GENESIS by Tom Grode


Genesis 1: 1-3: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  Then God said, ‘Let there be light’…”

Genesis (from Webster’s) — Something coming into being, origin

Around one in the afternoon on March 12th General Jeff called me and asked if I knew about the New Genesis situation.  I said I read an article about it and was against alcohol sales in the building.  He told me a hearing about it is happening at four o’clock with the Central Area Planning Commission and I told him I would be there.

During the meeting, about fifteen people spoke against permission and two or three in favor, everyone into a microphone as everything was being taped.   The people who spoke against included employees of SRHT and residents of the New Genesis and I thought their voice was calm, thoughtful and articulate.  When I spoke I was shaking because I didn’t understand the dynamics of what was going on but I felt there was something horrible at play.

When the three commissioners announced their vote, after the first one said a few sentences, I had to clench my jaw to keep from giggling since it was obvious where this was going.  Again, this was being taped.  The first commissioner voted no and wanted on the record she is also a therapist.  The second commissioner voted no and wanted on the record she has a long history of community activism in working with non-profits.  The third commissioner voted no and wanted on the record his apology to the Skid Row community.

Later on I spoke to someone who wasn’t there. I told him one of the main points people made, and I was one of them, is SRHT embracing the sale of alcohol in New Genesis is a fundamental violation of their mission as a non-profit.  He said that might not be true since SRHT is into harm reduction.

I vaguely knew what harm reduction meant and since then have studied it on the internet and gone back and forth about it with a Skid Row resident who told me they are not against harm reduction as social policy, but the Skid Row version is absolutely broken with them consistently finding needles on their street.  Harm Reduction throughout Europe is an official governmental health policy that is monitored and controlled.

One thing this has done is make me remember when I first moved into the Rosslyn Lofts ten months ago and was asked to sign a form saying I understand that laws on the street also apply to inside the building.  I said “Huh???” I was told some people don’t believe what is illegal outside is still illegal when you get inside your home.  I signed the form thinking it has to be the strangest thing I’ve ever signed.

This is from an article I found online about Homeless Health Care Los Angeles and the Center for Harm Reduction in Skid Row written by a USC Journalism student:

“To qualify for the center’s free services, clients must be living in single-room occupancy buildings or the Skid Row Housing Trust. HHCLA is overseen by Los Angeles County and funded through a combination of private donations, government money and grants, but the Center for Harm Reduction is funded entirely through private donations that require employees to focus on clients living in SROs.

Eligible clients can choose from an array of services, ranging from the more serious – case management, HIV counseling and testing and emergency overdose response training – to creative and social activities like art lessons, bingo or “coffee and a morning walk”.”

If this went out to the public, you can imagine the shocked and sarcastic comments from people over the power of deliverance from heroin addiction through bingo and “coffee and a morning walk”.

I love DTLA/Skid Row and the first few months I lived here I found it all incredibly complicated and confusing.  What helped me alot was the article in the 40th anniversary issue of the Downtown News where Ryan V. summed up the Containment Policy as one of the most ill-advised unofficial land use policies in Los Angeles.

As I’ve been researching harm reduction, I came across a 1985 L.A. Times article bringing before the public this new containment strategy for Skid Row and Downtown.  The simple phrase people use to describe containment is to concentrate the resources and people who need the resources into one area which was Skid Row given the history of helping people.  What I got out of the article was concentrating people and resources doesn’t describe what actually happened.  This containment zone strategy was a negotiated policy between the business developers and non-profit/homeless advocates.  In the article, those who were announcing this new strategy, like Mayor Tom Bradley, were already distancing themselves from it, concerned it wouldn’t work.

In the 28 years from 1985 to 2013, nothing has changed in the sense the two loudest voices are still the business developers and non-profit/homeless advocates.  What has changed is there is a third voice now, the voice of the Skid Row community, and that is the real Genesis here.

As for the New Genesis Apartments I see every time I look out my apartment window, what I see is both sad and hopeful.  Sad because all this time and energy arguing  over alcohol in a restaurant in the building could be used elsewhere.  Hopeful because if this building is really a powerful new model for the future of housing, then how cool will it be if the business or entity that ends up there can somehow convey the same message of the building above it.

Tom, new member of the Skid Row Brigade

Tom, newest member of the Skid Row Brigade

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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