BEYOND CONTAINMENT by Tom Grode

This past February 18th the Los Angeles Downtown News celebrated their 40th anniversary with a special edition “40”. One of the articles by Ryan Vaillancourt – “Downtown, We’ve Had Some Problems: the worst ideas, concepts, and plans of the past 40 years”. From that article:

Skid Row ‘Containment’.

In what is perhaps the most ill-conceived unofficial land-use policy in Los Angeles, city operatives for decades have treated Skid Row as a ‘containment’ zone for the homeless and the social services that support them. While the area has a long history of serving transient laborers, the city’s moves to concentrate shelters and other services for the poor in an urban hideaway has proven costly. As the homeless capital of the country, Skid Row is a black eye on Los Angeles, all the more visible today since it abuts a thriving residential and commercial community in Downtown. The concentration of shelters, food banks, clinics and supportive housing in one small area has also reduced pressure on other communities in the region to provide their own resources. And no matter how much lip service politicians in far-flung districts give to being open to taking on more of these facilities, they rarely come through, worried about constituent blowback. The situation continues to give Skid Row a concentration of the types of vices that go hand-in-hand with poverty, from drug use to petty crime.

My perception of containment is a three part strategy:

1) Put all services in one place

2) Send all people who need those services to that place

3) Make that place so miserable to motivate people to no longer need those services. Sort of like a therapist concerned clients are living in a therapy bubble comfort zone rather than really work through their issues and arranging when a client leaves their office after finishing a session for someone in a chair in the waiting room to stand up and slap them across the face.

When someone who grew up in a middle class neighborhood spends enough time walking around the streets of Skid Row, you discover how much you took for granted growing up. Like trash pick up. Like a broken light bulb in a street lamp being replaced. Nothing is taken for granted in Skid Row and many things require a fight.

I believe something is happening right now in Skid Row similar to Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or whatever might have replaced Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, was arrested for refusing to go to the back of the bus. This launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the year long boycott not only changed bus policy, it sparked the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks wasn’t the only person being arrested for going to an open seat, but she was such a respected member of the community that when she was arrested, it became the spark that lit the flame. If the Montgomery Bus Boycott only lasted a few weeks and fell apart, a different spark would have emerged and Rosa Parks might only be a footnote today in the story of the Civil Rights Movement. Destiny will not be denied.

On February 22, 2013, front page article in the Los Angeles Times: “Feds try to curb outbreak of TB on skid row”. From that unfolded a special Skid Row/Downtown community meeting on March 6th. This tuberculosis situation will be going on for at least a few more months and has the potential to harvest numerous dynamics in the Skid Row community. But if that potential isn’t realized, the dynamics will continue to swirl and it’s only a matter of time before an outbreak.

To understand what’s now taking place in Skid Row, which began at least several years ago, perhaps the best way to explain it is through the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. General Jeff Page represents Skid Row Residents on the Neighborhood Council. This means he represents all the residents ranging from Skid Row condominium owners (not an oxymoron) to those living in a tent on a sidewalk encampment. This is the result of moving beyond containment: seeing Skid Row as an actual community of people.

This is the mindset of the future and condo-owner-neighbor-to-tent-dweller might be around for a long time because the only way to change it is “lip service politicians in far-flung districts” becoming someone else.

In the meantime…..

Some local Skid Row TB reports:

 

By Tom Grode

Blogger’s note: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Trees on San Pedro Street Project editrix, Ms. McNenny. This is a Community improvement blog and not faith-based.

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