood exist on every level. Don’t believe me? Walk San Julian Street for yourself and then tell me differently.
My focus with this blog and now my life, as I often state here, is in this community’s public space– the sidewalks themselves. I have only walked down San Julian Street a couple of times, even though I have lived here for over a year. It was frightening to me. It’s smelly, it’s mostly filled with men and its filthy. It’s also literally in my backyard. I cannot ignore it any longer. The people who I have met recently- who put have put in years of community service to Skid Row, have admonished me for wanting to “plant trees on the fringes of Skid Row”, while ignoring San Julian Street. They are right. The state people are allowed to live in on San Julian Street constitutes no less than a crime against humanity. People lying in pools of their own urine and mounds of trash is unacceptable. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to care about much else in this new “fabulous DTLA” unless more people- including all levels of government agencies start to collectively look at what is going on just a few blocks out of sight. It’s not that people don’t care- even though it looks that way on the streets- I have met some of the most kind, giving souls in my whole life since moving here who tend to the needs of the disenfranchised. It’s just that more is needed.
Operation Face-Lift will focus on basic sanitation for Skid Row. This means garbage collection and street washing. Also, more garbage cans for the area. Skid Row has a shamefully deficient lack of garbage cans considering the hundreds of people who live on the streets. In the past, the LAPD have been cautious about them. People in Skid Row have been known to light bonfires in trash cans- the new open mesh design accounts for this and is a less hospitable place for flames to fan. So, this attitude is changing slowly. The chaotic and often violent outbursts common here in the past have now been controlled. My hope is that more trash cans will be allowed for the area- specifically San Julian where they are needed most.
Another thing that this new campaign will focus energy on, is educating those who come to give away food in Skid Row to be mindful of their garbage considering our lack of trash receptacles.
The donation of brooms is currently welcome for Operation Face-Lift. The Volunteers of America in partnering with us, has agreed to store the brooms for people on the street who might want to use them to sweep up in front of their encampments. Many homeless people want to do this- and many did today.
San Julian Street now, does not get any City services. Nor does it get any private business services. Getting people out of their own excrement and cleaning the streets has nothing at all to do with any injunction or law against anybody. In fact, the conditions on San Julian Street themselves should be against the law. What is needed, is an introduction of regular garbage removal and street cleaning. This is the beginning of the introduction of these services to the absolute worst street in all of Los Angeles, and arguably, in all of America. Stay tuned…