Street Cleaning with a Twist – A Plea for Partnership

On June 18th the Mayor’s office announced street cleanings in Skid Row that will comply with the Ninth Circuit injunction related to homelessness on the street. I want to commend all those who have been working on this issue including our politicos, Estela Lopez of Central City East Association (CCEA), the police, fire department and the other area service providers. Skid Row has challenges enough without imperiling everybody’s health with contamination and filth.

While quick to praise, I also want to challenge our political officials to be more open in dialogue and more understanding that this is a long-term issue not a one-time cleaning of the sidewalks.

Rather than announcing a program on the day before it starts and then playing catch up with service providers and outreach teams, why not start up front and get our help? I do not know any reputable service provider who wants to keep people on the streets or just wash sidewalks.

There is a golden opportunity to address both sanitation and relocation in this process. No, I’m not suggesting we force relocation. That would be prohibited. But, we can encourage or entice persons to consider moving into housing or joining recovery programs rather than remain on the concrete. The move to provide storage facilities for our friends and neighbors who are on the street is to be commended. More important than luggage, which can be replaced, what about the men and women living in chronic homelessness? Don’t they deserve at least “warehouse space” but more correctly, safe habitable housing?

In 75 years on Skid Row the Los Angeles Mission has learned that relationships are critical to building trust with our chronically homeless friends and neighbors. So, hiring new Los Angeles Housing Service Authority (LAHSA) workers, elevated police presence or even the slightest signs of force will not be effective in achieving permanent relocation.

Here is my recommendation to His Honor Mayor Villaraigosa and his staff:

1. Move forward aggressively with the process of street cleaning for the health and welfare of all citizens

2. When coming to our neighborhood (Skid Row) ask those of us who work here 365 days a year in advance for our input and assistance – you might be pleasantly surprised at how willing we are to cooperate.

3. Don’t just bring clean water and soap, bring some housing options and funding beyond that we already have available. And, don’t ask us to divert the limited number of housing vouchers currently available to your program. We are already stretched beyond capacity with our Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative (LACPC) Downtown Pathway Home project to house the most vulnerable chronically homeless persons. Rather, let’s use this activity to reach out to more of this vulnerable group who need supportive housing or programs for recovery.

4. If you want to say you housed persons by this activity, then show us the money… new funding – or else give credit to the brave men and women who compassionately serve with the great agencies here in Skid Row and say we planned ahead and worked together to maximize the limited funding available for now.

5. Don’t stay away long! We do want clean and safe streets for all citizens. Until the issue of street homelessness is ended, be a good partner by providing equality of government services in Skid Row and Beverly Hills.

6. Finally, listen to your hearts and join the fight against homelessness. Use the wisdom and experience gained every day by LACPC members and others. Together we can make a plan to end chronic homelessness on Skid Row and across the Los Angeles Continuum of Care.

-Herb Smith, President

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