Vote YES on Measure H!

ITZ-0KJdLA CAN is urging all of our supporters to vote YES on Measure H on March 7.

Measure H, in just the first 5 years, will enable 45,000 families/individuals to exit homelessness into permanent housing and help an additional 30,000 families/individuals avoid homelessness. It will invest up $350 million A YEAR for 10 years into ending homelessness, and is critical to the implementation of Prop HHH, providing critical services to the 8,000 – 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing that will be built in the next decade. View a Fact Sheet on Measure H HERE.

The measure will also make sure that funds are allocated equitably across the county to serve the over 47,000 individuals who are experiencing homelessness in the region. Additionally as a “special” 1/4 cent sales tax, which averages to about $1 a month to the average consumer, Measure H can only be used for its specific purpose and is guaranteed to help people who are homeless.

If you are interested in learning more or getting involved to help the campaign, visit voteyesonh.com or contact Eric at 213.228.0024 or erica@cangress.org.

LA CAN Led Effort Leads to Universal EBT at Farmers Markets!

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After a community effort initiated by members of LA CAN’s Team Food Committee LA City Council passed a motion on May 13 directing the City Attorney to draft an ordinance requiring that all farmer’s markets in the City of LA accept EBT/CalFresh (aka Food Stamps)!

What this means is that soon all low-income residents who have CalFresh will be able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at any farmers market! Until recently only about 40% of markets citywide accepted EBT. So today is a big win for all of us who fight every day to improve the health and well-being of poor communities of color across LA!

In LA, given the health disparities between white communities and communities of color, food justice IS racial justice. Of course, we need a radical change in the food system to address all the health inequities that exist in our City. But we should celebrate that soon will be able to fill our bellies with fresh fruits and veggies as we continue to fight for a more just City!

This wouldn’t have been possible with our many key partners, including the LA Food Policy Council, Hunger Action LA, and others! So thanks to EVERYONE who helped make this possible!

Residential Hotel Ordinance Celebrates 8 years of Preserving a DTLA FOR ALL!

May 6 marks the 8th Anniversary of what the City of LA called the “strongest housing preservation ordinance in Los Angeles’ history.” After a years-long campaign created and led LA CAN members, the ordinance, known as the “Residential Hotel Unit Conversion and Demolition Ordinance,” was passed 13-0 by City Council and immediately resulted in the protection of nearly 19,000 units city-wide and 30,000 people. This includes about 9,000 units of housing for low-income folks in Downtown Los Angeles.

To be clear, this represents protecting 9,000 homes for poor people in DTLA, which was at the time experiencing one of the strongest waves of gentrification and displacement in the country. This means at least 9,000 extremely low-income people – most of whom would otherwise be on the streets – being able to stay in their community. This is how LA CAN members – both housed and unhoused – fought and were victorious in ensuring that Downtown LA would remain the home of poor, largely Black and Brown residents – even as we acknowledged that the community was changing.

Better neighborhoods, same neighbors. Investment without displacement. Growth and change while protecting the civil and human rights of the residents who have been in DTLA longest. A better DTLA FOR ALL. We fought for and won this 8 years ago today. And we welcome all those who want to join us as we continue to fight for and win this everyday.

Changes in Leadership and Becky’s Transition

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Since 1999 the Los Angeles Community Action Network has been a leading voice and force in the fight against inequality, civil rights violations, and housing and food insecurity in Downtown Los Angeles, South LA, and beyond. What began as a committee of 25 Skid Row residents coming together to address problems related to the emerging gentrification of Downtown LA has grown into an internationally recognized organization that develops leadership amongst extremely low-income and homeless communities to create concrete, positive changes rooted in social justice and placing the voices of those experiencing poverty and oppression at the forefront of decision making processes.

Ever proud of the leadership we have developed and committed to further building upon our model of shared leadership and responsibility, we announce that Becky Dennison will be transitioning out of her role as Co-Director at the end of 2015.  Among the many opportunities that organizational change creates, this opens up exciting new roles for other LA CAN leaders as well as an opportunity for Becky to continue her fight for justice and human rights through new endeavors and the LA CAN Board of Directors, which she will join in January.

A message from Becky:
“For the past 15 years, it has been my absolute honor and privilege to work alongside teams of the most talented and committed people I have ever met.  From the beginning, LA CAN focused on building a broad base of leaders who work collectively to create change that promotes justice and equity by challenging institutions that perpetuate exclusion, displacement, and poverty.  We have always operated from the belief that building transformational power requires the people most impacted to have meaningful leadership and that shared power and leadership creates more of it.

This is how we grew from three people sharing a cubicle to breaking ground this year on our permanent home, the LA CAN Justice & Wellness Center, and this is how our work will continue.  I am entering this transition feeling totally energized and ready to fight for social justice and I’ve felt like that every day I’ve been here – which makes me so lucky to have been a part of building LA CAN and our communities.  I thank all of you who have contributed to LA CAN’s numerous achievements and I look forward to working with you in the future as we continue to organize and fight for a better community, society, and world.”

When we started LA CAN, it was paramount that we build an organization that reflected our vision of inclusion, collective power, and leadership development among those most often excluded or overlooked. With the immeasurable contributions and the unrelenting commitment of Becky, we were able to do just that – create an institution that embodies the will and spirit of our communities.  So while we of course announce Becky’s transition with some feelings of sadness and loss, we are more confident than ever that our leadership team will continue to carry on the critical work she helped make possible into 2016 and beyond.

In struggle and power,
Pete White, Executive Director
Alan Green, Board Chair

Coalition of 130 Orgs and Civic Leaders to Escalate their Demand to City Council to Take Real Action in Response to the Homeless “State of Emergency”

Logos for Sign Ons

A group of over 130 organizations and civic leaders – representative of the social, professional, racial and religious diversity of Los Angeles – will convene at City Hall on Friday, November 13, 2015 (9am – 3pm) for a Day of Action to in response to the recent homeless “state of emergency” declaration. The group has called for an end to all policies that criminalize homelessness and to make the $100 million plan announced by the Mayor and Councilmembers a long-term reality, not just rhetoric.

Schedule for the Day:
9am Press Conference on South Steps of City Hall
10am City Council meeting to deliver Open Letter to the Council
12pm Lunch and Rally on South Steps
1pm Testimony at Homeless and Poverty Committee Meeting

Their open letter, to be delivered to full council on Friday, calls on the Mayor, City Council and other City Officials to:

1. Identify long-term, sustained sources of local funding totaling at least $100 million per year and dedicate the large majority of those resources toward new permanent supportive housing units.

2. End all “quality-of-life” and “Safer Cities” enforcement against homeless residents, including, but not limited to:

a. Evaluating and repealing punitive laws such as LA Municipal Code 56.11, 63.44 B and I, and 41.18D.

b. Redirecting the $87 million spent on arresting homeless people, as identified in the recent CAO report, toward permanent solutions to homelessness.

3. Provide emergency public health resources to people living on the streets without major investment in infrastructure, including mobile restrooms and showers, mobile health and mental health services, and voluntary storage facilities.

The call for an end to criminalization is particularly timely as city council is expected within a week to revisit a controversial policy regarding the property rights of homeless individuals that was passed earlier this year. In June, Council passed changes to LA Municipal Code 56.11, which would allow for a 24-hour notice to be placed on any property on the public sidewalk or other public space, regardless of how much property someone has or whether the property is attended or unattended. After the 24 hour period, the property can be removed and stored for 90 days. This would make it nearly impossible for homeless people to possess any items of any size in public space.

In August, proposed amendments to this law that would eliminate criminal penalties passed out of the Council’s Homeless and Poverty Committee, but those need to be approved by full Council. These amendments took on greater importance when the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) added application guidelines for the federal homelessness funds incentivizing communities to take steps to end criminalization. Local Continuums of Care across the country applying for $1.9 billion in funds in a competitive process will not be asked to “describe how they are reducing criminalization of homelessness.”

“The homeless ‘state of emergency’ did not create itself,” the group’s open letter reads. “The City has invested hundreds of millions dollars to address homelessness in the past several years, but the large majority of that money has gone to the Los Angeles Police Department to cite, arrest and otherwise police people who need resources, not fines and jail time. Additionally, increases in financial resources towards this crisis will only work if the City abandons what has been its primary approach toward homelessness over the past decade: criminalizing the lives of homeless residents.”

LAPD Continues to Escalate Police Presence on Main St.

Over the last few weeks, we have seen an increase in LAPD presence and hostile policing on Main St. in Downtown.

This dangerous trend continued late last night when a large group of officers began roughing up  a couple of older, black female residents. LA CAN members were on hand to video and document the altercation. And when the officers decided they did not like that, they had two of our members arrested.

This type biased and violent policing has only increased since the Safer Cities Initiative was implemented in 2006. And long-term, low-income residents who have stood up and resisted have been met with repression and constant harassment. But we remain unfazed. We will not sit back and allow LAPD to intimidate and attack our community.

We will be posting a video later on today.

KPCC’S TAKE TWO 9/23/15: “Where could LA’s $100M to combat homelessness come from, and how could it be spent?”

Listen to LA CAN’s Pete White on Take Two HERE.

“Where could LA’s $100M to combat homelessness come from, and how could it be spent?”
By Take Two

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin and others joined together on Tuesday to announce a $100 million proposal to combat homelessness.

“We have really become, to our great shame, a city of tents and shanties,” he said. “On any given night, 19,000 people are sleeping on the streets.”

The details of how the money would be spent are few at the moment. Bonin says details will be worked out in the committee by the end of the year, but they could include a number of ideas: more emergency shelters, more safe parking places for people sleeping in vehicles, more legal bathrooms and less policing efforts on the homeless population.

Bonin says the source of the $100 million also has to be determined.

The city has a reserve fund that’s set aside for emergency needs like services in a natural disaster. He says that could be tapped.

Bonin also tells KPCC that this call for $100 million might not be a one-time measure in this upcoming budget: It could be a recurring item that the city funds every year.

The reaction by services who work with homeless people has been measured.

Pete White, co-executive director of the L.A. Community Action Network, says he wants money to be spent building up the infrastructure to improve public health.

White also says he wants to the city to cut back its policing of homeless people and use the money on those efforts to rehouse people.

“If we are going to walk away from the enforcement against homeless people, that’s $87 million right there that could be placed in the affordable housing trust fund,” says White.

The Answer to the Homeless Crisis in Los Angeles is Simple: House Keys, Not Handcuffs

City Leaders’ Proposal Lacks Resources for More Housing and Lacks Specifics about Changing the Policies of Criminalization

state-of-emergency-memeThis morning members of the LA City Council and Mayor Garcetti announced a “State of Emergency” on homelessness and promised an investment of $100 million toward services and housing. While this announcement is a step in the right direction, it is unacceptable that only $13 million in one-time funds were actually identified with no real plan for the additional $87 million or other long-term investments. Additionally, increases in financial resources towards this crisis will only work if the City abandons what has been its primary approach toward homelessness over the past decade: criminalizing the lives of homeless residents.

Let’s be clear – the City has invested millions upon millions of dollars toward homelessness in recent years. But far too much of that money has gone to LAPD to enforce unjust and often illegal laws that simply punish people for being poor and that make it even more difficult to get out of homelessness. Just last year LAPD spent $87 million of the $100 million that went toward homelessness out of the City’s general fund to arrest homeless residents. Citations, harassment, displacement, arrest, jailing – this is what that money is spent on, when there is only $10 million in general fund money in the City’s affordable housing trust fund. Is it any wonder then why homelessness is up 12% since 2013?

Lack of investment in housing production, poverty wages, an ever shrinking social safety net, and the most expensive rents in the country drive many of the 13,000 people A MONTH who are pushed into homelessness in LA County. But, make no mistake about it, it is the failed policy of criminalization through LAPD enforcement that prevents people from rising out of homelessness when the limited opportunities arise.

If the City Council and the Mayor are serious about ending homelessness, their announcements would include new and substantial sources of long-term funding combined with a call to end to laws, policies, and approaches that emphasize LAPD enforcement over services and housing. Homeless outreach workers cannot be successful without actual housing units to connect people to, and they can’t connect with someone who is in jail for ticket given to them for sitting on the sidewalk. What good is a meeting with a housing specialist if homeless person’s possessions are taken and potentially discarded during that appointment? What good are more outreach workers without more housing? We have a lot more questions than answers right now.

In short: You can’t use house keys when you are wearing handcuffs. We finally hear the City Council and Mayor talking about the crisis – now will they actually ensure house keys and call for an end to the handcuffs?

LA Times 5/13/14: “Council OKs $3.7 million for skid row cleanup, ‘valet cart storage'”

Full article HERE.

“Council OKs $3.7 million for skid row cleanup, ‘valet cart storage'”
Written by Gale Holland

The Los Angeles City Council authorized a $3.7-million skid row cleanup plan Tuesday that will expand 24-hour bathroom access and expand storage to comply with a court injunction against destroying personal property homeless people keep in the streets.

Along with a stepped-up street cleaning schedule, the city will open a “valet cart storage” lot where homeless people can check their shopping baskets in for the day. A 90-day storage facility for homeless people east of Alameda Street will move into the heart of skid row, bathroom hours at three skid row shelters will be expanded and trash bins and pickups will be augmented.

An additional $5 million in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed budget is set aside to duplicate the efforts in other parts of the city with homeless camps, potentially including Venice and South Los Angeles, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said.

The cleanup plan came in response to public health violations that emerged during the city’s long and unsuccessful legal battle against a court order preventing seizure of homeless people’s possessions. County health inspectors found the city had allowed human feces, rat infestations, syringes and other garbage to collect in the streets for two years running.

The city argued that eliminating squalor on skid row was impossible around the tents, blankets and other effects homeless people set up as part of sidewalk encampments. City Atty. Mike Feuer last month dropped the city’s latest appeal of the order, but the underlying lawsuit has not been settled.

At the council meeting, skid row activists complained that too much of the cleanup money would go to city salaries and social service organizations. The Midnight Mission, the Los Angeles Mission and Lamp Community will be paid to increase public bathroom hours, while the Central City East Assn., the local business group, will run the valet cart storage lot, Santana said.

Steve Diaz, a member of Los Angeles Community Action Network, said each new trash can would cost $16,800.

“What other parts of the city have trash cans that cost this much?” Diaz asked the council.

Santana was unable to immediately confirm the figure, but told the council most of the expense was labor costs. Skid row trash must be picked up manually because automated garbage cans in the past have been vandalized, he said.

General Dogon, an L.A. Community Action Network organizer, said the city’s negligence had forced skid row residents to spend their general relief checks on supplies to clean the streets themselves.

“There is a dirty divide between the haves and have-nots in downtown,” Dogon said. “West of Main Street … there are pocket parks and dog water fountains. East of Main Street we ain’t got nothing.”

Central City East Assn. Executive Director Raquel K. Beard endorsed the plan, saying, “We desperately need to get people off the sidewalks.”

City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the roughly 50-block skid row area, said the $3.7 million, which is for fiscal year 2014-15, doubles city spending on skid row cleanups this year but remains “just another drop in the bucket.”

“It is a disgrace on skid row and we have not done a good job,” said Huizar, who called for more federal funding and better coordination with the county to produce more permanent housing for the homeless.

Santana, in his report on the cleanup proposal, said 3,500 homeless people live on skid row, including an estimated 1,000 who sleep on the sidewalks. An estimated 58,000 people are homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County, a total second only to that of New York City.

LA TIMES 4/19/15: “Venice homeless activists challenge beach curfew”

Link to full article HERE.

“Venice homeless activists challenge beach curfew”
Written by Gale Holland

Venice homeless advocates early Sunday defied the city’s overnight beach curfew, sipping coffee and star-gazing well past the midnight cutoff.

But they failed to draw the attention of police.

A pair of Los Angeles police SUVs lumbered down the shoreline and a law enforcement helicopter flew overhead, but police did not confront several dozen protesters gathered around a portable telescope on a concrete spit leading from the Rose Avenue parking lot to the water. Becky Dennison, an organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network, said the inaction showed department enforcement of the curfew against homeless people was “discriminatory in nature.”

Lt. Lydia Leos of the LAPD’s Pacific Division said officers patrol until 2 a.m. for people sleeping on sidewalks or burrowing into the sand to sleep.

“If they’re ticketed it’s because they’re out in the sand,” she said.

Protesters watched Saturn rise and viewed Jupiter’s four moons through the telescope Chuck Bloomquist, an amateur astronomer, dragged down four blocks from his Venice home.

“I’ve lived here for 56 years and I’ve never been bothered by anybody” homeless, Bloomquist said.

“The beach is a place of refuge,” said General Dogon, a skid row activist. “The city needs to let people come anytime they feel like it.”

John Raphling, a Venice criminal defense attorney who oversees a volunteer legal clinic that assists homeless people who have been ticketed, said lawyers are seeing a steady stream of curfew citations.

“Sitting on the sidewalk, curfew violations; tickets just for being homeless,” Raphling said.

A midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew and sleeping ban has been in place along the city’s 11-mile coastline since 1988, when a downtown campground for the homeless shut down, sending scores of the displaced to Venice. Activists said the curfew was lightly enforced until 5 or 6 years ago, when complaints about Venice’s homeless population grew.

The Coastal Commission last year told the city it needed a permit to maintain the ban. The commission’s letter said the city must show “credible evidence” of a continuing public safety threat to get the permit.

City Atty. Mike Feuer, at Councilman Mike Bonin’s request, drafted an ordinance that proposed opening an overnight corridor to the water at Dockweiler and Will Rogers beach parks, but excluded Venice from any curfew easing. At a February committee meeting, Bonin said Feuer was negotiating with the Coastal Commission to resolve the issue.

Raw Story 4/19/15: “Los Angeles spends more money policing the homeless than helping them: report”

Read the full article HERE.

“Los Angeles spends more money policing the homeless than helping them: report”
Written by Jin Zhao

A new report shows that more than half of the $100 million the city of Los Angeles spends on homelessness each year goes to the LAPD. Critics say this illustrates the city’s priority on criminalizing the homeless instead of helping them, LA Times reports.

The LAPD arrested almost 15,000 homeless people in 2013 — that’s a whopping 14% of all of the department’s arrests. Taxpayers footed the bill to the tune of somewhere between $46 million and $80 million.

Additionally, the report shows that approximately $6 million goes to fund the LAPD’s mental evaluation unit that intervenes with people with mental illness. Another $6.7 million is allocated to the Safer Cities Initiative — a team of 71 officers deployed on skid row who frequently interact with mentally ill people lingering on the sidewalk.

By contrast, the emergency response teams from the L.A. Homeless Services Authority, a city-county agency that deals with most of complains related to homelessness is supported by only $330,000 in city general fund money and is ill-equipped to respond adequately.

Homeless activists believe that the report reveals the city’s lack of effectiveness and interest in reducing homelessness.

It “supports what we’ve been saying for years that this city is doing almost nothing to advance housing solutions but continues down the expensive and inhumane process of criminalization that only makes the problem worse,” said Becky Dennison of Los Angeles Community Action Network — a skid row advocacy group.

Rather than policing, the city should spend money on building affordable housing, according to Philip Mangano, president of the American Roundtable to Abolish Homelessness.

LA TIMES 4/17/15: “Why most of the $100 million L.A. spends on homelessness goes to police”

Link to full article HERE.

“Why most of the $100 million L.A. spends on homelessness goes to police”
Written by Gale Holland

A report showing that more than half the $100 million the city of Los Angeles spends each year on homelessness goes to police demonstrates that the city is focused on enforcement rather than getting people off the streets, homeless advocates said Friday.

“Supports what we’ve been saying for years that this city is doing almost nothing to advance housing solutions but continues down the expensive and inhumane process of criminalization that only makes the problem worse,” said Becky Dennison of Los Angeles Community Action Network, a skid row advocacy group, in an email.

Almost 15,000 people the LAPD arrested in 2013 were homeless, or 14% of those arrested, according to the report from the city administrative office. Labor costs for the arrests were estimated between $46 million and $80 million.

Arrests are not the only tasks the LAPD takes on as an estimated 23,000 people continue to live in the streets, decades after Los Angeles became known as the nation’s homeless capital. About $6 million in city money goes to the LAPD’s mental evaluation unit, a team of mental health professionals and police that intervenes with mentally ill people and connects them to services.

An additional $6.7 million is allocated to the Safer Cities Initiative, a team of 71 officers deployed on skid row who frequently interact with scores of mentally ill homeless people arrayed on the sidewalk.

Officer Deon Joseph, a longtime skid row senior lead officer, recently posted a letter on a downtown Los Angeles Facebook page listing some of the things that keep him busy, including “batteries against the mentally ill, tents blocking sidewalks, scuffles breaking out right in front of me, a hoard of mentally ill people who are still being pushed into the row from other communities, and thefts of wheelchairs and walkers from the handicapped by able bodied criminals.”

Joseph said he frequently arrests the same people over and over because of the revolving door for mentally ill people and others between the jails and prisons and skid row.

“I do not believe prison is the answer for most people struggling with mental issues,” Joseph wrote in the comment section of his post. “Sadly in today’s system we have to wait until they commit a violent crime to get them ‘help’ in a jail cell, instead of involuntary housing.”

Under a court settlement, homeless people can sleep on sidewalks overnight but must move along in the morning. At dawn, officers frequently can be seen waking people on skid row and in Venice, where tents line the streets.

On skid row, that interaction has grown increasingly tense as downtown Los Angeles enjoys an economic renaissance that has done little to improve the lot of the area’s chronically homeless.

If homeless people sleeping in their cars and vans fail to move along, police sometimes impound their cars, another lengthy procedure.

Philip Mangano, former Bush administration homeless czar and president of the American Roundtable to Abolish Homelessness, said the answer was to transfer the money spent on policing to building affordable housing.

“There’s literally only one issue: it’s creating units,” he said. The mental health and other services needed by the most fragile homeless people in need must come from Los Angeles County, he said.

The report from City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana released Thursday was commissioned by the City Council’s housing committee, which questioned why the homeless population grew 9% between 2011 and 2013 even as the city contributed millions to the homeless authority.

Santana found city librarians, recreation and parks, sanitation and paramedics also devote significant resources to handling homeless people but have no coordinated approach to guide them.

The report’s figures, he said, were conservative, calling for more time to study the issue. The Fire Department, for example, said 6.6 % of its ambulance trips in 2013-14 were for homeless people, but officials were unable to come up with a dollar figure.

TruthOut 4/16/15: “Jordan Downs: Toxic Cleanups Underway, but Many Fear It’s Too Little, Too Late”

Link to full article HERE.

“Jordan Downs: Toxic Cleanups Underway, but Many Fear It’s Too Little, Too Late
Written by Daniel Ross

When the head of one of California’s largest and most powerful environmental agencies visited the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts, Los Angeles, in March, it proved a major coup for a community that has long fought to have its fears concerning the human toll from years of heavy industrial pollution heard.

Jordan Downs was the final port of call that Barbara Lee, recently appointed director of the beleaguered Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), made on a whistle-stop tour of toxic sites. Indeed, during her brief visit, she stopped by three existing cleanup sites in and around Jordan Downs, which directly borders one of California’s top 5 percent most environmentally burdened regions.

And because Jordan Downs also scores among the very worst in the state for such indicators as income, education and unemployment, the 700-unit housing project is a sad example of an Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment finding that poverty and pollution all too frequently go hand in hand.

Lee was shown a high school where dangerous levels of lead and arsenic have been discovered, an old industrial “factory” site where 33,600 cubic yards of contaminated soil is in the process of being excavated and removed, and an Exxon Mobil pipeline breach where efforts to clean contaminated groundwater have been ongoing since 2000.

But for many community advocates, what recognition for Jordan Downs’ plight is fostered by Lee’s visit, as well as whatever cleanups are currently underway, is all too little, too late for those residents – the youngest especially – who have lived for years in the polluted shadow of local industry.

“We were encouraged by Barbara Lee’s visit, and think it was a great symbolic step forward from the DTSC. However, we remain cautiously optimistic,” wrote Thelmy Perez, LA Human Right to Housing Collective coordinator and a pivotal figure over recent years in the fight for more comprehensive testing at Jordan Downs, in a statement.

With so many different contaminants found in and around Jordan Downs, and limited scientific knowledge concerning the health impact of long-term exposure to multiple contaminants, Perez is concerned about what she sees as a lack of urgency on the part of those agencies responsible for the various cleanups.

“There is a serious lack of transparency when it comes to the scale and scope of the contaminated soils, air and groundwater surrounding Jordan Downs and other local areas,” Perez added. “Despite awareness of the existence of multiple toxic sites … within a stone’s throw of local schools and residences, the regulatory agencies have not done enough to ensure that local residents are not being exposed to these toxic substances. Instead, families are told not to worry.”

TCE “Plume” of Concern at “Factory” Site

Jordan Downs has witnessed a years-long tug of war between the housing authority, state environmental officials and community advocates as to what should be done to ensure the health and safety of the project’s nearly 2,500 residents. This struggle has been made all the more complicated by plans to tear down the current 700 subsidized housing units and replace them with up to 1,800 new mixed-income apartments.

At the very heart of Jordan Downs – and the problem itself – is a now vacant and walled-off industrial site called the “factory” that immediately abuts residential homes. Historically, the site was used for steel manufacturing, trucking operations and waste storage – activities that contaminated the soil with such pollutants as engine oil, diesel, gasoline and paint thinner.

A 2011 environmental report found “unacceptable” levels of arsenic and lead, petroleum hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, commonly found in transformers) and naphthalene (the main ingredient in mothballs) at the factory site.

The cleanup is now underway to excavate and remove 33,600 cubic yards of contaminated soil on land that will eventually be built upon as part of the redevelopment. But the story up to this point has been far from smooth.

“The WHO really doesn’t believe that there’s any level of lead exposure that’s safe.”
Many were dismayed that a hole in the wall surrounding the “factory” large enough for an adult to crawl through was filled just last year, despite residents talking for years of their children climbing through this hole in order to play within the vacant lot. Authorities knew about the lead and arsenic contamination at the “factory” as far back as 2010.

Toxicologists for the housing authority set the original lead cleanup target at 525 milligrams per kilogram – almost seven times the recommended lead levels for residential areas (80 milligrams per kilogram). The DTSC stated a number of times subsequently that they would not sign off on a threshold above 80 milligrams per kilogram.

And community advocates were worried about a 2013 community notice stating how “current site conditions do not pose an immediate health risk” because no testing at that point had been conducted beyond the perimeter of the “factory” wall. And while tests beyond the wall conducted in 2014 found elevated levels of such pollutants as lead and PCEs (tetrachloroethylene, an industrial solvent), these pollutants were deemed “similar to those found in urban areas of Los Angeles” and a “No Further Action” determination was reached.

The DTSC, however, continues to monitor a trichloroethylne (TCE) “plume” north of the factory site. The full reach of the TCE “plume” is also not yet known.

According to Lenny Siegel, the Center for Public Environmental Oversight’s executive director, the DTSC isn’t doing enough to ensure that residents of Jordan Downs are not impacted by the TCE “plume.”

“For the existing housing, I don’t think they’ve done the appropriate sampling,” he said. “And measuring deep soil gas away from the homes is not the best way to do it.”

Because the TCE “plume” has not been delineated, Siegel’s primary concern surrounds the threat of indoor TCE vapor intrusion – TCE gas in soil that seeps into homes through the floor. While the science surrounding TCE contamination is rapidly evolving, what is already known is that it causes an array of health problems, ranging from damage to the central nervous system to increased chances of cancer.

“The greatest risk probably is to pregnant women,” he said. “Basically, there’s an increased risk of cardiac birth defects, as well as other problems. The scientists believe that pregnant mothers are most vulnerable during a one-day to three-week time period during the first trimester of pregnancy.”

“The history of vapor intrusion is replete with examples of unexpected hits indoors,” he added. “Therefore, even if one thinks it unlikely that TCE levels inside homes aren’t that dangerous, they don’t really know because they haven’t done that sampling.”

Solutions to soil vapor intrusion are relatively easy and inexpensive, he said. “But I think they’re reluctant to do it because they don’t want to invest in these homes because they want to tear them down,” Siegel said.

In response to questions posed by Truthout, the DTSC wrote in a statement: “DTSC has secured state and federal funds to investigate the source of TCE groundwater contamination. This investigation included soil, soil vapor and groundwater testing in the area north of the factory site.”

The first phase of the investigation has been completed, the DTSC wrote. “The preliminary results show that there are elevated levels of TCE at further depth. DTSC recently conducted further sampling and we are currently reviewing the data to determine whether additional sampling or cleanup is needed.”

A number of other agencies that have followed the cleanup at Jordan Downs agree with Siegel that more comprehensive testing needs to be done there, though not only for TCE, but also for other pollutants.

Any elevated levels of lead should have set the alarm bells ringing, said Monika Shankar, health and environment associate at Physicians for Social Responsibility.

She said that single mother families comprise 60 percent of the population at Jordan Downs, while a large slice of the population are children under the age of 10. Pointing to common health effects of lead exposure in children, Shankar ticked off behavioral problems, hyperactivity, developmental delays, hearing loss and damage to the brain and nervous system.

“In terms of childhood exposure to lead, I think there’s an estimate of 600,000 children developing intellectual disabilities every year. The World Health Organization really doesn’t believe that there’s any kind of level of lead exposure that’s safe,” she said.

Another piece of the puzzle that formed parts of Lee’s visit is the David Starr Jordan High School perched on the southwest corner of Jordan Downs – the scene of a number of cleanup efforts over recent years.

An explosion in December 2002 at an adjacent metal recycling facility – the S&W Atlas Iron and Metal Company (Atlas Metals) – tossed an unexploded bomb that originated from a San Diego military base into the Jordan High sports and baseball field.

Subsequent testing of the field revealed elevated levels of lead and arsenic among an array of contaminants in the soil that could be traced back to Atlas Metals. Two large waste piles of soils contaminated with copper, lead and zinc were discovered along the back fence of Atlas Metals adjacent to the school.

A year and a half later, more than 1,200 tons of impacted soil was excavated and removed from the sports field. But the overall cleanup didn’t end there, and Atlas Metals was later ordered to pay $350,000 in fines. Atlas Metals is currently cuffed with land use restrictions and mandated routine inspections of its facility.

“When we went [to Atlas Metals] with the judge, I always remember wondering what that judge must have thought when he saw that place, because it was really a mess,” said Florence Gharibian, who, when she worked for the DTSC, was involved with the cleanup at Atlas Metals. Gharibian now works with the Del Amo Action Committee, a grassroots environmental justice community group.

“The issue with this metal recycling yard is that I describe it as basically sharing the parking lot with the high school … But I do know this,” she added. “I have a great deal of confidence in the people in the schools program who were doing that cleanup work.”

More recently, further tests detected elevated levels of lead and arsenic within Jordan High, and two contaminated sites were excavated and the impacted soils were removed in 2014. Efforts are underway to excavate and remove a further 1,128 tons of impacted soil at a cost of $300,000.

At the current cleanup site, lead levels were found as high as 901 milligrams per kilogram – over 11 times the recommended California human health screening level for residential areas.

The lead-impacted areas at Jordan High School are suspected to be from historic lead-based paint application on school buildings based on sample locations and depths, the DTSC wrote in response to questions.

As to the arsenic-impacted soil, the impacted area was limited to the western portion of Jordan High School, the DTSC wrote. “The source of arsenic contamination in the localized area is suspected to come from fill material used during construction activities at that location, according to the Los Angeles Unified School District.”

But according to Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, the “obvious risk of contamination” comes from industrial activity, especially given the close proximity of the high school to a number of industrial facilities, including Atlas Metals, the “factory” site as well as the site of a former lead smelting plant from the 1950s and 1960s.

“You just don’t get those kinds of levels just from paint,” she said.

Because of the long-term exposure to lead and arsenic already suffered by Jordan High students and staff, Williams said, the cleanup effort cannot afford to leave behind “one molecule of lead.”

“I am very concerned about the cleanup – the digging and hauling of that much contaminated soil from that site,” she said. “Great care needs to be taken so that the community is not to be re-exposed … Recontamination is a major problem.”

A few blocks north of Jordan High at the northeast corner of Jordan Downs is the site of an Exxon Mobil pipeline breach that was discovered in the late 1990s.

Pollutants such as benzene, toluene, xylene and petroleum hydrocarbons – all of which are known to cause an array of serious health problems – have contaminated the groundwater.

A soil vapor extraction (SVE) system is tucked into the corner of Coco’s Auto Dismantling yard – one of a small stretch of scrap metal yards on that corner of Jordan Downs, behind which sit residential homes. The system was installed in 2008, and has been running almost constantly since, removing and burning off contaminants from the groundwater.

Lenny Siegel is less concerned about the threat of indoor vapor intrusion from petroleum hydrocarbons, “unless the concentrations are high enough.” And he raised concerns over the impact on overall air quality from the SVE system given the proximity of homes – concerns shared by the owner of the yard.

“It smells really bad when they suck up water from the holes they’ve drilled around the yard,” said Pedro Figueroa, who has owned Coco’s yard for 12 years. “They do it two or three times a month … I remember the first time they did sampling. The water was black. It looked and smelled like gasoline.”

In response to questions, Exxon Mobil wrote: “The health and safety of those living and working in the community are our number one priority. Exxon Mobil continues to work with appropriate regulatory authorities on the remedial program and environmental monitoring for this site, as per an approved Remedial Action Plan.”

And yet another ingredient in the story of pollution at Jordan Downs is the issue of Shell Oil’s Leaking Underground Fuel Tank (LUFT) at the southwestern corner of Jordan Downs, where a former gas station stood.

Though the underground tank was removed in 1976, the area wasn’t properly remediated. In 1998, the Los Angeles Unified School District leased the property with the intention of building four portable classrooms there. After the classrooms were built, “chemical smells” were noted during the installation of fencing around the property. The classrooms were abandoned and the area was covered with asphalt.

After years of soil vapor testing for chemicals typical to gasoline such as benzene – a known carcinogen – in the immediate vicinity of the site, a work plan was submitted earlier this year to conduct soil vapor testing at the Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School on the other side of the street.

Instrumental in the push for testing at the school has been Frank Wilson, a former teacher at the nearby Grape Street Elementary School. Wilson has been following and documenting developments at the site for 15 years. During this time, he sent letter after letter to numerous state and federal agencies pleading for action to determine the extent of the contamination caused by the LUFT. He describes years of being shunted from one department to another.

Wilson claims that he knows of six people who worked at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary who have died from cancer – three before 2000, and three after. His greatest fear is that contamination stemming from the LUFT may have contributed to their illnesses.

“If you know something is wrong, and you don’t do something, you’re as bad as the problem,” Wilson said. “If you know something is wrong, you have to do something. That’s the way I was brought up.”

Taking into account the number of cleanup sites in and around Jordan Downs, and its geographic seat in the heart of one of the most polluted regions in the state, many experts are concerned that the cumulative impact from all known pollutants should prompt a more extensive look at the overall health impact on the residents at Jordan Downs.

“Here’s what the residents want to see: They want to make sure there’s really not a problem in their homes and in their yards,” said Ramya Sivasubramanian, staff attorney for environmental justice at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“And that’s a reasonable request,” Sivasubramanian added. “Scientifically, it’s a reasonable request based on what had already been promised. Unfortunately, the authorities said no. And so, at this point, we’ll continue to look for ways to get additional testing [at the factory site]. And we’ll continue to ensure that the cleanup is done in a way that is health protective for the residents.”

One of those residents is Eleazer Acevedo, 30, a single mother who lives at Jordan Downs with her five children, the eldest 14 and the youngest not yet six months. Acevedo and her family moved to Jordan Downs in 2013.

In 2014, when pregnant with her youngest child, Acevedo warned her doctor of the contamination found at the “factory” site. Her doctor subsequently wrote a letter to the housing authority, stating how the conditions at Jordan Downs weren’t safe for a pregnant woman. He also ordered extra ultrasounds throughout Acevedo’s pregnancy.

“Having those ultrasounds were my main concern, because they have not given us information regarding the contamination that [might] exist in the apartments,” Acevedo said, in Spanish. “There haven’t been any tests done, and my child is so small, so his health could be affected. They have never given us any proof that the area we live in is safe.”

Jewish Journals 4/9/15: “Clergy march to LAPD headquarters, City Hall to protest skid row killing”

Read full article HERE.

“Clergy march to LAPD headquarters, City Hall to protest skid row killing”
Written by Ryan Torok

On April 8, group of local Jewish and African-American leaders spotlighted the increase in police-involved deadly shootings in areas such as Skid Row during a press conference outside the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) headquarters.

“We wanted to reinforce that the Jewish community is standing together with the black community on this issue,” Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, a board member at Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice-Los Angeles (CLUE-LA), told the Journal in an interview.

He, along with members of the Black-Jewish Justice Alliance, a program of community organizing groups CLUE-LA and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, participated. Prompted by the May 1 killing in Skid Row of Charly “Africa” Leundeu Keunang, an unarmed black man, as well as the policing methods toward the homeless of the area, according to press materials.

Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director at CLUE-LA; Rabbi Heather Miller, a rabbinic fellow at Beth Chayim Chadashim and b’nai mitzvah educator at Temple Israel of Hollywood; and Temple Beth Hillel of North Hollywood Rabbi Emeritus Jim Kaufman also attended.
The event took place to coincide with the fifth day of Passover.

The group staged a press conference at 10 a.m. outside the LAPD headquarters at Main street and 1st. Afterward, armed with jars of bitter herbs and charoset, they marched into LAPD headquarters and into Los Angeles City Hall to deliver letters addressed to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. They gave the letters and the Passover foods to LAPD Detective Meghan Aguilar and Garcetti Westside Representative Daniel Tamm. Beck and Garcetti were not available to meet with the group.
“We demand that there be an independent prosecutor appointed to investigate all cases of police-involved shootings,” the letters read.

After the press conference, Cohen poured Clamato juice, a tomato juice meant to resemble blood – representing one of the Ten Plagues — into a hedge outside the LAPD headquarters. This was to symbolize bloodshed, he said.

“It’s all bound together,” Cohen told the Journal. “The message of Passover is that liberation is an unfolding story. As deep as it is, there’s more liberation that has to be done.”

Additional participants were Reverend Cue Jn-marie of The Row LA, Pete White, director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network and Pastor William D. Smart of the Christ Liberation Ministries.

LA TIMES 3/10/15: “Activists’ disruption of skid row tour was legal, court rules”

Link to full article HERE.

“Activists’ disruption of skid row tour was legal, court rules”
Written by Maura Dolan and Gale Holland

A federal appeals court decided unanimously Tuesday that a California law that prohibits people from disrupting lawful meetings does not apply to political gatherings.

The decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was another victory for activists seeking to protect the rights of homeless people in Los Angeles, who had sued after being arrested or threatened with arrest.

The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by a group calling itself CPR for Skid Row, which disrupted a business-sponsored walk through the neighborhood in July 2011, to publicize its squalor. Public officials joined the walk and others like it.

Two of the protesters were threatened with arrest and one was arrested and booked but not charged. The activists were banging on drums and shouting, according to the court.

The court said the protesters were protected under an exception to the state law for gatherings of electors in public meetings to consider public questions.

“The walks they have protested consist of public officials and members of the public who meet on public sidewalks to learn about the challenges in the Skid Row neighborhood,” Judge Richard R. Clifton wrote.

The amended political-meetings statute made it a misdemeanor to hinder or prevent such meetings by “threats, intimidations or unlawful violence,” but not to “disturb or break up” such meetings by nonviolent means,” according to the decision.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt said he would have gone further and overturned the California law for being unconstitutionally vague.

Tuesday’s ruling “will leave the citizens of California without clear guidance as to the exercise of their First Amendment rights to engage in public protests,” the court said.

“Californians are not adequately informed of how or in what manner they must comport themselves when engaged in protests regarding political gatherings (such as a political party’s national convention) or, critically, under what circumstances they face criminal punishment for engaging in such First Amendment activity,” Reinhardt wrote.

L.A. has lost a series of court decisions over challenges to enforcement actions against homeless people or their advocates, including a June 2014, ruling striking down its ban on living in a car or recreational vehicle.

“The LAPD violates the law and the city is spending a lot of money on it,” said Carol Sobel, a lawyer who represented the activists in the case. “What the city should be doing is put that money into a positive effort to address homelessness.”

She said she would ask a larger panel of the 9th Circuit to declare the state law unconstitutional.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the L.A. city attorney’s office, said: “We are reviewing the decision and have no further comment at this time.”

Huffington Post 3/9/15: “Activist Reminds Us That There is Much More To Skid Row Than Homelessness”

Read full post HERE.

“Activist Reminds Us That There is Much More To Skid Row Than Homelessness”
by Rahel Gebreyes

Beyond the tall buildings and growing development of downtown Los Angeles lies the four-mile zone of Skid Row. While the area has gained notoriety as a center of poverty, one community leader is speaking out in defense of the neighborhood.

Steve Diaz, an organizer for the Los Angeles Community Action Network, joined HuffPost Live on Thursday and offered a more nuanced perspective that is at odds with the dominant perception of the area.

“We’re often portrayed … as drug addicts, a transient community, a community that doesn’t care,” he told host Marc Lamont Hill. “That’s not true. Our community is full of people taking on resistance, artists, culture — folks that are every day hitting the grind so that the community is better.

Diaz, who once lived on Skid Row himself, added that it’s a “community of working class folks, disabled folks struggling” to improve.

“In terms of the community, the community is a beautiful place,” he said. “We’re labeled and stigmatized as something different, but I can tell you that it’s a great recovering community. It’s a community thriving, just like any other place in the city of L.A.”

Diaz pointed to the fatal shooting of a homeless man known as “Africa,” last week, as an indicator of what he called Skid Row’s “occupation at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department.”

“Through the Safer Cities Initiative, Skid Row has been occupied for over the last eight and a half years,” he said. “Anywhere from 50 to 118 new police officers have been dedicated to targeting folks just for being on Skid Row.”

Diaz urged a rethinking of traditional policing practices, as one of the “demands” that the Community Action Network is looking to achieve through its activism.

“We continue not to have mental health services and mental health workers be the first respondents, which is one of the demands that we are actually asking for,” he said.

LA TIMES 3/7/15: “L.A. Housing Authority $3.3-million trash pickup settlement approved”

Link to full article HERE.

“L.A. Housing Authority $3.3-million trash pickup settlement approved”
Written by Ruben Vives

A federal district judge on Friday gave final approval to a $3.3-million settlement in a lawsuit brought by public housing residents alleging the Los Angeles Housing Authority illegally charged them for trash collection.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Housing Authority will reimburse more than 4,000 residents of more than a dozen public housing projects for trash fees it collected as far back as March 2008.

The lawsuit, filed by the Western Center on Law and Poverty in 2012, alleged that the city’s public housing agency shortchanged residents by charging them for trash pickup on top of rent.

Under law, trash collection is supposed to be included in rent calculations, Western Center attorneys argued. On average, tenants paid $24 for trash collection each month.

Robert Newman, a senior attorney with the center, said the average reimbursement to current and former residents will be more than $700.

Marco Galindo, the plaintiff in the case, called the settlement fair.

He said the trash fees made life difficult for residents like himself who have a limited income.

“Many of the people who live here have to make hard choices every month–do you pay the utility bill, the rent, or buy food?” he said. “This settlement…will help make those choices a little easier.”

In addition to monetary relief, the housing authority will attempt to contract with a new trash company that charges less for trash collection at the 14 housing projects.

Tenants who are continuing to pay for trash collection without a corresponding reduction in rent will also be reimbursed by the public housing agency.

Housing Authority officials said they have changed how they charge for trash.

LA TIMES 3/3/15: “Skid row shooting: ‘Irate’ protesters blast LAPD at packed meeting”

Link to full article HERE.

“Skid row shooting: ‘Irate’ protesters blast LAPD at packed meeting”
Written by Sarah Parvini, Kate Mather and Richard Winton

Tempers flared Tuesday morning as dozens of demonstrators packed the Los Angeles Police Commission’s weekly meeting to criticize the LAPD over its fatal shooting of a homeless man on skid row.

The meeting was the first since Sunday’s shooting, when a man known by others on skid row as Africa — whom sources identified to the Los Angeles Times as Charley Saturmin Robinet — was killed by officers responding to a 911 call about a robbery.

Cellphone video of the encounter posted online drew national attention.

More than 100 protesters marched Tuesday morning from skid row to the LAPD’s downtown headquarters, where the commission meetings are held.

Many of the attendees included people who regularly addressed the commission with criticisms about the LAPD. But the audience was considerably larger than normal, with some people watching the meeting in a spillover room.

Dozens of people addressed the commission, blasting the department for what many described as the unjust death of another black man at the hands of police. Many were critical of what they called problematic policing on skid row, the area of downtown L.A. that is heavily populated by homeless people.

Others jeered at Chief Charlie Beck and Commission President Steve Soboroff. One man called them “cowards” as he repeatedly blew a whistle into the microphone — an attempt, he said, to get their attention.

Soboroff urged the crowd not to rush to judgment, asking them to wait for more information from investigations by the LAPD, the inspector general and the district attorney’s office. He said that the LAPD’s training, policies and methods for investigating such incidents were different from those of other departments that had been involved in recent high-profile police killings.

“This is a different tragedy than the incidents in Ferguson [Mo.] and the incidents in New York,” Soboroff said. “LAPD is not the same police force.”

“It’s worse,” one woman shouted from the audience.

When dozens of people had finished speaking, the demonstrators began chanting, “Black lives matter,” as they filed out of the room.

After the meeting, Beck said he had attended meetings with other public groups in recent days and “not felt the same animosity.” He said many people in Tuesday’s audience were frequent critics of the LAPD but said he did not believe they represented the “universal opinion in the city of Los Angeles.”

“But I will say, that group today was pretty irate,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday outside LAPD headquarters, protester Tina Medina stood amid the growing crowd and clutched at her chest as she spoke of recent controversial shootings by police officers.

“There’s too many of these going on,” Medina, 57, said. “If there’s conflict, find some other way. That’s someone’s son.”

Medina, a teacher at Dolores Mission School in Boyle Heights, says she teaches her students to educate themselves and learn about others.

“But how do we explain this to them?” she said.

Around 9 a.m., as the chants faded, the crowd gathered around activist “General Jeff,” who called for the killings to stop.

“The investigations have to happen in a timely manner,” he said. “We will not wait for body cameras …. We need answers now.”

On Monday, Beck said video from body cameras worn by an officer and a sergeant involved in the shooting gave investigators a “unique perspective” of the incident. But, citing the ongoing investigation, he said the footage couldn’t yet be released publicly.

The chief said he had reviewed the body camera recordings but declined to comment on what they showed.

“At the end of the investigation into this officer-involved shooting … we will release the complete investigation through the inspector general’s office,” Beck said. “If there is a criminal proceeding in this or if there’s a civil proceeding in this, we will make all evidence available through those proceedings.”

Sources familiar with the investigation identified the shooting victim as Robinet, a French national and convicted bank robber who robbed a Wells Fargo Bank in Ventura County in 2000.

Activist Earnest Freeman, a Greyhound bus driver from Hawthorne, said it made no difference that Robinet was convicted of armed robbery 15 years ago.

“If this man committed a crime, police didn’t know that at the time, and there’s a certain way to handle that,” he said.

Steve Diaz, 31, took a break from the chants of “Homeless life matters” to explain why the man’s criminal record did not change the basic facts of the shooting.

“The reality is they killed an unarmed man,” said Diaz, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

Mental health workers, he said, should have been the first responders. The man’s death, he added, shows that policing is violent on skid row.

“Skid row has been home to police occupation under the Safer Cities Initiative,” Diaz said. “They clear people out in the name of gentrification.”

LA CAN and Skid Row Community Outraged at Latest LAPD Murder in Skid Row

LA CAN and Skid Row Community Outraged at Latest LAPD Murder in Skid Row 

Residents Plan to Take Action Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 3rd!
8:00 am – Rally/Protest at corner of 6th and San Pedro Streets, Downtown LA
8:30 am – March from 6th and San Pedro to LAPD Headquarters
9:30 am – Testimony and Calls for Criminal Prosecution at Police Commission Meeting

Again, along with so many other communities, the Skid Row community faces the aftermath of a completely unjustified shooting of an unarmed Black man known in the community as Africa.  Skid Row, occupied by the supposed “Safer Cities Initiative (SCI)” task force since late 2006, has seen some of the highest rates of use of force in the City. This is at least the third police murder since the launch of SCI, following Dale Garrett in 2011, whose killing was found out of policy (but no prosecution ensued), and Mr. Ocaño just last May, who was shot down from a billboard while posing zero risk to officers.

Skid Row has been LAPD’s testing ground for body cameras, before the Mayor’s recent initiative to put body cameras on every officer, and reportedly at least one officer had a body camera during the killing of Africa.  This tragedy shows that body cameras will not stop police violence and murder.  We call on the Mayor and the Police Commission to criminally prosecute officers; remove officers from the force instead of sending them home for paid leave; and other significant reforms to the current business as usual attitude that deems the lives of Ezell Ford, Africa and too many others as just part of the job.  #BlackLivesMatter

As usual, LAPD has changed their statement about the events surrounding their latest murder, as the videos released so far did not support their initial statements.  There was no weapon, and since LAPD officers had the man on the ground and were punching him, they couldn’t use their usual statement of the appearance of reaching for a weapon.  So they’ve said Africa was reaching for an officer’s gun, while being held on the ground by four officers.  This sounds unlikely at best.

Outraged community residents and LA CAN members, who have been fighting against the brutality and oppression of Safer Cities policing since its inception, will be holding a rally and protest tomorrow morning at the scene of the shooting, marching to LAPD Headquarters, and raising our voices and demands to the Police Commission.  The time is now for the Police Commission to assert some real oversight and protect all of the people of Los Angeles.  It’s time for them to stop LA’s role in the genocide of Black people we are seeing throughout the nation at the hands of law enforcement.

LA Times 1/19/15: “What’s the best way to pressure L.A. council – publicly or privately?”

Link to full article HERE.

“What’s the best way to pressure L.A. council – publicly or privately?”
Written by David Zahniser

Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo set off a small political firestorm in his district last summer, putting off plans for a Figueroa Street bike lane and enraging a potent group of advocates.

Cycling activists were fierce in their criticism of the councilman, stressing that he promised two years ago to install bike lanes on the north-south corridor. They nicknamed him “Road Kill Gil” on social media. They showed up uninvited at events to denounce him. They held a “Die-In” outside his downtown apartment building.

Behind the scenes, however, a different exchange of ideas has been taking place. Cedillo aides have met twice in recent days with representatives of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition to discuss ways of making Figueroa safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. The coalition, which had been at odds with Cedillo most of last year, now sounds optimistic.

“We’re pretty confident that when a discussion of the merits takes place, the [proposal] with the bike lanes will win out,” said Eric Bruins, the coalition’s planning and policy director.

The thaw in the cold war between Cedillo and some prominent bicycle advocates raises larger and intriguing questions: Did Cedillo engage in talks because of the pressure, much of it unpleasant, from activists? Or did angry rhetoric and personal attacks make it harder for the two sides to reach common ground?

The answers hold wider meaning for L.A. residents, businesses and nonprofit groups. To take on a sitting politician and lose is to risk four, eight, even 12 years in the political wilderness, depending on how many terms that politician serves. “This is political strategy 101,” Bruins said. “It isn’t just about bikes. This is anybody who’s trying to change policy in this city.”

At City Hall, where personal relationships and high-powered lobbying frequently carry the day, some groups work quietly and politely behind the scenes to achieve their goals. Others, however, favor loud protests and public shaming, saying it’s the only way to seriously move the needle.

Becky Dennison, who works with the nonprofit group Community Action Network, is in the latter camp. Her group, which fights for impoverished renters, has had its members hold “Die-Ins,” wear papier-mache masks and march to politicians’ homes. The group won passage of an ordinance several years ago barring the city’s low-income hotels from being demolished or converted into condominium units.

Dennison believes those regulations would not have been approved without protests and guerrilla theater, such as performances at downtown’s art walk, in former Councilwoman Jan Perry’s district.

“Some of these council members take things very personally and are very vindictive, so certainly you can go too far,” Dennison said. “But generally, these types of things are necessary. Most [City Hall] decisions happen behind closed doors and people make promises all the time that they don’t keep.”

Simply mobilizing huge numbers of neighbors can sometimes be enough, said Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. One hundred phone calls to a council office, he said, “can get almost anything done.”

“As long as it’s legal and moral, we’ll do anything,” Close said.

How far a group should go to make a case at City Hall depends in large part on whether it is already involved in discussions, said Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, a preservation group. The conservancy has filed lawsuits, staged colorful protests, put up at least one billboard and pressed politicians to stake out clear positions during election season. In recent years, the group has worked to make sure it is “brought to the table early and often” by developers and decision makers, Dishman said.

“You usually go gonzo when you’re not at the table,” she said.

In northeast Los Angeles, bicycle shop owner Josef Bray-Ali says he believes last year’s loud and boisterous activism spurred Cedillo’s recent dialogue with the bicycle coalition. Cedillo’s office spent much of last year dismissing the Figueroa bike lane proposal and at times, worked actively to sabotage it, he said.

“I realize I have a role to play in this political drama, and it’s not to be a nice person to these politicians,” said Bray-Ali, who once called Cedillo “a turd” on Twitter. “We have never gained a thing from these guys by being nice to them.”

Cedillo would not agree to an interview. But spokesman Louis Reyes, who has blocked Bray-Ali on Twitter, said outside criticism hasn’t influenced the discussions on the Figueroa Street improvements.

Cedillo is weighing three alternatives for Figueroa between Avenue 55 and Avenue 60 in Highland Park, two of which involve the addition of bicycle lanes and the loss of a car lane, Reyes said. The proposals also include plans for extending curbs into the street at key intersections, making it easier and less dangerous for pedestrians to cross.

“If someone’s saying that the pressure made us get to the table, that’s not true,” he said. “We were in a process with all stakeholders and trying to bring people together.”

Plans for bike lanes on Figueroa have been kicking around for years. Cedillo was videotaped as a council candidate in 2013 saying he favored the idea. But once in office, he began warning that police and fire emergency response times could worsen if bike and pedestrian projects reduced vehicle lanes. He dismissed bicycle activists as a tiny share of the population and said at one point that the city had until 2035 to act on the Figueroa proposal.

Last month, bicycle advocates spoke out at a City Council meeting against Cedillo’s request for a $3-million grant to pay for new crosswalks, streets trees and other improvements on Figueroa. Opponents took aim at the application’s plan for diagonal parking, saying such a change would leave no room for bike lanes. Reyes says opponents misunderstood the process.

Cedillo moved ahead with the grant application, telling his colleagues the city would not be “bullied.” Two weeks later, activists held the “Die-In” outside his apartment complex.

Bruins, the bike coalition’s policy director, says the debate over Figueroa has led to some “extreme tactics” that wound up being “less than productive.” Cedillo recently extended an olive branch, he said, by moving to rescind the controversial grant application. Reyes said Cedillo has dropped the plan for diagonal parking and is trying to find consensus on Figueroa’s future.

Whether all this will lead to a Kumbaya moment is uncertain. Bray-Ali is not happy that the discussions have focused on spending more than $3 million to redesign roughly five blocks. The city’s original plan, he said, called for three miles of Figueroa bike lanes in Cedillo’s district for a tiny fraction of that cost.

“If Gil wanted to mend fences, and the bicycle coalition had a spine, they would not say ‘Give us less project for more money,'” Bray-Ali said. “That’s an abdication.”

LA Times 1/12/15: “L.A. Council committee moves to ban disposal of bulky items in parks”

Full article HERE.

“L.A. Council committee moves to ban disposal of bulky items in parks”
Written by Catherine Saillant

Disturbed by a proliferation of mattresses and sofas appearing on park property, a Los Angeles City Council committee Monday asked city lawyers to draft language outlawing the practice.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, asked for legislation after learning that leaving bulky items in the city’s 459 recreational spaces is not explicitly banned.

Bonin said he and his husband recently rushed to douse and remove a burning mattress on the Venice boardwalk. It’s not unusual to see trash-strewn couches and armchairs left in beach parks, he said.

“Bulky items cause damage to park property as well as contribute to visual blight and clutter while the park is open,” Bonin wrote in his motion asking for action.

Members of the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River Committee agreed Monday to draft an ordinance that calls for posting signs at parks informing the public that dumping property is illegal. But compliance would be voluntary — no fines would be levied for violating the ban, officials said.

The draft language also would authorize Recreation and Parks Department workers to remove and dispose of large items. Proposed legislation would have to win the support of the full council before it becomes law.

Michael Shull, the city’s recreation and parks chief, said cleaning up personal property creates extra maintenance burdens and costs for his department.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” Shull told the committee.

The proposed law would specify that personal property such as luggage and papers left by homeless people would not be confiscated but collected and stored for 90 days.

That provision is necessary to comply with legal decisions that prohibit the city from throwing away personal items left on public sidewalks by the homeless.

General Dogon, a representative of the skid row-based Los Angeles Community Action Network, said homeless advocates would be watching closely to make sure the city doesn’t violate their rights.

“The city in a lot of cases has been sued before,” Dogon said. “I just want to make sure that’s not the case here.”

LA Times 1/9/15: “Activists fear that big-project zoning change would ignore L.A.’s poor”

Full article HERE.

“Activists fear that big-project zoning change would ignore L.A.’s poor”
Written by Emily Alpert Reyes

Newly proposed rules meant to smooth the way for vetting big developments in Los Angeles are stirring up alarm among community groups that say the plan doesn’t do enough to protect poor households or small businesses from being displaced.

Planning officials say the rules would simplify — but not shorten — the review process for large, complicated projects, allowing planners to focus on the merits of a development instead of “the minutiae of navigating through obscure code provisions,” according to a planning department report.

This is way too complicated to throw into that huge pot. We need this today.
– senior city planner Tom Rothmann
The change would create a new, alternative and customizable zoning classification that developers could apply for when building big, “campus-like” projects that don’t fit easily within existing zones.

Instead of having to ask permission to make a long list of adjustments from codes written for simpler developments, developers would make an overarching case for their projects, listing their desired building heights, floor areas and other details and how and why they would differ from current regulations.

Planning officials said that under the alternative process, big developments would still need to be vetted by the city planning commission and approved by the City Council and would also have to submit an environmental impact report, in addition to several other plans not required if the same projects went through the ordinary process.

The alternative zone would be available only to complex projects with three or more buildings that would sit on at least five acres. Ten upcoming projects are believed to be eligible, according to a staff analysis. The planning commission voted 5 to 2 Thursday in favor of the ordinance, which still must be approved by the council.

Officials with Los Angeles World Airports, which includes LAX, Ontario and other local airports, cheered the plan, saying in a letter that the “current archaic and cumbersome zoning code can sometimes serve as an inhibitor to progress” on airport projects. The Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. also voiced its support Thursday, saying L.A. has lacked consistent ways to assess big projects.

But other groups have pushed against the idea, arguing that the existing plan does too little to protect affordable housing and ensure that communities benefit from big developments.

“The city is creating this entirely new, special program for large developments and promising that it will provide public benefit,” said Doug Smith of Public Counsel, a nonprofit law firm focused on economic-justice issues. “But as it stands, the ordinance doesn’t have all the tools to make sure that occurs.”

Nearly two dozen community groups and nonprofits, including Public Counsel and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, penned a December letter arguing that the rules should require all such projects to submit plans to minimize or prevent the displacement of poor residents and small businesses and sign development agreements that could spell out community benefits.

They also contend that the new rules would do too little to promote affordable housing. In some cases, they argue, the zoning change could end up discouraging some big projects from seeking a bonus that allows extra density in exchange for more affordable housing, by allowing high density for big projects converted from industrial to residential use.

The proposed new zone “is nothing but an accelerated gentrification ordinance,” Thelmy Perez, coordinator of the L.A. Human Right to Housing Collective, argued before the commission Thursday.

In light of those concerns, Commissioner Maria Cabildo asked Thursday if the proposal could restrict density more tightly in order to nudge big developments toward the affordable-housing bonus. Raising similar worries, Commissioner Marta Segura questioned whether the city could also require a study of how major developments would affect neighborhood stability.

Planning officials rejected those ideas, arguing that adding more requirements would discourage developers from pursuing the alternative process at all. Cabildo and Segura were the only commissioners to vote against the zone Thursday.

Critics also questioned why the city is pressing to adopt the plan before it finishes reexamining all of its zoning rules — a sweeping project known as Recode LA. In response, deputy planning director Alan Bell said that those broader changes are still at least five years away.

“This is way too complicated to throw into that huge pot,” said senior city planner Tom Rothmann. “We need this today.”

LAist 1/9/15: “What Happened When ‘Black Lives Matter’ Protesters Met With Los Angeles Police Chief”

Full article HERE.

“What Happened When ‘Black Lives Matter’ Protesters Met With Los Angeles Police Chief”
Written by Charles Davis

Melina Abdullah began her week in jail. On Monday, the Cal State professor was one of two people arrested for trying to deliver a letter to Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck on behalf of protesters who for almost two weeks now have camped outside LAPD headquarters. They’ve been holding signs declaring “Black Lives Matter” and demanding an end to what they see as a pattern of impunity for cops who kill unarmed people of color. By Friday, she was meeting with Beck himself—and while he didn’t meet any of their demands, the fact that he was even acknowledging them was portrayed as a sign of progress.

“It was worth it,” Abdullah told reporters at a press conference immediately after she and three other activists met with Beck to discuss the deaths of people such as Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old black man who was unarmed when he was shot in the back last August. “It’s through the demonstrations, through the refusal to go by and just let this pass as another shooting that we don’t respond to that we even got the meeting.”

melina-abdullah.jpg
Melina Abdullah speaks in front of LAPD HQ (Photo by Charles Davis/LAist)

While the two officers who shot Ford are currently on desk duty, activists want them fired. Beck, however, claimed his hands are tied. “We asked the chief of police to remove them from duty, he refused. He cited this long bureaucratic process and basically said that we’re looking at a timeline of March or April where it’s possible that he may engage in disciplinary action,” said Abdullah. That, argued other speakers, is a delay that is there by design.

“The truth is that this process which they claim is the result of concerns from the community does not serve the community,” said Nana Gyamfi, an attorney with the Crenshaw Legal Clinic who attended the meeting. “It is a process designed to appear to serve the community, when in fact it serves the police,” she said. “It serves the police when it takes almost a year or more to decide if this is a shooting that should have happened.”

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Chalking outside police headquarters (Photo by Charles Davis/LAist)

In Los Angeles, it’s not just the police who are taking things slow. Protesters want District Attorney Jackie Lacey to indict the two officers who shot Ford with murder, but she, too, says her investigation is ongoing; by contrast, after the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown it only took a few days for St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch to convene a grand jury—though, of course, many critics contend that process, too, was designed more to placate the public than deliver justice to Brown’s killer.

The failure of the processes currently in place—or success, depending on one’s perspective (or cynicism)—is why Pete White, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network, told me he brought up the name Steven Eugene Washington “to highlight why there’s mistrust.” In 2010, Washington was walking along Vermont Avenue in Koreatown when,according to the Los Angeles Times, police cruising by said they heard a loud sound. Whipping their car around they saw Washington, who allegedly gave them a “hard” look—he was autistic—and reached for his waistband, grabbed an object and then pointed it at them. Claiming he feared for his life, the officer driving the car then shot him in the head.

Washington was unarmed. The object near his waistband was a cellphone that had not in fact been removed from its holster. Presented with that information, the officer who killed him revised his story. “I — honestly, it was so quick so then I was — it was a split second. You know, I couldn’t tell.”

As White told it, Beck and the other high-ranking LAPD official in the room, Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, both “got really, really tense” when he brought up the case. That’s presumably because while the LAPD itself ruled the shooting was justified, it was one of the exceedingly rare cases where the LA Police Commission disagreed, its five members unanimously ruling—or rather, recommending, since its rulings are not legally binding—that the officers involved be disciplined. Beck reportedly initiated disciplinary proceedings, though both officers remain on his payroll.

LAPD spokesperson Jack Richter told me the department had no comment on the meeting.

At the press conference, meanwhile, people taking part in the Black Lives Matter protest outside LAPD headquarters—ranging from dozens to hundreds at a time since it began December 30—lamented that they had to be there at all.

“It’s sad that we’ve got to do this,” said Jasmine Richards, a young black woman who stressed she was not an “activist” or an “organizer” but rather a regular person spurred to take action by the killings from New York to Ferguson to LA. “Why do we have to chant ‘black lives matter’?” she asked. “And when we chant it, why does everybody say ‘all lives matter?’ We know that. We know everybody else’s life matters. But when can we get some justice for our lives?”

The Nation 10/23/14: “Can a ‘Homeless Bill of Rights’ End the Criminalization of LA’s Most Vulnerable Residents?”

Full article HERE.

“Can a ‘Homeless Bill of Rights’ End the Criminalization of LA’s Most Vulnerable Residents?”
Written by John Thomason

“We are human beings who live here,” Silvia Hernández says emphatically.

She is speaking of Los Angeles’s notorious Skid Row, though she no longer lives there herself. Hernández doesn’t look back fondly on the year she spent nights alternating between streets and shelters, but she appreciates what she believes is a strong sense of community among neighborhood residents. “Now with this new idea of gentrification, they want to take it away,” she says of the business interests and developers remaking downtown, and the police and security officers who are doing their bidding. “They don’t recognize the community as a community.”

Skid Row is the epicenter of LA’s chronic homelessness crisis, and its residents are under siege. Stretching some thirty to fifty square blocks, the neighborhood was established in the 1970s by city power brokers as an area where a concentration of social services would “contain” the city’s homeless far from its middle and upper class neighborhoods. Over the decades, the city has tried, off and on, to further confine its most hard-luck residents through police harassment and punitive legislation. But in recent years, as trendy boutiques and luxury high-rises have pressed in on a growing homeless population, the city has doubled down on these efforts. Rather than setting its sights on humane and time-honored solutions—most notably, supportive housing—it has unleashed upon Skid Row what a local community organization described as “the largest concentration of standing police forces in the country.”

The policies that have been keeping these forces busy are a tangle of old and new initiatives, some of which extend back decades, others of which are newer innovations. What unites them is a tendency to criminalize routine, often unavoidable, behavior by people forced to make their home on the streets: sleeping on the sidewalk, sleeping in a car, lining up for a meal at a soup kitchen. Over the years, activists and advocates have tried to challenge these measures, often in court, but the city’s overall criminalization policy has proven remarkably resilient.

Now, however, a coalition of community groups has come together to push statewide legislation that would enshrine the basic rights of homeless people in California law. If passed, the legislation will protect homeless Californians across the state—in San Francisco, San Diego, and the many points in between—but it will have particular resonance for the tens of thousands of Angelenos who sleep each night on the streets. In total, the LA region has a homeless population somewhere between 36,000 and 54,000 men and women, with a significant majority—as many as 76 percent—considered “unsheltered” by Department of Housing and Urban Development. State data compiled by HUD indicates that Los Angeles has the highest population of chronically homeless individuals (sometimes described as long-term street homeless) in the country.

“We can no longer accept the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach that is behind these laws and enforcement efforts,” Eric Ares, an organizer at the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), wrote in an e-mail. LA CAN is the lead Southern California organization pressing the new rights-based legislation.

* * *

To understand just how relentless LA’s anti-homeless efforts have been, it helps to rewind the clock several decades. As far back as the late 1960s, LA’s elected leaders were passing punitive ordinances like the one, still technically on the books, stipulating that, “no person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or public way.” This wasn’t rigorously enforced at first, but the police embraced it, zealously, around the turn of the millennium—just as efforts to gentrify historically desolate downtown were beginning to bear fruit. Then, in 2006, a federal appeals court ruled that LA could not enforce any ordinance prohibiting people from “sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks” as long as the homeless population exceeded the number of beds available for them. The law was effectively invalidated—for a time.

Just a few months after the ruling, the LAPD announced that it would deploy fifty more uniformed officers in Skid Row—an additional cop for every single block in the neighborhood—as part of the city’s Safer City Initiative (SCI). The initiative was typical of then-police chief William Bratton’s “broken windows” policy, focusing on the rigorous enforcement of minor infractions. Twelve thousand citations were issued during the first year the policy was in effect, the vast majority of which were for pedestrian infractions like crosswalk violations.

Lisa Watson, CEO of the Downtown Women’s Center, which provides resources and supportive housing for homeless and low-income women, tells me that the increased policing was not viewed entirely negatively by the women using the center: “Some of our women felt more safe, with more policing, and some women felt more unsafe.”

Silvia Hernández did not share Watson’s ambivalence, calling post-SCI policing “incredibly repulsive.” She recalled officers kicking her and a friend awake at 5 am, intentionally harassing mentally ill women for pleasure, illegally asking for ID, and handcuffing longtime residents daily with little or no justification.

There have been other discriminatory ordinances, which have often been followed by legal challenges and, not infrequently, rebukes by the courts. In 2012, for instance, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit barred the city from seizing and destroying personal property kept on sidewalks. And in June of this year, the same court unanimously ruled that a prohibition against living in vehicles was unconstitutional. The court cited the vagueness of the law—“broad enough to cover any driver in Los Angeles who eats food or transports personal belongings in his or her vehicle”—resulted in “arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement” against the homeless.

Despite these legal defeats, the business community and its allies both on the LA City Council and in the LAPD have simply generated new policies criminalizing common activities. Roughly fifty organizations throughout Los Angeles run outdoor operations providing free meals for the homeless, and these can draw crowds that number in the hundreds to the sidewalks of gentrifying neighborhoods like Hollywood, eliciting complaints from local residents. In response to these complaints, two Democrats on the City Council proposed a resolution to ban the feeding of homeless persons in public. Local community groups were able to mobilize to make sure an ordinance was not passed, but the incident highlighted the need to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable.

So when Rhode Island passed a statewide, comprehensive “Homeless Bill of Rights” in 2012, local organizations took notice. Groups throughout California and the west reached a consensus that a bill like this could stem the tide of anti-homeless legislation that showed no sign of receding on the municipal level. LA CAN took the lead in Southern California; it is one of ten regional groups united under the organizing umbrella of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP). Eighty-eight local groups have endorsed WRAP’s aims, which currently include statewide legislation in California and Oregon.

Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) was the coalition’s first shot at a Homeless Bill of Rights in California. This comprehensive legislation focused on six rights identified by the groups: the right to rest and move freely in public, the right to occupy a legally parked vehicle, the right to serve food and eat in public, the right to legal counsel, the right to invoke a “necessity defense” before a judge and the right to access twenty-four-hour hygiene facilities.

Even advocates were surprised at how quickly the bill found sponsorship; Democrat Tom Ammiano introduced the legislation in December 2012. They were further surprised again when the bill passed the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, though it died quietly in the Appropriations Committee in May of last year, due in part to questions about costs associated with the legislation, specifically the requirement for twenty-four-hour-hour hygiene centers. Opposition from groups like the California Chamber of Commerce and the League of California Cities surely didn’t help.

Despite the loss, advocates left the session encouraged and determined to mobilize support while hammering out logistics that would answer legislators’ questions. And rather than pursuing a comprehensive bill, the coalition will now pursue the Homeless Bill of Rights campaign piecemeal, focusing first on the right to rest.

“We’ve now broken AB 5 into three separate pieces,” Paul Boden, executive and organizing director of WRAP, told me. “It’s tighter and stronger and more focused breaking them out into three separate bills.”

Every advocate and activist I spoke with emphasized that even a comprehensive Homeless Bill of Rights would not constitute a long-term solution to homelessness. “I think it would be tragic if we saw it as a solution rather than an emergency measure,” said Cathy Albisa of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, an organization playing a “background role” on the campaign.

“The ultimate solution to homelessness is housing,” explained LA CAN’s Eric Ares. “However, while we work for building more housing for individuals of all-income levels, we have to protect the basic civil rights of the houseless.”

And if even the revised bills fail to gain traction in state legislatures? “We’ll be back in the next session,” Boden assured me. “This is a long-haul campaign.”

The Guardian 10/20/14: “Housing First: the ‘counterintuitive’ method for solving urban homelessness”

Full article HERE.

“Housing First: the ‘counterintuitive’ method for solving urban homelessness”
Written by Billy Briggs

At a soup kitchen in Detroit, a former crack addict in a wheelchair is explaining how he lost his legs. “They were amputated in 2000 because I had frostbite from sleeping on the streets,” says Clayton, 54. Fourteen years on from becoming a double amputee, Clayton is still homeless in his home town, but he’s been off drugs for more than a decade, and remains remarkably sanguine about his plight. “It ain’t easy sometimes, but at least I’m still alive,” he says, breaking into a smile.

It’s winter 2013 and we are in the Central United Methodist Church, a stone’s throw from Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team. It is noon, a soup kitchen is in full flow, but outside it’s bitterly cold, December snow piled high on the streets, the Detroit River frozen. When dark falls, the temperature can plunge to -20oC.

Tonight, as usual, Clayton will sleep rough under a viaduct beside the Cobo Centre – a huge convention arena – a few blocks away from the soup kitchen. Run by volunteers from a homeless charity called the Noah Project, Clayton visits twice a week. As we chat over coffee he says he hopes to survive another brutal Michigan winter and eventually get a place of his own. Matt, a young Jesuit volunteer at the Noah Project, says there will be around 16,000 people without a home tonight in the Motor City in harsh conditions. A local church is planning a memorial service for homeless people who’ve perished on the streets.

And yet despite the Great Recession, the gutting of the auto industry and the city’s much-publicised bankruptcy, homelessness in Detroit has actually fallen (albeit by less than 1%) since 2010, according to the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. Nor is it the only city. Across the US, homelessness in cities is dropping almost across the board.

Part of the credit for this apparent success must go to Barack Obama’s Opening Doors programme, which the Department of Housing report concluded had made “significant progress in spite of tough economic times”. Launched in 2010, Opening Doors was the country’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness. It set the target of ending chronic homelessness and homelessness among war veterans by 2015, and among families with children by 2020.

Central to Opening Doors is a controversial idea that has picked up support in cities worldwide, especially in the Scandinavian countries, Germany, France and the UK. Known as Housing First, it prioritises moving homeless people straight from the streets into a home, as opposed to other programmes whereby people are mandated to address certain personal issues prior to entering housing.

“With Housing First, the idea is to help people find permanent housing right away, without conditioning this housing on sobriety, mental health treatment, employment, or anything else. Then, continue working with them on all of these issues once they are stably housed,” says Jake Maguire of Community Solutions, which ran the 100,000 Homes Campaign – an initiative across 186 cities, counties and states that, earlier this year, met its goal to find roofs for 100,000 homeless Americans. “This is important, because typically it has been done the other way around. The data overwhelmingly reveals the counterintuitive fact that Housing First ends homelessness permanently, while treatment first rarely ends it at all.”

The numbers back it up. The 100,000 Homes Campaign announced in August that homelessness among US war veterans dropped below the 50,000 mark for the first time since 2010, falling to 49,933 – a 30% drop during that period. “What works to end veteran homelessness will work to end all homelessness,” says Becky Kanis, a former army captain and until recently campaign director. “Permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing are proven strategies, and they actually save taxpayers money.”

Not everyone agrees. Although Housing First was adopted by the George W Bush administration, it remains unpopular on the right of the political spectrum, and not just among people who believe that citizens should “earn” state support. The initial cost of Housing First is expensive, and many people are resistant to the idea of providing housing for homeless drug addicts without first enrolling them on to a rehabilitative programme.

“There is the idea of essentially structural causation: economic downturn, cuts to welfare, service and benefits, limitation with services with, for example, regards to mental health and the care system,” Pleace says. “But then you’ve also got what we call individual pathology, which tends to be argued by those on the right, more about individual actions, choice and characteristics.”

One of the most vocal opponents of Housing First for its apparent willingness to give homeless people an easy ride, is former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave homeless people one-way tickets out of town, charged families for using emergency shelters and evicted people from these shelters who broke curfew. By 2007, 550 families left New York with tickets paid for by the taxpayer.

Critics of Bloomberg (in office from 2002-2013) say his move away from providing permanent housing has been fundamental to New York’s steep rise in homelessness. In 2004, Bloomberg pledged a comprehensive effort to dramatically reduce homelessness, but the Coalition for the Homeless said rates subsequently rose 80% to become the highest since New York began keeping records 30 years ago. They say he encouraged gentrification in New York while cutting off homeless families from priority access to public housing and Section 8 vouchers, which pay two-thirds of rent in private apartments for low-income residents. (The city’s current mayor, Bill de Blasio, has essentially refunded the programme, and plans to move sheltered families into their own apartments via new rent subsidies.)

Similar issues bedevil London. As cuts to housing benefits bite, rents spiral upwards and luxury property development continues apace, Crisis estimates 6,508 people slept rough in the UK capital in 2013, a 77% rise on 2010. “Thousands of people are suffering because of cuts to housing benefit and a woeful lack of affordable housing,” says Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis. “Shamefully, instead of receiving the help they need, the law in England means that many homeless people are turned away by their councils because they are not considered a priority for housing help.” London is just one of many desperate British cities that has turned to Housing First for a solution.

It doesn’t work perfectly. In Los Angeles, where the concept of Housing First originated in a 1988 project called Beyond Shelter, homelessness has also risen sharply. Thousands of men, women and children are sleeping in places deemed unfit for human habitation: alongside freeways, in cars and vans, under overpasses and beside rivers.

Housing First simply can’t tackle the problem – especially not in Skid Row, the downtown Los Angeles area synonymous with destitution. “Emergency services used to be just that: emergency services. Someone could get overnight shelter, a bed, some food and clothing,” says community organiser Eric Ares, “but because there is increasingly no way out of homelessness, people become dependent on emergency services permanently.

“We have a combination of a service model that doesn’t allow people to get out of homelessness; an economy and housing market that tries to attract higher earners; and not having available housing stock that is affordable. At the same time,” he goes on, “there is a movement to destroy public housing and convert it to private housing. And we’ve had a huge economic recession.” Although Housing First is being pushed by some organisations, most still focus on emergency shelters. “This is because of the scale of the issue in LA: it is so big that it’s hard to meet the urgency in terms of Housing First.”

The nations where homeless is best understood, monitored and addressed are, not surprisingly, in nations with the most developed welfare systems – Scandinavia, Germany and France. In Europe, Housing First has developed into “Housing Led”, in which housing is considered a human right and all efforts are focused on getting homeless people settled in homes.

Homelessness remains a problem in all EU states, and has risen in 15 countries over the past five years. But Housing Led projects have already proved successful in Finland, Denmark and Scotland, where homeless applications in the last of these – a system whereby people notify their local authority of impending homelessness – fell by around 10% from 2012-13. Glasgow saw a 9% drop, following an 11% drop on the previous year. Housing First, and indeed Housing Led, are likely to be hot topics when 300 delegates gather in the city of Bergamo, Italy from 24-25 October for the Feantsa 2014 Policy Conference.

The fight against homelessness has thrown up many ideas and proposed solutions over the years. Recently, there has been a raft of design-led solutions, from housing people in shipping containers to the latest craze for tiny houses. Maguire warns against getting caught up in them. “People just have this intuitive idea that homeless people need something different than the rest of us,” he says. “It used to be a special building or program, now it’s a sexy tiny home in a separated area. Tiny houses are slower, more expensive and far less scalable than using existing housing stock … and they just isolate the homeless from everyone else.”

Street papers, whereby homeless people sell a magazine on the street to create an income, are still seen as one of the most effective tools in fighting homelessness. Glasgow – hot on the heels of its Housing First pilot successes – hosted the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) 20th anniversary conference in August, with nearly 100 delegates from as far afield as Osaka and Buenos Aires; the organisation supports 123 street papers in 41 countries.

The first street paper was Street News in New York, launched in 1989. Since then the concept has spread. In fact, further innovation has come through the street papers. In Nuremberg, for example, the street paper Strassenkreuzer invites homeless people to attend university lectures; in Munich, BISS magazine pays its vendors pensions, and pays for funeral services and burials for homeless people who die on the streets.

Street papers have also been at the forefront of exposing what might be considered the “third way” of dealing with homelessness: criminalisation. Scores of US cities particularly have adopted punitive measures to deal with destitute people, such as police sweeps to confiscate personal property, or making panhandling (asking for money on the street) illegal.

Of 234 American cities, 40% make it a crime to sleep in public spaces, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Meanwhile, Seattle-based Real Change reported that around 100 tent encampments have been closed throughout the US, with only eight “tent cities” now considered legal. In Nashville, Tennessee, the Contributor street paper investigated 17 cases of homeless people being given criminal records, ostensibly for criminal trespassing and obstructing a highway.

Other cities have been even more callous. In Detroit, where Clayton spoke of his personal struggles, the ACLU claimed last year that police officers were routinely “kidnapping” homeless people in vans from tourist areas such as Greektown, then dumping them miles from their area – sometimes outside the city limits – with no way of getting back. This in a city where at least one third of the city’s 16,000 homeless people are thought to be mentally ill.

The UN has criticised these policies, which display none of the ingenuity or flair of the street papers or Housing First advocates, whose methods, while not perfect, have at least been shown to reduce urban homelessness. Maguire says it’s important to understand the opposition. “Housing First opposition is typically rooted in a sense that it feels wrong or backwards to subsidise housing for someone with active mental illness or a drug problem,” he says. “We’re actually pretty sensitive to how difficult these feelings can be to overcome, but the data is so clear on this: 85% of Housing First participants do not return to homelessness, and many end up tackling mental illness, unemployment or addiction in housing and on their own terms.

“Housing First is counterintuitive, and I think it’s really fair to admit that, but at the end of the day, would you rather be right, or would you rather end homelessness?”

LA Times 9/30/14: “Skid row groups are divided over future of homeless district”

Full article HERE.

“Skid row groups are divided over future of homeless district”
Written by Gale Holland

A deep divide over the future of skid row and of the thousands of homeless people living in the 50-block district’s streets and shelters emerged during a community forum in downtown Los Angeles on Monday night.

The near-capacity crowd in the Los Angeles Theatre Center’s 470-seat auditorium split nearly evenly on key issues in instant electronic polls conducted during the meeting, including a proposal by City Councilman Jose Huizar, who convened the meeting, to appoint a homeless czar. The audience was also divided on whether skid row needs more homeless housing, more mixed-income housing or no more housing at all.

Midway through the two-hour forum, members of Los Angeles Community Action Network staged an angry walkout, protesting what they said was the exclusion of skid row residents from the panel of 15 people, mainly city and county officials, that Huizar assembled to testify about the 50-block downtown neighborhood.

“You messed up enough people already,” said General Dogon, an organizer for the poverty group, flinging onto the stage the electronic clicker that audience members used to vote.

“We are the experts” and “Vote of no confidence” read signs the group’s members raised in silent protest before the walkout.

Mental health, sanitation, police, health services and housing officials told the crowd they were working to maximum capacity on the community’s homeless problems.

Los Angeles Police Lt. Lionel Garcia said the department’s mental health response teams handle 13,000 crisis calls a year and don’t have the resources for outreach on skid row. City street services enforcement chief Gary Harris said dumping by local businesses exacerbates the trash can shortage and sanitation problems on skid row.

Most speakers agreed that skid row is not working. With the downtown’s glitzy revival encroaching on its boundaries, the neighborhood is changing, downtown developer Tom Gilmore said.

“There will be development of skid row,” said Gilmore, who predicted that mixed-income and market rate housing will grow without displacing shelters and other homeless services.

Housing chief Rushmore D. Cervantes said the city expects to finish building 1,250 homeless units next year, but added, “You walk down the streets and it doesn’t appear to have made things better. It appears things are even worse.”

Marc Trotz, who heads the Los Angeles County Health Services’ Housing for Health program, added a bright note, saying that his office hopes to create 10,000 housing units with services for homeless people with complex medical and behavioral issues.

“We have to open up to a really large mobilization,” Trotz said. “When you have earthquakes or floods you don’t wander around with a ragtag bunch of folks and two backpacks.”

Several longtime leaders boycotted the meeting, including Alice Callaghan, who runs Las Familias Del Pueblo, a skid row school and day-care center for children of immigrant workers. Callaghan lambasted the “Plan for Hope” Huizar used as a blueprint for the discussion, in part because its authors were described as “anonymous stakeholders.”

Callaghan said the report was riddled with illegal or outlandish ideas and factual errors, including a call to protect 6,000 existing low-income units on skid row. “6,000 is a number from 1985; we’ve already lost half of them,” she said.

Kevin Michael Key, who heads a skid row drug and alcohol prevention program, said he was offended by a video Huizar played to start the meeting that showed homeless people defecating and masturbating in the street.

“Every day I see people on the worst of the worst street, San Julian, sweeping up,” Key said. “We couldn’t show that picture though: a little bit of humanity.”

Business leader Blair Besten, who helped develop the Plan for Hope, said every idea in the proposal had been tried somewhere in the U.S.

“We have to stop saying there is one solution, or no solution,” said Besten, who heads the downtown historic core business improvement district.”There is a solution.”

Skid Row Residents and Organizations Sue DTLA BID and City of LA for Unlawful Seizure of Property

LOS ANGELES, CA (September 19, 2014)—Los Angeles Catholic Worker, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), Harry James Jones, Louis Grady, Lloyd Hinkle and Walter Shoaf filed a lawsuit in federal court today against the Los Angeles Downtown Industrial District Business Improvement District (LADID), Central City East Association (CCEA), and the City of Los Angeles to stop the LADID and City from seizing the personal property of homeless individuals on Skid Row, in violation of their constitutional rights.  They are represented by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) and Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris and Hoffman, LLP.

The City of Los Angeles is already under a federal court injunction prohibiting it from seizing property that is not abandoned, an immediate threat to health or safety, or evidence of a crime. Despite the injunction, LADID’s cadre of public safety officers in red shirts continue to take unattended property from homeless people living on the streets of Skid Row.

The seizures at issue are separate from street cleaning by the City and are not part of an organized maintenance schedule.  Instead, BID officers take people’s property without any notice – with seizures often occurring during times that officers know that homeless individuals are receiving services or eating at area missions. People step away from their property for often only minutes at a time to get a meal, go to a medical appointment, or even use the rest room.   When they return, all of their worldly possessions, including tents, bedding, and warm clothing, are gone—taken by truck to a location at the edge of the district.  The location is hard to reach and a far distance for people to transport property back to the places they regularly sleep, particularly without the assistance of the trucks that took the property away.  These seizures serve no purpose other than to make life even harder for homeless residents in Skid Row.

Last year, Harry James Jones, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, neatly packed up all his belongings including his identification card, his life-saving medication, tent, and clothing.  Same as every day, he went to get some food.  While he was gone, LADID officers took all of his property.  They left no receipt for him to retrieve the property when he got back. “I was only gone for a little while.  When I came back, all of my things were gone,” said Mr. Jones. “I had no way to know the Red Shirts would take my things when I was gone.  I didn’t have my medicine for weeks, and I didn’t have my ID to get a refill. I got very sick and wound up in the hospital.”

Lloyd Hinkle, another Vietnam War veteran, had similarly neatly packed his property, and a neighbor was watching over it while he went to eat. LADID officers, with the assistance of the LAPD, seized his belongings, despite being told they were not abandoned by both Hinkle’s neighbor and members of LA CAN, who videotaped the incident.  LAPD officers prevented witnesses and members and staff of LA CAN from intervening to stop the LADID officers from taking Mr. Hinkle’s belongings.  The LAPD officer insisted that BID officers were doing their jobs and that she and the officers were only taking abandoned property, even as LA CAN members insisted that the owner of the property was nearby. Mr. Hinkle was unable to predict the seizure, and he has no way of knowing when they will come for his property again. “Since they took my stuff, I’m less willing to leave, even to get a meal or see the doctor,” said Mr. Hinkle.  “I don’t want to risk the red shirts coming and taking my stuff again.”

Plaintiff Los Angeles Catholic Worker (LACW) distributes shopping carts to homeless people in Skid Row.  The carts are given to people so they can store their belongings and also use the carts to assist them in moving their property from one location to another.  LACW also provides meals, toiletries, and foot care to hundreds of homeless people in Skid Row every year.  “Because of ill-fitting shoes and poor foot care and the challenges of being homeless, so many people on the Row have problems just walking and getting around.  The carts not only give people a place to put their things, but they also help many people just walk down the street,” said Catherine Morris, one of the group’s organizers. “The BID’s constant taking of people’s things and our carts make it harder for people to live on the street and harder for us to do our work.”

Media Contacts:
Jeff Dietrich, Los Angeles Catholic Worker, 323-267-8789 or 310-627-7308
Becky Dennison, Los Angeles Community Action Network, 213-840-4664
Shayla Myers, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, 213-640-3983
Fernando Gaytan, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, 213-640-3831
Catherine Sweetser, Schonbrun Desimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman, LLP., 310-396-0731

Spanish speakers available upon request.

LA Times 8/13/14: “City, county join forces in program to help homeless get off skid row”

Full article HERE.

“City, county join forces in program to help homeless get off skid row”
Written by Gale Holland

Los Angeles city and county workers launched a major effort Wednesday to clean up skid row and offer medical, mental health and social services to help an estimated 1,700 homeless people get off the streets.

Dr. Susan Partovi, the medical field director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, joined 35 city sanitation and street service workers, and a couple dozen mental health, medical and outreach workers, on San Julian Street between 5th and 6th streets.

“The goal is to house up to 10,000 people” in the next five years, Partovi said during a briefing before the cleanup. “Some of these people are acutely ill.”

Authorities described the $3.7-milion city-county program, called Operation Healthy Streets, as an unprecedented show of cooperation in an attempt to shake loose entrenched homelessness in the most concentrated skid row in the nation.

“We have coordination with the county, something we have rarely done in our approach to homelessness,” Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar said. Huizar has also called for the appointment of an official to oversee the city’s initiatives on the homeless.

As several rats scuttled in and out of holes, sanitation workers in white protective suits threw away hazardous waste, then bagged homeless people’s belongings, mostly bedding and clothing, to store for 90 days for pickup by their owners.

Officials say that the cleanup will continue through Aug. 21, and be repeated bimonthly, on a 30-block grid from Wall to Gladys streets, between 5th and 7th streets. Spot touch-ups are also planned.

Many homeless residents are skeptical of the new approach after decades of failed cleanup efforts.

“People want to get off the streets, they don’t want to go where they send them,” said a homeless man who gave his name as Philip. He complained that some shelters require attendance at religious services or demand a sizable portion of people’s meager general relief check for rent.

Los Angeles native Omar Allah, 29, said there is no room in the shelters. “You’ve got to go to jail to find out about housing,” said Allah, who sat on a milk crate around the corner from San Julian, where he had been staying before the cleanup started.

“That’s your real house, jail,” said his friend, Mike Johnson, 30.

Partovi said the resistance to shelters and temporary housing is understandable. “They all want their own place,” she said, adding that the county is developing permanent housing that includes care for mental health, substance abuse and medical issues.

Teams will also have to contend with early jail and patient releases that feed skid row’s population.

Michele Jones, 30, said St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles discharged her in the middle of the night after back surgery, leaving her nowhere to go but skid row.

“I’ve tried to get into a place, nobody will help me,” said the Northridge native, who still had an EKG electrode patch stuck to her chest.

St. Vincent spokeswoman Ann Betzsold said she could not comment on Jones’ statements.

Partovi said the county is opening two centers this year where patients can recuperate after hospitalization.

During the cleanup, General Dogon, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network anti-poverty group, confronted Huizar, saying that Operation Healthy Streets funds would be better spent paying neighborhood residents who have been cleaning the streets on their own during years of official neglect.

Dogon also said the city was not doing enough. “People need resources on a daily basis,” he said.

But other new plans are afoot. The city and county, pushed by federal officials, are moving toward a “housing first” strategy that places people in apartments even if they have substance abuse or mental health issues.

Since 2008, Los Angeles County has committed to spending $118 million on 41 housing developments with a total of 2,066 residences, including 918 set aside for people who are mentally ill and homeless.

Partovi said her department has also set up an $18-million fund to subsidize rent for homeless people who cycle in and out of hospital care and emergency rooms.

LA Times 8/13/14: “Physician joins skid row cleanup to get homeless off the streets”

Full article HERE.

“Physician joins skid row cleanup to get homeless off the streets”
Written by Gale Holland

Armed with a stethoscope, Dr. Susan Partovi walked some of skid row’s meanest streets Wednesday, stopping to help a man dazed and stumbling down the sidewalk with blood caked on his head.

Luis Trejas, 40, said he’d been beaten up and asked for a cigarette. Partovi dropped her backpack, guided him down to the ground and took his blood pressure.

Partovi, the medical field director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, was part of a team of mental health, social service and medical workers who joined an initiative to curb entrenched homelessness in the 50-block downtown Los Angeles district.

The program was launched Aug. 4, when social, medical and mental health workers visited San Julian Street. The first cleanup took place Wednesday, and will continue through Aug. 21.

“The goal is to house up to 10,000 people” in the next five years, Partovi said during a briefing before the cleanup. “Some of these people are acutely ill.”

“We have coordination with the county, something we have rarely done in our approach to homelessness,” Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar said. Huizar has also called for a homeless “czar” to over see the city’s initiatives.

Partovi was able to get paramedics to Trejas. But she and other team members will have more than violence and injury to overcome to fix skid row, where many homeless residents are skeptical about the new approach after decades of failed cleanup efforts.

“People want to get off the streets, they don’t want to go where they send them,” said a homeless man who gave his name as Philip. He said some of the shelters require attendance at religious services, while others demanded a sizable portion of people’s meager general relief check for rent.

“I been here five years, there ain’t no room in no shelters here,” said Omar Allah, 29, a Los Angeles native, sitting on a milk carton around the corner from San Julian, where he had been staying before the cleanup started. “You’ve got to go to jail to find out about housing.”

“That’s your real house, jail,” said his friend, Mike Johnson, 30.

Allah said he had been in transitional housing but left because of excessive regimentation and bad living conditions. He also said he had a psychiatric condition.

Partovi said the resistance to shelters and temporary housing is understandable. “They all want their own place,” she said. The county is developing permanent housing that includes mental health, substance abuse and medical care, she said.

Teams will also have to contend with early jail and patient releases that feed skid row’s population.

Michele Jones said St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Los Angeles discharged her in the middle of the night after back surgery, leaving her nowhere to go but skid row.

“I’ve tried to get into a place, nobody will help me,” said the Northridge native, 30, who still had an EKG electrode patch stuck to her chest.

St. Vincent spokeswoman Ann Betzsold said she could not comment on Jones’ statements.

Partovi said the county is opening two centers this year where patients can recuperate after hospitalizations.

During the cleanup, General Dogon, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network anti-poverty group, confronted Huizar, saying Operation Healthy Streets funds would be better spent on paying neighborhood residents who have been cleaning the streets on their own during years of official neglect.

Dogon also said the city was not doing enough. “People need resources on a daily basis,” he said.

But other new plans are afoot. The city and county, pushed by federal officials, are moving toward a “housing first” strategy that places people in apartments even if they have substance abuse or mental health issues.

Since 2008, L.A. County has committed to spending $118 million on 41 housing developments with a total of 2,066 residences, including 918 set aside for people who are mentally ill and homeless.

Partovi said her department also has set up an $18 million fund to subsidize rents for homeless people who cycle in and out of hospital care and emergency rooms.

Police are also easing enforcement of minor offenses, and instead teaming with social service providers to identify seriously ill people who need help.

The emphasis on housing the most vulnerable could leave out those caught in a short-term crisis, or who simply are young.

Jennifer Wilbon, 21, of New York City said she came to Long Beach for a gay pride festival but became stranded on skid row after she was robbed.

“It’s hard to find places that take young people in,” she said.

Daily News 8/12/14: “L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti says city-county homelessness agency ‘needs to function better’”

Full article HERE.

“L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti says city-county homelessness agency ‘needs to function better’”
Written by Dakota Smith

In a pointed criticism of one of the region’s largest agencies overseeing homelessness issues, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said leadership at Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority needs to “go up to the next level.”

Garcetti, who in his campaign for mayor vowed to end chronic homelessness in the city, said he wants to “invigorate” LAHSA.

“The Homeless Services Authority, which brings the county and city together, has to function better and has to work directly on (homelessness), and that’s what I am putting my focus on,” said the mayor in an interview over the weekend.

“I think I’ve turned a new page in the city-county relationship, and we are looking forward to bringing the right leadership at LAHSA into that entity. Someone has to own the ending of homelessness as their mission.”

Garcetti made his remarks on Saturday during a visit to the Los Angeles Mission in the city’s Skid Row. Asked to clarify whether he would advocate a change in LAHSA management, he said, “(It’s) establishing the right leadership in place. I mean, we’ve had very good people, but I think it needs to go up to the next level.”

Established in 1993, LAHSA is a joint city-county agency that administers federal and local dollars to shelters and homeless services throughout the region. Executive Director Michael Arnold has held the position since 2009. The agency is overseen by a group of commissioners, appointed by the county and the Los Angeles mayor. All of the current city-appointed commissioners were picked by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

On Monday, Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman declined to elaborate on the mayor’s remarks. George McQuade, a spokesman for LAHSA, also declined comment, and messages left for numerous commissioners were not returned.

There are nearly 40,000 people living on the streets and shelters of Los Angeles County, according to figures released earlier this year by LAHSA.

In recent months, homelessness has received renewed attention from both Garcetti, who launched a bid last month to eradicate the plight among veterans, and downtown City Councilman Jose Huizar, who last week helped announce a program aimed at Skid Row cleanup and services.

Additionally, Huizar wants the city to explore creating a “homeless czar” position at Los Angeles City Hall to oversee coordination among various city agencies. He said the city’s approach to dealing with homelessness has been “sporadic” and that City Hall initiatives are usually crafted following litigation against the city over homeless issues. “We need to be proactive,” said Huizar, who is running for re-election to represent the Eastside and downtown.

Garcetti is “open to the idea” of a czar but indicated that leadership on the issue should be coming from LAHSA.

Relations between the offices of Huizar and the mayor have been frosty at times since a friend of Huizar ran a series of negative advertisements against then-candidate Garcetti during the mayoral race. Still, both have said they are committed to working together to combat homelessness.

“There’s no rift,” Garcetti said of his relationship with Huizar, adding that he’d recently been to the Getty House for dinner.

Pete White, co-executive director of the advocacy group Los Angeles Community Action Network, said he hadn’t seen enough movement on homelessness from the city, county or LAHSA. LAHSA is praised for overseeing regular homeless counts, but the agency has also faced criticism for not taking a more aggressive approach to the problem. White said both the city and county need to spend more money on services for the indigent.

“Until the city and the county does its part to provide additional resources, this problem is going nowhere,” White said.

WRAP Op-Ed in SF Chronicle: “Change heartless rules to house homeless families”

An Op-Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle from our friend and ally Paul Boden over at the Western Regional Advocacy Project.

Change heartless rules to house homeless families
by Paul Boden

What kind of a mean, coldhearted, even sadistic homeless service provider would tell a family of three or four or five living in a single-room-occupancy hotel, or “illegally” sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment: “You aren’t homeless enough – you’re just poorly housed. Go sleep in the streets for a while. When you come back, you better be able to prove you are homeless.”

This would be the only kind of homeless service provider the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been willing to fund since 2009.

In fact, the agency is so serious about this that, in 2011, it put out a 105-page memo detailing for local communities how severe the penalties would be for providing any services with HUD money without thoroughly documenting the eligibility of any homeless family or youth. Fines would be incurred if agencies served those not designated as a priority for services by the ridiculous point-in-time head counts HUD requires communities to perform.

That is why Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, have introduced legislation in their respective legislative chambers to overturn these draconian rules. The bills would amend HUD’s definition of homelessness, a change that would allow approximately 900,000 homeless children and families nationwide to access federal assistance programs. Specifically, children living in motels and doubled-up in households with acquaintances would be recognized as homeless.

HUD is, by far, the largest funder of homeless services. Yet, HUD’s restrictive definition of homelessness has created a cruel and vicious cycle. Once families lose their homes, they scramble for any place to stay. If they sleep in a vehicle or remain on the streets, they risk being categorized as unfit parents and losing their children to public agencies.

Hoping to avoid that, families will stay with other people, often in unstable and unhealthy situations that render them ineligible for homeless assistance. And, if that isn’t coldhearted enough (and it is), HUD also applies these rules to unaccompanied youth as well.

Why this Scrooge-like approach? Because families and unaccompanied youth cost too much money, that’s why. HUD can house 25 single adults in hotel rooms for the same cost of housing three families or helping out seven unaccompanied youth. So single adults have become HUD’s primary business.

HUD and some of the national homeless groups are trying to sell everyone on the amazing success of their 10-year plans to end homelessness. Yes, their head count numbers have gone way down (through redefinition but not reality). And yes, thousands of single adult homeless people have been housed in hotel rooms.

So, when your measuring stick for success is fewer homeless heads on the streets and more people in hotel rooms, you really can’t be wasting money caring for people who aren’t visible or obviously homeless (but who, nevertheless, are neither safe nor providing a good place for their children).

The human math is pretty simple: In 2006, we had 600,000 homeless students in public schools nationwide. In 2009, we had 930,000 and in 2012, it was 1.168 million. Yet, that same year, only 247,178 homeless households were eligible to receive services through HUD homeless assistance programs.

Call it poorly housed or call it the invisible homeless. No matter what you call it, this is heartless public policy. Support Feinstein’s and Miller’s legislation to change it.

Paul Boden, who was once homeless, is the organizing director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project. For updated information and to find out how to contact your elected representatives, go to www.helphomelessyouthnow.org.

LA Weekly 7/24/14: “L.A.’s Culture War Over the Last True Skid Row in America “

Link to LA Weekly article HERE.

“L.A.’s Culture War Over the Last True Skid Row in America”
Written by Hillel Aron

“Yo!”

“We want everything to get better, yeah. But people have decided it should all be Disneyland.” —Nickel Diner co-owner Monica May

A black man in a filthy, yellow, collared shirt lies sprawled out in the middle of the Sixth Street sidewalk, out cold. No more than four inches from his face is a Business Improvement District officer, who shouts again: “Yo!”

“Is he breathing?” asks a woman passing by, worried.

“Yeah,” the officer replies, putting on a pair of rubber gloves.

“Oh,” the woman says, walking off. A white man in a suit looks up from his smartphone just in time to see the obstruction and skips over the prone man, barely breaking stride.

“Sir, I’m gonna need you to get up!” shouts the private security officer, clad in the trademark bicycle helmet and green shirt of the Historic Core Business Improvement District. Downtown is dotted with BIDs, each one in a distinct color — yellow shirts for the Fashion District, blue shirts for the Arts District, and so on. They’re essentially security guards hired by businesses to patrol the streets; they wear shiny badges but have little power other than to tell certain undesirables to keep moving.

“Sir! Sir!” the BID officer shouts. The homeless man rolls onto his back. A fly lands on his lips. “Sir, let’s go, you’re in the way here.”

A black man in a T-shirt comes by with a coconut popsicle and says, “Eat that ice cream. Gives you some energy.” The BID officer unwraps it. The homeless man’s eyes remain closed, but his hand moves, instinctively, toward the popsicle, and he takes a tiny, careful bite.

“This whole walkway has to be clear,” says the BID officer, who’s now been at this for more than 15 minutes in the hot, midday sun. The inert man’s eyes finally open to gaze upon the white-colored popsicle in wonder, and he mumbles, “This is all right!”

“Albert!” shouts another black man in a vest and ski hat, marching up the block. “Get your ass up!” In an aside to the officer, he says, “This is my boy.”

“This is all right,” Albert repeats, the cobwebs finally starting to clear.

“Albert, let’s roll. Let’s go eat.”

And with that, the two trudge eastward, into Skid Row, a name that appears on almost no maps of Los Angeles yet is known far and wide as the area given over to the city’s most destitute.

As shocking as it is to look upon the rows and rows of makeshift encampments and thousands of roving, hopeless people, perhaps even more shocking is this: Los Angeles is the last major American city with a single district of anything approaching this magnitude of homelessness and extreme poverty.

The Tenderloin in San Francisco is tiny by comparison. Seattle’s once-dreary Skid Row is dotted with art galleries and trendy coffee shops. And all you need to know about New York City’s Bowery is that it now has a Whole Foods.

The last true Skid Row in America is right here in Los Angeles.

Its name has been wiped clean off of official maps and even fire engines, replaced by the antiseptic “Central City East.” But the area still contains the highest concentration of homelessness in America. You have to go all the way up to the east end of Vancouver, British Columbia, to find anything close.

“Los Angeles is unique in having failed miserably in making any headway in the area of homelessness,” says Gary Blasi, professor of law emeritus at UCLA and one of the region’s foremost experts on homelessness. “It is really an unbelievable outlier.”

Last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti, standing in Century City alongside First Lady Michelle Obama, pledged to end veteran homelessness by 2016, similar to a campaign promise he made. Blasi wasn’t exactly impressed, calling it “a publicity stunt that, to some degree, was disconnected from the realities on the streets. … He and the First Lady seemed only to talk about hiring unemployed veterans. Unemployment is the least of their problems.”

Between 6,000 and 8,000 veterans are chronically homeless in L.A. County, and as with all homelessness, the only solution that has succeeded in ending the cycle is an approach known as “permanent supportive housing.” Garcetti’s plan, however well-intentioned, doesn’t appear to include it.

“This is a shell game,” says attorney Carol Sobel, who has successfully sued Los Angeles — more than once — for violating the rights of homeless people. “What they’ve done is taken vets and moved them to the front of the line. What you need is a bigger pie. The city has never put it in additional money.”

Skid Row isn’t just a frame of mind; various laws and court rulings have actually set official, legal boundaries for it: Third Street to the north, Alameda Street to the east, Seventh Street to the south and Main Street to the west. But the tide of urban renewal is beginning to lap up upon its urine-soaked shores; the astonishing rise of a new, middle- and upper-middle-class downtown means that the poverty-stricken area is shrinking. It once was 50 square blocks; now it’s closer to 40.

Ten years ago, Albert might have been allowed to sleep on Sixth Street. But the two blocks of Sixth Street that run between Spring and Main have been claimed by the recently christened Historic Core District, effectively annexed by the new downtown.

It’s some fairly pricey property, drunks or not. Residential rentals average $1,400 a month in Skid Row, according to real estate site Trulia; that’s about $300 more, on average, than you’ll pay in tony Lincoln Park, Chicago, or sophisticated Queen Anne Hill, Seattle.

“You’ve funneled people to this area,” says Eric Ares, an activist with the L.A. Community Action Network (or LA CAN), as he drives along Wall Street, the row’s filthy epicenter. “And all of a sudden you’re saying that they’re not welcome.”

Across the street from where Albert fell and was forced to move is Sustain Juicery, a tiny cubbyhole of a juice bar, which smells of wheatgrass and sells $9 smoothies. Kelly Hayden works the counter; she has lived in L.A. four years, moving from the small mountain suburb of Sierra Madre, east of Pasadena, about 20 miles from downtown.

Hayden is the prototypical new downtowner. She has never owned a car and has never lived west of the 110 freeway, which slices a north-south route through downtown, or, as the newcomers have dubbed it, DTLA.

“It feels like a small town to me,” Hayden says. “You always see the same people around, and you really don’t ever have to leave.”

For a while, Hayden lived at the Hayward Manor Apartments at Sixth and Spring, in an area once seen as a sort of buffer zone between Skid Row and the rest of downtown. Nowadays, various signs refer to the buffer zone as either “Gallery Row” or “The Old Bank District.”

Her rent kept going up, and after she lived in other loft spaces for short periods, Hayden recently settled into a warehouse space on Eighth Street and Towne Avenue. It’s a barren, unnamed area four blocks east of the Flower District and just a block south of Skid Row.

“You get used to it,” she says. “You see people talking to themselves, or people pooping right on the street. I saw someone smoking crack this morning at, like, 7:15.”

She loves the grittiness, the heady brew of drug addicts, lunatics, artists, successful businessmen and 20-somethings like her eking out a living. For many, this is what a city should be.

Hayden used to go to the King Eddy, an old salon where famously alcoholic writers such as John Fante and Charles Bukowski once congregated. She would sit at the bar and drink with homeless people. But the King Eddy recently was sold to the team who own the far classier Library Bar and Spring Street Bar.

The King Eddy no longer opens at 6 a.m. Drink prices have gone up by a few bucks. And the homeless are no longer welcome.

That might be a sign of things to come — the King Eddy is on Los Angeles Street, one block east of Main. If this trend continues, the new downtowners will truly be on Skid Row’s doorstep, the veritable barbarians — or middle class — at the gate.

That would be just fine with new downtowners who, like Hayden, enjoy the stark diversity that exists all along the fringes of Skid Row. Others aren’t so sure the two groups can coexist for long.

“You don’t mix the population of the Row and think it’ll work,” says Rev. Alice Callaghan, a former Catholic nun turned Episcopalian minister, who has given more than 30 years of her life to Skid Row, running a child care center, language classes, immigrant outreach help, homeless-rights advocacy and, most recently, a successful charter school.

She has a name for the new arrivals: “the uptowners.” Callaghan says, “The uptowners are not comfortable living next to a schizophrenic, or a transvestite, paranoid, homeless person. These are not people who live comfortably side by side.”

You’ll find Exhibit A for Callaghan’s argument over at Little Tokyo Lofts, at San Pedro and Fourth streets. The six-story, white-and-green building sits at the northern end of Skid Row, a few blocks south of the traditional border of Little Tokyo — yet another up-and-coming neighborhood. Just across the narrow alley to the south is the Downtown Women’s Center, a homeless shelter that opened in 2006.

“When [the shelter] moved in, it killed this building,” a real estate agent says of Little Tokyo Lofts. He declines to give his name. “It really scares people — nobody wants a homeless shelter or city services next door.”

But with the economy improving and downtown burgeoning, not even the Women’s Center, a gorgeous, 1927 Gothic Revival–style building, could keep prices down forever at the Little Tokyo Lofts. After cratering in value to the mid-$100,000s in 2009, when the housing bubble burst and pulled thousands of Angelenos into foreclosure, the lofts now are more costly than ever, approaching $500,000 apiece.

Like so many downtown lofts, Little Tokyo Lofts has a ground floor that’s zoned for commercial. City planners love these mixed-use buildings — in theory, the businesses along the sidewalks draw street traffic, making the neighborhood more walkable and more vibrant.

But the ground floor of Little Tokyo Lofts is nearly vacant, with the exception of the unit on its southwest corner: a Los Angeles County mental health center. Recently, the clinic made plans to expand into the entire ground floor, giving the area’s substantial population of mentally ill a consolidated government mental health facility.

When residents learned of this, they were aghast. This isn’t what downtown developers promised when they touted “mixed-use.”

Dan Curnow, a resident in the building who helped lead a petition drive to stop the mental health center’s expansion, says the real issue was that the plans called for providing patients emergency-exit access to an “unsecured hallway” inside the Little Tokyo Lofts building.

In other words, strangers seeking help potentially could gain access to the entire building — access for which the residents themselves require a security key card.

“We know where we live,” Curnow explains. “We need treatment in the area. But there’s a safe way of doing it. And there’s plenty of space in the area. There’s no reason why it had to be in a residential building.”

He adds: “We have children, we have elderly residents. That was not what we considered a safe environment.”

In the end, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors bowed to the loft residents’ pressure, even going so far as to order the conversion of the clinic into an administrative office that will no longer service patients.

Yolanda Vera, aide to L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents Skid Row — but, importantly, does not represent the gentrifying areas such as Little Tokyo — thought the dispute was unfortunate and the loft residents’ concerns somewhat overblown.

“What played out at the Little Tokyo Lofts is a microcosm of what’s been playing out in every major urban city” undergoing gentrification, says Vera, who is Ridley-Thomas’ senior deputy for health care. “The area is on the cusp of being more walkable and more attractive to young professionals and young families. But it’s in a location that historically has been a site of many low-income individuals. So it’s a tension. It’s not an impossible tension.”

L.A.’s Skid Row, at least in the form it is today, is a man-made thing. It is what it is because the city fathers and big-name experts in urban renewal decided it should be that way. For nearly a century, starting in the 1880s, the district was filled with cheap hotels, saloons and old white drunks, many of them wearing coats and ties, footnotes to a bygone era.

In the 1970s, Los Angeles politicians and urban planners developed what is now commonly referred to as the “containment strategy” for the homeless. Downtown was emptying out: Businesses were moving west, away from Main Street and closer to Bunker Hill, while residents were fleeing to the suburbs (as in all American cities).

A deal was struck between the city’s business establishment, then–Mayor Tom Bradley, the Community Redevelopment Agency and advocacy groups such as the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and the Legal Aid Foundation: The area bounded by Main, Third, Seventh and Alameda streets would be turned into a central location for facilities serving the homeless and impoverished. Soup kitchens, shelters and mental health centers all moved in — as many as 70 nonprofits invested in Skid Row, all in the space of about 50 square blocks. Nonprofits and government-run organizations poured in millions of dollars, creating a dense infrastructure for serving the poor.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” UCLA’s Blasi says. “The liberal story was that it would be a one-stop shop where you could get help. The other story was, ‘It won’t be near us.’ ”

But starting in the 1980s, Skid Row began to change, as younger, black men poured onto the streets, a spillover effect from the poverty engulfing South Los Angeles. South L.A. was thrown into turmoil by three converging forces: job losses created in part by the decline of the aerospace and tire industries; a PCP and crack epidemic unlike anything L.A. had ever seen; and the violent grip of the Bloods and Crips gangs on daily life.

“The thing about Skid Row, it’s [being] created in the other concentrations of poverty in Los Angeles,” Blasi says. “There are extremely poor people in South L.A. and some pockets of the Valley. Those people, when they run out of any other way to survive, they go to Skid Row, where you’re guaranteed a meal and shelter. None of that exists in South L.A.”

It was then that tents and makeshift encampments — previously an unfamiliar sight — became a visual fixture on Skid Row, and the previous generation of homeless, the white drunks wearing ties, all but vanished.

While Skid Row continued to draw the jobless, drug addicts, immigrants and the mentally ill, downtown L.A. began its improbable comeback in the late 1990s. Developers, most notably a 6-foot-3 New Yorker named Tom Gilmore, bought up old buildings — many of them cheap, SRO hotels (in which groups of single rooms shared a bathroom) — and turned them into “artist lofts,” offering one-room apartments with lots of open space.

In 1999, the L.A. City Council fueled the movement by approving the “adaptive reuse ordinance,” which streamlined the process for developers to rehabilitate old buildings. It also waived requirements to build parking, which often made apartment buildings far more expensive.

Throw in the light rail and subways then just starting to open, and all of a sudden it was possible to have an actual urban living experience in famously sprawling L.A.

Once a veritable ghost town at night after office workers went home, DTLA now has a residential population of 52,000 (including 7,326 in Skid Row), far more residents than trendy Los Feliz. Two especially fast-growing areas are the Historic Core along Spring and Main streets and the Arts District east of Alameda.

In the middle of it all sits Skid Row, very much the hole in downtown’s redevelopment donut.

Monica May and Kristen Trattner opened the Nickel Diner about six years ago, when Main Street was tattered and, at night, strangely deserted. Today, the street is dotted with pricey restaurants such as Bäco Mercat, Artisan House and the self-described “understated chic” Blossom Restaurant.

The Nickel Diner is one of the few places in the area that still serves nearly everyone — cops, drug dealers, career types, the working poor.

“Do we want everything to get better? Yeah,” May says. “But there are these people that have decided it should all be Disneyland or Times Square.”

In 2011, L.A. City Councilman José Huizar instantly became a player in the future of downtown when a controversial gerrymandering by the City Council, a process known as “redistricting,” handed him important new territory to represent — a huge hunk of downtown.

Huizar has pushed to revitalize Broadway, the grimy but bustling street that for years has been filled with cheap-goods storefronts and a daily crush of Latino immigrant shoppers. Now, “parklets,” bike lanes, trees and widened, brown-pebble sidewalks for café tables and benches are very much on the agenda. The discount stores are closing, and fashionable high-end global chain stores such as Acne, Tanner Goods and A.P.C. are moving in.

Some longtime DTLA activists are incensed that Huizar and Garcetti have made it such a high priority to improve Broadway’s quality of life along the historic strip of movie palaces paralleling Main Street, while giving little more than a pittance to Skid Row, where such basic trappings as trash cans are hard to come by.

“There’s this dirty divide,” says Becky Dennison, a co-director at advocacy group LA CAN. “City resources mostly go to improving higher-income communities, the more powerful communities. So Skid Row continues to see massive disinvestment. It’s a big deal if they can get street cleaning.”

The L.A. City Council recently approved $3.7 million to provide more access to bathrooms, showers and lockers for the 1,000 to 3,000 people on the streets.

The plan was seen by some as a sick joke compared with the $41 billion (including $8.2 billion of city money) pledged by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.

“Look at what the mayor of New York is trying to do,” Alice Callaghan says. “Our mayor doesn’t even talk about poor people. He talks about middle-class people and jobs. He’s gonna do nothing for poor people.”

“Only in cities where the chief executive has made solving the problem of chronic homelessness a priority has it gone anywhere,” UCLA’s Blasi says.

Garcetti’s predecessor as mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, also was widely criticized for his lack of interest in the homeless problem. By contrast, San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom helped reunite 8,000 homeless people with their families, and got another 11,000 into “permanent supportive housing” — government-subsidized buildings where mental health and social workers are on call 24 hours a day.

“The only way to abolish homelessness, the central antidote is, of course, a place to live,” says Philip Mangano, who served as President George W. Bush’s homelessness czar for seven years.

Philadelphia, Denver, St. Louis and Boston have made major headway in combating chronic homelessness — by building supportive housing.

Of course, this costs money, but in the long run, according to many studies, it can actually save millions of dollars. Without supportive housing and routine medical care, many homeless people repeatedly end up in jails and emergency rooms.

A single homeless person, chronically absorbed, processed and cared for by the law enforcement system or medical system, can run up a government bill of shocking proportions.

So nonprofits such as the Skid Row Housing Trust and SRO Housing Corporation have built permanent supportive housing over the last decade, much of it on the fringes of Skid Row.

But L.A. still needs thousands of additional units to make a real dent in the problem.

In March, a plan to turn Main Street’s long-derelict Hotel Cecil (onetime home of the Night Stalker serial killer Richard Ramirez) into an enormous, 384-unit supportive-housing complex gained steam with a powerful coalition behind it. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors, United Way and Chamber of Commerce were all on board. So was the building’s owner.

Yet overnight, the proposal was killed off.

Prominent downtown developer Tom Gilmore and Carol Schatz, CEO of the Central City Association, the influential lobbying arm of the downtown business establishment, put intense pressure on the county supes, who then dropped the plan.

Schatz declined to speak to L.A. Weekly; Gilmore didn’t return phone calls.

“There’s actually quite a bit of affordable housing in Skid Row,” insists Blair Besten, executive director of the Historic Core Business Improvement District. She asks, “Where is the rest of the city and the county?” when it comes to providing places for homeless services. “No one is trying to push people out. What we’re saying is, it’s time for other communities to shoulder the burden.”

Much growth in the new downtown has come at the expense of low-income housing in and around Skid Row, where you could once get a room for $10 a night. In the 1960s, as many as 15,000 units offered cheap rent. About half were deemed not up to earthquake codes and torn down. By the ’70s, there were fewer than 7,000. Then thousands of affordable units were converted into middle-class apartments (marketed as “lofts”) in the early 2000s.

Today there are just about 3,400 units (including residential hotels and supportive housing) in and around Skid Row, according to Callaghan and the Historic Core Business Improvement District.

Housing advocates such as Callaghan successfully fought for laws to prevent developers from tearing down low-income housing without rebuilding them, a no-net-loss policy. But that only means the city is treading water.

In the late ’90s, Callaghan saw the writing on the wall. So her organization, Las Familias del Pueblo, bought two of the smaller SRO hotels near Fifth and Main streets, the Genesis and the Pershing, in order to preserve some of the affordable housing. She later arranged for the buildings to be turned over to the nonprofit Skid Row Housing Trust.

She now regrets handing the buildings over to the nonprofit. “I never in a million years thought the Trust would become an agent for gentrification,” she says.

Skid Row Housing Trust tore down the Genesis and in its place built the New Genesis, a modern-looking, security camera–laden, six-story complex with low-income units and permanent supportive housing, complete with mental health and drug and alcohol dependency services on site.

Controversially, however, the first floor of New Genesis is commercially zoned — the “mixed use” embraced by the L.A. Planning Department, City Council and Garcetti — and is now occupied by a comically hip ice cream shop, Peddler’s Creamery.

“Bicycle-churned organic ice cream,” its sign proclaims. Soon the ice cream store will be joined by a brick-and-mortar version of a popular food truck known as Great Balls on Tires, which serves gourmet meatballs, two for $6.

Recently, the Central Area Planning Commission, political appointees of the mayor, approved Great Balls on Tires’ application to sell beer and wine — a dicey proposal, considering many residents upstairs in the New Genesis are in recovery.

Of course, there are plenty of other bars and liquor stores (and drug dealers) in the area. The real bone of contention is: Why is the nonprofit Housing Trust, ostensibly set up to house the poor, renting out space for gourmet treats?

Surely Genesis residents living on $221 monthly general relief checks from L.A. County won’t be springing for bicycle-churned ice cream and trendy meatballs.

“Residents that get $221 in general relief — can they benefit from some of the same amenities as those living in the lofts? No,” SRO Housing CEO Anita Nelson admits. “But they’re able to live in that area and have [the loft dwellers] as neighbors.”

That’s a key piece of the new vision for combating homelessness: Mix in the former homeless alongside the working poor, working class and middle class. SRO Housing recently announced plans to convert the stately Rosslyn Hotel on Main Street into a larger version of the Genesis: 93 units for the homeless, 75 for homeless veterans, 100 or so for low-income residents, with businesses on the ground.

Of course, the newer supportive housing won’t necessarily go to the homeless people living on the streets near these construction sites.

“They’re just pushing the community out,” Callaghan says. “And the community can’t go anywhere. They can’t just stand up and move to Pasadena. They end up on the sidewalk.”

LA is “crafting a new plan” for Skid Row – unfortunately in reality it’s really just talking points.

OCANO PHoto

May 2014 – Carlos Ocano, a homeless Skid Row resident with a known mental illness, who fell to his death after LAPD SWAT Team shot him with non-lethal ammunition. Why was SWAT called instead of the System-wide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART), which pairs mental health professionals with specially trained officers? (Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Police Department and City of Los Angeles are “crafting new plan to help homeless on skid row.” This includes “developing a new strategy for taming pervasive homelessness on skid row, easing up on arrests for petty offenses while concentrating mental health, medical, housing and sanitation services in the long-troubled swath of downtown.” Unfortunately, this rhetoric – both on the part of the writer and city officials who are quoted throughout the piece – does not reflect the actual criminalization of an entire community and too often deadly use of force that continues to characterize LAPD policing in Skid Row.

To be clear, LA CAN has opposed “broken windows” policing from the day it was introduced in the form of the “Safer Cities Initiative.” The flawed policing method, introduced by former Chief Bill Bratton in 2006, has brought nothing but long-term devastation  that continues to plague the community. We would welcome any sincere efforts to shift the focus in Skid Row from policing and criminalization to housing, mental health services, and public health infrastructure. These are concrete solutions to ending homelessness that LA CAN has worked on securing for well over a decade.

LAPD San 6

July 2014 – LAPD officers at 6th and San Pedro after telling homeless residents they had to take their belongings and move on or “they would be going to jail.” (Credit: AARON CANTÚ)

However, the residents of Skid Row just aren’t seeing this supposed “more progressive approach” that LAPD Captain John McMahon describes in the article. Rather, residents continue to experience the more of the same: Citations and harassment for basic life-sustaining activities (like sitting or sleeping on the street); a lack of restroom facilities, trash cans, public space and other public services/amenities enjoyed by Downtowners who live west of Main St.; the business community actively opposing projects that would house homeless residents; regular examples of aggressive, violent, and deadly force; Private property theft on the part of Business Improvement District Guards/Workers; Racial profiling and targeting; and, an overall policing style that violates basic civil and human rights and punishes people for being homeless rather than connecting individuals with the services and support they need.

And if there is a new approach to how the community is policed, why haven’t the residents themselves heard about it? LA CAN has tried regularly to set up community meetings in which residents can express their ideas and concerns about the Safer Cities Initiative directly to LAPD and the Police Commission, and those demands and requests have been consistently declined. Recently LA CAN met with new leadership at LAPDs Central Division, secured a community meeting time and date to discuss Safer Cities implementation, only to have the meeting canceled at the last moment.

LA CAN welcome’s a genuine move toward actual solutions to homelessness (housing, services, ending the Safer Cities Initiative) – and have been organizing to make that a reality. However, we fully understand that just because LAPD says something doesn’t make it so – we will be convinced when the rubber meets the proverbial road.

arrest

June 2014 – A female resident of Skid Row being arrested after not listening to LAPD’s orders to get out of the street.

 

LA Times 7/15/14: “L.A. leaders are crafting new plan to help homeless on skid row”

Full article HERE.

“L.A. leaders are crafting new plan to help homeless on skid row”
Written by Gale Holland

Los Angeles officials are developing a new strategy for taming pervasive homelessness on skid row, easing up on arrests for petty offenses while concentrating mental health, medical, housing and sanitation services in the long-troubled swath of downtown.

Officials say the effort involves cooperation between the city and county, whose inability to mesh hampered earlier homelessness plans in the 50-block neighborhood. The area now finds itself pinched by gentrification, with homeless people camping in tents just around the corner from trendy, upscale bars and restaurants.

The changes grew in part out of the frustration of skid row beat cops like LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, who issued an anguished cry for help to answer what he described as a mental health crisis.

“It is not the LAPD that has failed the mentally ill or the public,” Joseph, a 16-year skid row veteran, wrote on Facebook and in the Downtown News. “It is our society that has failed them.”

This year, the city announced Operation Healthy Streets, budgeting $3.7 million for stepped-up street cleanings and improved bathroom access and storage for homeless people on skid row.

Outreach workers from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the county Health Services and Mental Health departments will now be present on major cleaning days to offer homeless people as many services — psychiatric appointments, tuberculosis tests, Medicaid enrollment, detoxification beds — in a day as would otherwise take months, officials said.

That effort could debut as soon as Aug. 13, though officials said details are still being worked out. A new approach to policing has already begun.

Under the direction of City Atty. Mike Feuer, who took office a year ago, police have largely stopped arresting people for resting or sleeping on the sidewalk, although they continue to ticket them. The LAPD Central Area station, which patrols skid row, is trying to identify mentally ill homeless people who are particularly vulnerable to predators and track where mental health resources are going, block by block.

“Our success will lie in taking a more progressive approach,” LAPD Capt. John McMahon said.

Police are meeting with community groups and exploring a three-step citation process, issuing written warnings before ticketing for minor infractions.

“I don’t consider homelessness breaking the law,” LAPD Capt. Mike Oreb said. “We’re not the homeless police.”

But Feuer said he is looking for money to reinvigorate narcotics diversion programs and citation clinics to help low-level violators escape what activists call the “legal chaos” of multiple tickets and warrants, which can prevent them from getting housing.

The approach is a departure from the “broken windows” policing championed by former LAPD Chief William J. Bratton in New York and Los Angeles. Beginning in 2007, a 50-officer skid row task force called the Safer Cities Initiative went after infractions such as jaywalking, prostitution and littering to discourage more serious crime.

Activists say that drove homeless people into other neighborhoods or sent them bouncing back and forth between jail and the streets. Some business interests say civil rights litigation tied the police’s hands. The intensive services also planned for Safer Cities were never funded, officials said.

The most recent police census counted more than 1,700 people living in tents and cardboard boxes, approaching pre-Safer Cities numbers.

“On skid row, the windows already were broken,” Feuer said. “We have a much deeper and more profound situation to deal with.”

The new initiative is being overseen by Feuer, the LAPD and City Councilman Jose Huizar, and Mayor Eric Garcetti supports it, aides say.

Garcetti is expected to discuss a veteran homelessness strategy at a summit Wednesday in Century City with First Lady Michelle Obama.

“The big game changer here is this is a joint effort in which the city and county will truly work together,” said Sara Hernandez, Huizar’s downtown area director.

County Supervisor Gloria Molina said, “It isn’t a one-shot thing, but it can work if we have continuity, consistency and put resources behind it.”

Some skid row community activists said they see a difference.

“There has been a great change,” said Wendell Blassingame, who runs free movie programs for skid row residents. “The police are walking around now, interacting with people instead of just arresting them.”

Others, pointing to the death of a mentally disturbed homeless man who fell from a rooftop as he tried to escape arrest, said things aren’t changing fast enough. Carlos Ocana plunged from a skid row building in May after a SWAT team shocked him with a stun gun. The incident is under investigation by the Police Commission’s inspector general.

“They always say they’re changing,” said General Dogon, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

After 40 years of failed cleanup plans, skid row suffers from reform fatigue, longtime observers say. But new strategies and funding are in play.

The city and county, under prodding from federal officials, have adopted a “housing first” strategy for the homeless, putting people in apartments and hotels regardless of their sobriety and mental status. The U.S. Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development departments are funding permanent housing with mental health and substance abuse treatment for the residents.

Since 2008, L.A. County has committed $118 million to 41 housing developments with a total of 2,066 residences, including 918 set aside for people who are mentally ill and homeless, said Maria Funk, a district chief in the county’s mental health department.

The funding came through Proposition 63 — a “millionaires tax” for mental health assistance that California voters approved in 2004 — and other state, federal and local sources.

The county Department of Health Services has an $18-million fund, made up of county money and $4 million from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, to subsidize rents for homeless people who cycle in and out of emergency rooms.

“We have a keen interest in identifying those people, whether they are in our hospital at a given moment or on the streets in skid row, and help get them connected to services and housing,” said Marc Trotz, director of the department’s Housing for Health division.

“So many people on skid row have so much passion,” said LAPD Lt. Billy Brockway, the current head of Safer Cities. “We just have to harness it.”

Bacon Reader 7/15/14: “On the frontline of a social hygiene campaign”

Link to full article at baconreader.com HERE.

“On the frontline of a social hygiene campaign”
Written by Aaron Cantu

Last week I was talking to someone, a recent Kansas transplant in Los Angeles, who told me he’d never heard the term “gentrification” before moving to a big city.  It made me think of when I heard the word for the first time, as a freshman college kid in Boston who’d grown up in a sprawling border town 2,000 miles away.

Yet it’s becoming harder to claim ignorance. Gentrification is the defining urban social phenomena of our time, a cliché in the large metropolises where it began forty years ago, but now spreading to formerly sleepy towns like Midland, Texas. The reconfiguration of cities in favor of newer, wealthier residents and tourists has even become an international phenomenon. Meanwhile, poorer people already living in neighborhoods targeted for “development” are pushed out, their presence superfluous to plans drafted by business-backed politicians. The whole process is a lesson in who, and what, our system values most.

The underpinnings of broadening gentrification and its relationship to homelessness are complex, and I partially account for them in an upcoming article for Al Jazeera America. But I first wanted to share some of the images of human street sweeping I’ve taken over the last week. There’s something about watching a space being cleared for richer people that helps you understand the social score on a visceral level.

Downtown Los Angeles is the West Coast’s answer to New York City’s thirty-year “revitalization.” As one developer and local plutocrat told GQ’s Brett Martin, “Downtown [Los Angeles] is like Brooklyn, but that’s going to change. This is going to be Manhattan.” I’ll refrain from unpacking the racial implications of that statement for now and keep the focus on Los Angeles, where the changes are huge, rapid, and seemingly inexorable.

But unlike New York City, downtown Los Angeles has Skid Row, a fifty block concentration of ~5,000 roofless people trying to survive in a city that will not—but could—house everybody. Skid Row was the city’s dumping ground for humanity’s dregs for decades, a de-facto home to the homeless, former mental patients, older inebriates, and later parolees, addicts, and anyone else needing to hide out for a while. Crime and violence were allowed to fester for generations. But recently, developers saw an opportunity to reclaim the area for wealthier patrons and renters, and that’s when the social hygiene campaign began.

Security personnel throw away materials discarded on the street. 

Police and private “safety” forces representing the city’s “business improvement districts”—cells of political power composed of of the wealthiest businesses in certain zones—show up with increasing frequency to hassle the homeless away from their camping grounds and trash any perceived debris lying around. By law, neither the LAPD nor private security (who wear different color shirts for different areas) can forcibly move people from the sidewalk. Similarly, neither can throw away the possessions of sidewalk dwellers. Those rules were put into place by federal courts refuting parts of the city’s aggressive, decade-long crackdown on the homeless.

Yet the reality of the practice is more complicated. On this particular morning, police used the disobedience of one woman living on the block to justify herding over one hundred people to another part of town. Apparently, the woman was ticketed but refused to sign her citation notice. Now everybody had to move. One officer told me that people were being asked to relocate as a “courtesy,” but it’s hard to deny a request from a band of armed lawmen loitering around you.

While neither the police nor security can legally throw anybody’s stuff away, the “red shirts” were throwing away trash bags full of stuff. When I asked one of them why, they told me they were throwing away things that nobody wanted. The police told me the same thing.

Eric Ares, an activist from the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) gave me his estimation of the situation: Because people couldn’t carry all of their stuff away with them, police and security offered to “help” them throw it away before courteously standing around until people moved. Definitely clever, but legal?

Regardless, it’s hard not to see all of it as an elaborate, meaningless dance of decorum between the cops, activists, and private security forces. The city isspending billions “Manhattanizing” the area, stuffing it with lofts, high-end Italian bakeries, and “urban oases for pets and their people.” Anybody standing in the way won’t be mowed down or beaten into submission. They’ll just be moved.

Albert Jones, a sidewalk sleeper on the Row, tells me that he and everybody else living on the street is well aware of the score.

 

“It’s fucking illegal [to make us all move]. But of course we gotta move, downtown’s changing,” he told me. The most absurd thing about the whole thing, he said, was the senseless migration. “They said we can’t be here but we can be there, there, there. It makes no fucking sense.”

It’s not supposed to make sense, and when the victims are people like Albert—people without money and therefore without representation—it doesn’t have to. The truth is that if developers have their way, there will be nowhere to go, and the roofless will spend their days stumbling through the city like Moses in the desert.

But does the city have enough shelter to house everyone? And does everyone even want to be housed? Complicated questions to be addressed soon enough.

Footnote: I don’t know what the people being handcuffed in the photos were arrested for. It could have been for something serious. More than likely, it was for a low-level crime like loitering or disorderly conduct. But it’s at least worth noting that the only time I’ve seen people arrested has been in Skid Row. Arresting people for low-level crimes is a style of policing called “broken-windows,” which was pioneered 25 years ago in areas of New York City that have now completely gentrified. 

LA Times 7/2/14: “Skid row residents criticize LAPD after death of mentally ill man”

Full article HERE.

“Skid row residents criticize LAPD after death of mentally ill man”
Written by Gale Holland

Skid row residents met Wednesday with Los Angeles police to protest the death of a mentally ill homeless man who fell off a rooftop after officers shocked him with a Taser as he attempted to avoid arrest.

The May 24 incident involving Carlos Ocana, 54, is under investigation by the police commission’s inspector general as an “in-custody death,” authorities said. The coroner’s office listed the cause of death as blunt-force trauma to the head and said the death was accidental.

LAPD officials at the meeting, held at the James M. Wood Community Center, said they could not discuss details of the incident, but assured attendees that they were conducting a thorough, independent investigation.

Skid row residents and their supporters said police needed to change how they treat mentally ill people on skid row.

“This an outdoor asylum, and people need to be treated with compassion,” Pastor Cue Jn’marie, a skid row street preacher, told police. “What are we going to do so someone doesn’t get shot on the streets of skid row because they’re mentally ill?”

Lt. Billy Brockway, head of the LAPD’s Safer City Initiative task force on skid row, said his officers were getting intensive training in dealing with the mentally ill, and were working to coordinate responses with mental health treatment teams.

“We’re not clinicians, but we’re out here to help,” he told the gathering of about 40 people.

In an interview later, Officer Norma Eisenman, an LAPD spokeswoman, said police were summoned to 5th and San Pedro streets after Ocana scaled a rooftop billboard.

After officers called in the SWAT team, Ocana climbed down to the roof, only to try to scramble back up the ladder to the billboard, Eisenman said.

Officers shot him with the stun gun and attempted to grab him, but lost their grip and he fell off the roof to the ground below, missing an airbag they had set up for his protection, Eisenman said.

Ocana later died at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, the coroner said.

Ocana, known to his friends as Amado Ocania, was one of a group of Cuban emigres who spend their days at the skid row intersection.

Roberto, a member of the group who would give only his first name, said in an interview that Ocana had scrambled up the billboard after a security guard discovered him sleeping on top of the one-story building, which houses a mini-market, and called police.

Roberto, speaking through an interpreter, said Ocana had taken off his shirt and was waving it in an obvious signal of surrender when he came down the ladder. He also said Ocana had longstanding mental health issues that were well-known to the officers, and that police refused to let his friends try to talk him down.

“He was scared. SWAT came with big guns — real, real guns,” Roberto said.

Residents at the meeting, organized by Los Angeles Community Action Network and other skid row activists, said SWAT should not have been called in to confront the obviously disturbed man.

LAPD Lt. John McMahon said SWAT includes a crisis team experienced in negotiating with troubled people.

“Everybody would agree it’s not law enforcement’s role to address homelessness and mental illness, but these are core issues facing skid row and we confront them on a daily basis,” McMahon said.

The inspector general’s investigation could last eight months, authorities said.

“We’d like to hear from all witnesses in the case,” Asst. Inspector Gen. Django Sibley told the gathering.

Among the Many Challenges, Threats and Missed Opportunities in the State Budget Signed Today, a BIG Win in Finally Lifting the Lifetime Bans in CalFresh and CalWORKs Programs

After ten years of work by organizations focused on food justice and ending the mass criminalization of our communities, the budget signed by Governor Brown today FINALLY ends the lifetime bans on receiving CalFresh and CalWORKs for those who have been convicted of drug-related felonies.  LA CAN has worked with a wide variety of partners in the California Hunger Action Coalition and others across Los Angeles and California every year to get this important policy passed.  Low-income communities of color have been most targeted and impacted by the unjust and punitive drug war, and those who have completed their sentences simply must have access to all opportunities to survive and thrive when they return home.  Ending these bans is one important step toward upholding human rights for formerly incarcerated people.  It’s especially important in Downtown Los Angeles, where since 2006 the Safer Cities Initiative has focused on escalating simple possession charges to more serious drug sales charges – an unjust practice that has impacted thousands of people who will now be able to access much needed benefits.

However – this win comes within a budget that also causes serious harm to our communities through the allocation of an additional $500 million in prison expansion and which made minimal to no restorations to a wide variety of anti-poverty programs such as Medi-Cal and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  With the projected revenues, the State could have made significant progress in restoring the severe cuts to these programs made since 2008 – but largely left that opportunity off the table.  The Governor and State legislators must be held accountable to our communities and allocate our tax dollars to improve our communities, not incarcerate them.  While lifting the bans is critical, and will have massive positive impacts – we cannot accept the one step forward, three steps back approach that continues at the State level.

LA CAN applauds the work of all of our partners who held firm to our collective goals to lift the bans over years of setbacks and defeats – some campaigns are long and frustrating, but are worth the fight!  We will continue to work together to fight for justice and human rights – and fight for future budgets that include more wins than setbacks!!  

Human Rights Victory Today – A Win against City of LA’s Continued Efforts to Criminalize Homelessness instead of Ending It

Today, the 9th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals overturned a prior lower court decision and ruled that LA Municipal Code Section 85.02 (which prohibits living/sleeping in a vehicle) is an unconstitutionally vague statute and opens the door to discriminatory enforcement against the homeless and the poor.  The Court’s decision states, “Plaintiffs argue that Section 85.02 is unconstitutionally vague on its face because it provides insufficient notice of the conduct it penalizes and promotes arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.  We agree.”

This important case was litigated by Civil Rights Attorney Carol Sobel, with co-counsel by Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and homeless individuals who were impacted by Section 85.02 enforcement by LAPD.  Several community-based organizations fighting against criminalization and forced displacement in Venice and across the City supported this case as well.  This fight is crucial to upholding the human rights of everyone, of ensuring homeless and poor people have full and equal access to public spaces, and – for those that do have vehicles but have no current access to housing – ensures at least some shelter and safety protections over sleeping on the streets.

California and Los Angeles should enact Homeless Bills of Rights to protect the civil rights of homeless residents, seriously invest in housing solutions, and stop expensive and inhumane criminalization efforts.  Segregation and criminalization of public space cannot continue and this victory is one step toward that.  To get involved in local and statewide campaigns, contact Eric or Dogon at LA CAN, and/or attend the next LA-region Homeless Bill of Rights meeting on Thursday, June 26th at 6:00 PM at LA CAN (838 E. 6th Street, LA 90021).

The full court decision can be read here:  9th circuit DECISION June 2014

Equal Voice News 6/10/14: “L.A. Skid Row Residents: The Heart of Hope”

Link to full multimedia piece (including videos and photos) HERE.

“L.A. Skid Row Residents: The Heart of Hope”

by David Bacon

LOS ANGELES — “I’m the people’s general,” says TC, explaining the nickname he’s been given on Fifth Street. He earned it by keeping the homeless residents of Los Angeles’ Skid Row informed and educated about neighborhood issues, in part through the literature table he maintains next to the blue tarps of his tent. Under the table are the donated clothes he collects, which anyone can take.

“I’m a soldier in the war on poverty,” the two-year resident of Skid Row declares. “I love the people – most of ‘em, at least….Down here it can be hard. But sometimes it can be beautiful, too, because people are beautiful, no matter how down and out they may be.”

Despite TC’s nickname, Skid Row isn’t the scene of a military conflict. But this part of downtown L.A. remains contested terrain these days, as swanky boutiques and cafes have cropped up and touch a world without stable housing for thousands of people. Residential apartments for low-income residents still stand. For decades, Skid Row existed as a neighborhood in which trains arrived from other cities. Workers who needed to remain close to the city center called it home.

Starting around 1999, public policies that spurred development in Skid Row started. Buildings that were dubbed underused were transformed in the 50-block area. Well-heeled residents have moved in. In 2014, Skid Row’s streets have a vibrancy of sorts – one in which families, the homeless, the hip, the elderly and even well-treated dogs coexist in an ever-changing place.

The Haves and the Have-Nots

Deborah Burton, who lives in subsidized housing, describes people in the area – which has lofts selling for up to $1 million but few public places for homeless and low-income residents – as “The haves and the have-nots.”

On Sixth Street, people who might be viewed as the “have-nots” gather every day at Gladys Park, sharing a couple of drinking fountains, a few patches of grass and several trees. “People here accept you for who you are,” Linda Harris says.

She has lived on Skid Row for about a decade. She helped bring the users of Gladys Park together a few years ago to get the city to replace filthy water fountains and then found the resources to build tables for dominoes and board games. Young men now face off in 3-on-3 basketball under new hoops.

She is a survivor of cancer, which has left bumps all over her skin. No one gives her a second look, other than to say hello. “They don’t turn up their nose at you. Down here, everyone is equal,” she says.

That changes once Harris steps foot outside the park. “We’re not allowed in the upskirts of downtown,” she says. “Some of us aren’t permitted because of the way we look. People have a label on us. They talk about ‘those homeless people.’ They never say ‘the people.’ They see me as a person who eats out of a trash can.”

Harris, though, lives in an apartment. Burton feels the same scorn at Coles on Sixth Street. The restaurant was once affordable for her. These days, the more affluent people who have moved downtown sit at the restaurant’s sidewalk tables, while across the street, police tell the homeless that the city’s “sit-lie” ordinance prohibits them from sitting on the pavement.

“I tried going into Coles one day to eat, and the maître d’ asked me if I had any money before I even crossed the threshold,” Burton says.

The distinction between the haves and have-nots gets drawn in other ways. The farther east you go on Sixth Street, away from the new loft conversions, the fewer public trash cans there are. The grass in Gladys Park is brown, but, outside new market-rate residences, patches of bright green lawn dot the sidewalk, planted by the city to give the residents’ pets a place to “do their business.” Public bathrooms for people who actually live on the street are hard to find. To Skid Row’s poor, this is the “dirty divide.”

A Changing Landscape

That divide is felt in a park closer to downtown: With skyscrapers and luxury hotels a block or two away, Pershing Square is much less user-friendly than Gladys Park. Although the square is covered in concrete, there are no basketball courts. Benches line its rim, but metal dividers prevent anyone from lying down as they can at Gladys Park. Security guards quickly warn off anyone who tries.

Al Sabo arrived in Pershing Square in 2003, pulling two roller bags carrying his possessions after he was discharged from the hospital. “I had great jobs all my life and never thought I’d end up on the street,” the former journalist recalls. “I was terrified. I walked into the park that day, figuring that if any place was safe, it would be Pershing Square.”

Sabo found the benches filled with drug addicts – who ended up taking care of him. “They hustled me up food and found me a safe place to sleep for the next couple of months while I was on the street,” he explains.

Sabo believes that chasing the homeless out of Pershing Square was intended to make downtown more inviting and to help developers converting the old hotels to draw in more affluent residents.

He began helping others resist efforts to convert buildings into market-rate housing. He put his journalism skills to use, penning a newsletter column for Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), a grassroots advocacy group that works with poor and low-income people.

Leonard Woods, living in the nearby Alexandria Hotel, became his ally. Like Sabo, he’d lost a good job and gravitated to the low rents downtown. The Alexandria in the 1920s had been a luxury residence for actors like Charlie Chaplin and Rudolf Valentino –Woods’s room had been occupied by Helen Ferguson, a silent film star – but, by the 1990s, the hotel was run down.

“I knew what I’d had, and what I’d come to. I didn’t let anyone know that I lived downtown because it was Skid Row,” Woods recalls. But when the hotel’s previous owner decided to renovate and began evicting low-income residents, his outlook changed: “I thought, ‘If he moves me out of my room, what makes me think I’m going to get it back?’”

Woods hired a lawyer, filed a suit with other residents and won an injunction – finally settled in early 2009 – protecting the hotel’s low-income status. In the process, Alexandria tenants got to know each other and became a community bent on staying put. “Now Skid Row is Skid Dollar,” says Woods, laughing. “Why can’t I still be here?”

At the Frontier Hotel, tenants won a partial victory in a similar battle. Zuma Corp., a developer, had converted the top three floors to market-rate residences, while Floors 3–9 remained low-income housing. The hotel owner reserved access to the main lobby, with its potted palms and marble floors, for top-floor renters who paid $1,100 to $3,900 a month. Poor tenants had to use a separate entrance around the corner, monitored by guards behind a metal gate and glass barrier.

Steve Diaz, whose family moved to the Frontier after being evicted from their apartment, remembers that poor residents won a temporary injunction against the owner, who then closed the affluent-only entry and gated off the elevator. “Afterwards they required that you show an ID and Social Security card or a room key to get in, and charged us $15 to get the key,” he says. “I was made to feel like a criminal coming into my own house. The LAPD even ran background checks against everyone in the building.”

As he, Sabo and other tenants organized similar committees in other hotels, they all began to develop a greater sense of themselves as a low-income community. That victory was one of several partial ones at the Frontier from about 2003 to 2008. Together, the tenants also succeeded in getting Los Angeles to pass a hotel preservation ordinance that requires no net loss of low-income housing, covering 17,000 to 18,000 units citywide. That includes about 8,000 downtown. The final ordinance gained approval in 2008.

Diaz, who now works for LA CAN, points out that at the Alexandria all the rooms are covered by Section 8, the federal government’s low-income rent subsidy program, and rents start at $56 a month. “And it’s across the street from a converted office building where the starting rent is 90 times higher,” he says.

People living on the street say that stabilizing low-income housing affects them as well because people move from one status to another. In 2013, Los Angeles had about 58,000 homeless people – about 8,000 more than in 2011 – including about 5,000 in the Skid Row area.

Transforming a “Food Desert” to Community Gardens

Bill Fisher, a disabled ironworker, would have been homeless after leaving the hospital last December. Instead, he moved into the Star Apartments, a new project of prefabricated modular units erected by the Skid Row Housing Trust.

Fisher and his friend Thomas Ozeki manage the apartments’ community garden. They see the garden as an organizing tool. “It helps create community,” Fisher says. “In the middle of Skid Row, look how beautiful it is.”

In addition, it provides a source of fresh vegetables – a rarity on Skid Row, which activists call a food desert.

Fisher says when they harvested their first zucchini they discovered that some residents had never eaten the vegetable. Now, the garden produces Japanese cucumbers, tomatoes, sunflowers, potatoes, garlic and rosemary as well. “Every week we have a class,” Ozeki explains. “Right now we’re planting seedlings.”

To help spread access to gardening resources and produce, LA CAN helped form the Skid Row Garden Council. Organizations donate trees, seed and soil, which the garden council distributes to buildings where residents have set up a garden. Ozeki says there are 19 Skid Row buildings with gardens.

“Nutrition education is a big part of our work. We want to grow our own food so that we don’t rely just on markets,” Eric Ares, a LA CAN organizer, says. “Everything we grow is distributed free or prepared in meals for our community.”

Local farmers’ markets often see downtown’s affluent residents as their preferred clients, but LA CAN has negotiated with many of the vendors so that they will accept Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards from poor residents. (In California, public assistance and food stamp benefits are paid into accounts; recipients then use their state-issued EBT cards to buy food.)

LA CAN has also started its own food distribution program, a pop-up market organized with Women Organizing Resources, Knowledge and Services (WORKS). “We get food in Southern California and sell it, but not for profit,” Ares says. “We started in south L.A., and now we’re bringing it downtown.” In its first six months, the market distributed 3.8 tons of organic produce.

Building a Sense of Community and Civic Engagement

On Skid Row, residents come from various backgrounds. Veterans make up some of the homeless population, and residents note that L.A.’s Skid Row has one of the largest communities of people in recovery from alcoholism and addiction in the country.

Alongside them are artists and actors, who have performed in theater productions about addiction and recovery. One theater group goes by the apt name The Los Angeles Poverty Department, and the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition organizes an annual variety show to highlight local talent and raise money to support women and families, especially for those living in the Skid Row area.

Skid Row’s population is overwhelmingly male, in part because of county policy. From 2005 to 2008, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors declared “zero tolerance” of families living on Skid Row. Under pressure from Supervisor Gloria Molina, teams from Children and Family Services interviewed parents in Pershing Square, at the Union Rescue Mission and other Skid Row locations to determine if they were fit to retain custody of their children.

In 2007, officials took 15 children from their parents, placing them in foster care. The policy sparked controversy. Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke told the Los Angeles Times: “There should never be an assumption that because you’re poor, you should be taken from your parents and placed in foster care.”

The county ended the policy. Today, women and children are part of Skid Row, but they make up less than 10 percent of the population. As Skid Row changes, toddlers in expensive strollers have become a common sight outside pricey lofts.

“A community without children is a community without a future,” says Becky Dennison, LA CAN co-director. “We have to improve the community [not] push poor mothers or women of color out.”

Other measures homeless and low-income people in the Skid Row area feel are discriminatory have been successfully challenged. A policy by some residential hotels to charge a guest fee to family members staying overnight was overturned. A federal court forbade police from confiscating the belongings of homeless people.

But city code section 41.18(d) still prohibits sitting and lying on a public sidewalk between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., and homeless residents accuse the police of using it selectively against them. The Safer Cities Initiative targets police enforcement of the code to Skid Row east of Main Street. In 2006, the 50 extra police officers mandated by this initiative for the area issued 12,000 citations.

In response that year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the city to stop its overzealous approach. Numerous citations have continued, residents say.

Last year, two LA CAN members handing out seedlings for gardens were cited, and one officer warned residential hotel tenants they should “keep moving” once they walked out of their building.

“The Skid Row community is one of the most vibrant communities in Los Angeles,” Dennison says. “Folks take care of each other, know each other and live very densely. Here you either create community or you get wiped off the map.”

Vice 6/4/14: “Gentrification Comes to LA’s Skid Row, and the Homeless Get the Shaft”

Full article HERE.”Gentrification Comes to LA’s Skid Row, and the Homeless Get the Shaft”
Written by Charles Davis

One of the worst things about being rich is sometimes you’re forced to interact with the poor. When not in a sitting in orthopedic chairs in skyscrapers or on Italian leather sofas in luxury condos, the wealthy are often forced to walk on their own two legs—at street level—as if they were proletarian slobs. And this is upsetting because, on a sidewalk, anyone, even the hideously unprivileged, can look you in the eye.

Developer Geoffrey H. Palmer thinks this is wrong. In 2009, the real estate mogul sued the city of Los Angeles and successfully overturned its requirement that he provide some affordable housing in his massive faux-Italian apartment complexes. But while that kept poor people out, it didn’t do anything to address the problem of the poor people Palmer’s wealthy future tenants would have to deal with in the still-gentrifying downtown area.

So when Palmer started construction on two new buildings, complete with a pool and indoor basketball court, he proposed a pedestrian bridge connecting them to minimize “potential incidents that could occur during the evening hours, when the homeless population is more active in the surrounding area.” In other words, the rich will be able to literally walk over the less fortunate.

Initially, city planners rejected Palmer’s proposal, arguing that the area next to the 110 freeway would be improved by having more street traffic. But Palmer appealed the decision, maintaining that to force his tenants to “use the street and interact with the homeless population” would be an injustice to the morally upstanding bankers and real estate agents who will be moving in to his new development.

Local business leaders had his back. “There’s 20 people now encamped underneath that freeway,” Hal Bastian, executive vice president of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, told the Los Angeles Times. “This bridge is essential while the area is going through its transition.” There are still poor people there, Bastian was saying, so this bridge is a necessary compromise while we work to push them out.

The LA City Council unanimously approved the bridge in April, the latest in a long series of signs that big business and the local government have decided that downtown Los Angeles belongs to the rich, and that the poor who already live there need to go.

Two decades ago, the area was all but forgotten by the city’s elite. Many of the lavish million-dollar theaters built along Broadway in the 1920s and 30s had been converted into evangelical churches and low-end retail outlets, and the massive, ornate apartment buildings erected back when downtown was the cultural center of LA had been transformed into sweatshops for the textile industry. But now, downtown is being “revitalized,” meaning it’s once again full of mustachioed white people drinking Prohibition-era cocktails—and those who once called it home are being pushed out.

A group of homeless people on Skid Row. Photo via Flickr user Neon Tommy

These changes are most obvious on Skid Row, an industrial district full of warehouses and thousands of poor people. Some live in pay-by-the-week hotels, and others make homes out of tents—a stark reminder, in an era of record corporate profits, that our civilized society leaves many of its people out in the cold. For years, no one gave much of a damn about the people of Skid Row or what they did, as the population was safely segregated far away from rich neighborhoods in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.

Then the people with money started coming back. In 1998, the Staples Center, home to both of LA’s basketball teams and a number of chain restaurants, was constructed at the cost of $345 million ($531 million in today’s dollars). The cash started spreading through the rest of downtown to the point that those on the fringes—those sleeping under freeways and on the streets—found themselves on the front lines of gentrification. The once affordable (if not luxurious) housing got renovated to accommodate the young professional couples taking the place of the poorer tenants. The city began enforcing an ordinance banning the homeless from sleeping on the street—literally criminalizing poverty—until a federal court ruled that this constituted cruel and unusual punishment; now the rule is only enforced during daylight hours.

Helping speed this transition along are eight business-improvement districts, groups formed by local property owners and merchants that impose fees on local businesses to fund private security forces that work in concert with the LAPD to keep downtown safe for capitalism.

In 2005, the Central City East Association (CCEA), which administers the business improvement district that includes Skid Row, began a “Neighborhood Watch Walk” through the neighborhood in an effort it said was aimed at “reclaiming a community” that it wasn’t a part of. In CCEA literature promoting the walk, Skid Row is described as being “covered with people injecting drugs day and night” with addicts “in full overdose seizures.” “Acts of prozstitution” are carried out “in full view of passing vehicles and pedestrians,” as are “violent transient-on-transient attacks.”

Though the CCEA emphasized the “positive impact” of its efforts and the “outreach/intervention” work that resulted, the primary response to the misery of Skid Row was a concerted law enforcement crackdown that began shortly after the CCEA’s walk.

As the Washington Post later reported, “a combination of police strategy, newspaper exposés, political will, and loft-building developers pushed Skid Row to the top of the city’s agenda,” and in September 2006 Los Angeles launched the Safer City Initiative (SCI), which saw an additional 50 uniformed police officers and dozens of undercover cops deployed to the notorious 50-block district of warehouses and abandoned buildings. That made Skid Row “home to the largest concentration of police officers in the country,” according to the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), a group of local residents that argues the crackdown is a little more than institutionalized harassment of a community that needs assistance, not more men with badges and guns. One of the officers’ primary responsibilities was to write tickets for “quality of life” crimes like public urination and public drinking and sleeping on the street during the day—that is, things people have to do when they don’t have houses—and officers have issued more than 10,000 citations, according to a lawsuit that LA CAN filed in March against the LAPD and CCEA.

“We don’t need that many police,” said Joe Thomas, a Vietnam veteran who told me he’s been living on the downtown streets since 1992. In his experience, “this is one of the safest communities.”

Violent crime in Los Angeles hasn’t been this low since the 1960s, but on Skid Row, where police have focused on combating minor offenses, an initial drop in violent crime after the 2006 crackdown was followed by a an upswing in serious incidents. That suggests that if you want to reduce violent crime, you shouldn’t be so fixated on locking people up for sleeping and drinking in public. Indeed, the LAPD says that crime dropped again in 2013 in part because cops were making fewer arrests for minor crimes and focusing instead on increasing their visibility on the street.

Many residents are convinced that the crackdown on Skid Row isn’t so much about preventing serious crime as it is about driving the undesirables out of sight. As Thomas said, “The city believes the solution to homelessness is incarceration, because incarceration is one of the biggest industries this state has.”

Others I spoke with echoed his feeling of being persecuted by the city’s new priorities. “Gentrification means kicking people out,” said James Porter, a member of LA CAN who has lived here for the last 40 years. I met Porter at LA CAN’s downtown office, which is located a block away from a new pet shop that features a “pawbar” and “bathhouse,” the latter the kind of amenity not available to most humans who live on the downtown streets. “CCEA is claiming to be the voice of the people downtown, but they don’t speak for the low-income people. They don’t speak for me.”

So long as there is capitalism, there will be homelessness, said Porter, but he thinks the money flowing into downtown could be used to help some of those left behind. The white yuppies who are moving in can keep their lofts and expensive dogs, but their arrival doesn’t need to come at the expense of those already living here—in fact, Porter told me, all the money they’re bringing in provides “an opportunity to get the homeless of the street. We have to take advantage of that growth.”

But business leaders have refused to prioritize the poor, and despite all the capital injected into downtown over the last decade, very little has trickled down to those who need it. “There’s nothing here,” said Thomas. “They’re taking it all away—and yet they still blame us.”

A trash can on Skid Row. Photo via Flickr user Vi Bella

Its PR-friendly protestations aside, the business community appears at times to view the destitute and displaced as criminals. In one particularly jarring example, CCEA’s top executives giddily worked hand-in-hand with law enforcement to target Ann Moody, a homeless woman who has been arrested at least 59 times—at a cost of $250,000 to taxpayers—for refusing to move her tent from the sidewalk and violating the city’s ban on sitting or lying on the street during daylight hours. Cops and corporations see her as a symbol of defiance. And they want her gone for good, as emails released by one of Moody’s public defenders show.

“Any chance of an Ann Moody arrest Thursday or Friday?” wrote Steven Keyser, the then director of operations at CCEA, in a February 2011 email to Shannon Paulson, the LAPD lieutenant in charge of the SCI. “She is in constant violation. I spoke with a couple local community people who strongly favor enforcement of illegal encampment and other crimes to make the area safer and more comfortable for law-abiding citizens.”

Two months later, Keyser was ecstatic that “Moody was taken,” he wrote in an email. “Way to go SCI!!!”

“Yup,” replied Paulson. “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let her thumb her nose at us.”

Another email chain, from 2010, shows just how gleeful cops and CCEA officers are at throwing a 59-year-old woman in jail and seizing her property. Sergeant Ronald Crump of the SCI wrote to say that Moody had been sentenced “to 180 days with no early release” and the judge “also took the $200 she had on her personal property and applied it toward the public defender’s fee’s” (sic).

“That’s great,” wrote Vicky McCormick, the then director of CCEA. “Thanks to all of you.”

Businesses are not typically in the business of altruism; they exist to churn out profits. Likewise, their allies in the LAPD are more attuned to the interests of the 1,166 businesses and 575 property owners who make up the CCEA than those of the thousands of people who live in the streets or shelters of Skid Row. But to hear the authorities talk, the neighborhood’s true grifters are those advocating on the poor’s behalf.

In 2007, Officer Dean Joseph argued on the LAPD’s official blog that those opposing the city’s crackdown on petty crime on Skid Row are the real profiteers. “I do not consider enforcing laws, whether it is for jaywalking or murder, as harassment,” he wrote. Some homeless activist organizations, he added, are hoping “that chaos will continue to reign in Skid Row” because “that is how they get their funding. If we make the streets safe here, they will not be able to profit from people’s pain.”

That’s a theme that comes up again and again from developers and their allies in law enforcement: Advocates for the poor are just in it for the money. To those who only see value in the monetization of people and things, the poor choose to be poor because that’s how they plan to get rich.

Indeed, Paulson, in an email to another city official about “problem child” Ann Moody, wrote that the homeless woman “uses the homeless charade as a way to make tax free money through selling alcohol, untaxed cigarettes and crack pipes.” Because the real money isn’t in selling condos to “creatives” but in hawking individual beers and cigarettes to transients out of the tent in which you live.

Were local business leaders and their LAPD enforcers interested in helping the homeless, they wouldn’t be seeking only to “reclaim” their community; they’d be working to create a healthier, more sustainable one. Instead of pushing the homeless off the street with criminal prosecutions, moneyed interests would be looking to provide them housing. The rich are doing the opposite.

A homeless man on Skid Row. Photo via Flickr user mpeake

“Plan to turn Cecil Hotel into homeless housing is withdrawn,” announced an April headline in the LA Times. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services—along with the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and that hotbed of radical Marxism, the LA Chamber of Commerce—had advocated converting hundreds of rooms in the hotel into efficiency apartments for the homeless, complete with “on-site counseling and mental health treatment to stabilize residents.”

But there was a snag: The moneyed minority didn’t want it there.

“It’s like having an AA meeting in a bar,” developer Tom Gilmore told the Times. Gilmore—joined in opposition by Gloria Molina, a member of the LA County of Board Supervisors and the best friend a skeezy developer ever had—owns a number of nearby properties, but he claimed his opposition was in the interest of those he was denying shelter to, saying of Skid Row, “You could move a thousand people out tomorrow and in two weeks you’d have a thousand more people.” So, the logic goes, why help any of them?

Patti Berman, the president of the downtown neighborhood council, acknowledged to theTimes that the city has a terrible problem with homelessness—between 2011 and 2013, the number of people sleeping unsheltered on the streets of LA increased by 67 percent—but, she said, “that building was not going to solve it.” What the area needs, she told the paper, is a boutique hotel.

The homeless can go to hell, in other words—or go live behind bars. While it can’t find much money to fight poverty, the LA County Board of Supervisors is perfectly happy to spend more than $2 billion on new jails. Meanwhile, the city council is considering a$3.7-million plan to clean up Skid Row, but the focus wouldn’t on building new restrooms or housing, but on expanding a storage facility where homeless residents can put their possessions.

Al Sabo, another homeless resident of downtown LA, told me he would have welcomed the new affordable housing. Though critics of the Cecil Hotel plan argued there were already enough shelters in the area, Sabo said many homeless people shun them because they aren’t practical.

“You have to spend half a day waiting in line to get a bed and then they kick you out at 5, 6 AM,” he said. And as soon as you get out, “next thing you know, it’s three ‘o’ clock and you have to get back in line.”

Sabo argued the rejection of the Cecil Hotel plan is simply part of the business community’s strategy to deprive the area’s homeless of services that “attract” the poor, whom they want to get lost, not house. “If you try to eliminate the 4,000 to 5,000 homeless who sleep on the streets, where are you going to put them?” he told me. “Their answer is jail. If we can get their asses in jail, we can get them off Skid Row.”

More than just housing, though, community activists say the homeless need respect. Eric Ares, an organizer with LA CAN, told me his group is “in the process of drafting model legislation” that would seek to enshrine in California law certain inalienable rights, including the right to sleep in public spaces without fear of going to jail, the right to sleep in a legally parked car, and 24-hour access to bathrooms. Last year, California State Assembly member Tom Ammiano introduced legislation that would have done much the same thing, but that bill died quietly in committee. An editorial in the liberal San Francisco Chronicle summed up the opposition’s attitude when it asked, incredulously, “These are rights?

“We were very disappointed,” said Carlos Alcala, an aide to Ammiano. “However, we known from a lot of experience that progress is often achieved only after many failures.”

The poor of downtown Los Angeles have certainly suffered from enough failures over the past decades. They were neglected until developers became interested in redeveloping the streets they slept on; now, instead of helping them, the forces of gentrification seemed fixed on taking away what little the homeless have left.

“We don’t even have water fountains,” Joe Thomas, the homeless veteran, told me, “but the dogs do.”

LA CAN HAS MOVED!

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LA CAN has moved to its new home at 838 E. 6th Street! Come through and say hello!Also, we’re still setting up the new space (and phones!), but our email is working! More updates soon!

LA CAN Opposes 2014-15 $3.7 Million Operation Healthy Streets Allocation

On Tuesday Morning (May 13), the LA City Council approved funding for Operation Healthy Streets.

The Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) welcomes a bit of forward progress in addressing the deep disparities between residents that live east of Main Street versus their neighbors to the west. The City Administrative Office (CAO) report begins to cobble together resources that, if spent wisely, can be used as a down-payment to finally address the glaring apartheid-like conditions that exist in Downtown Los Angeles. We stand firmly behind the emergency allocations for fiscal year 2013 – 2014; however, at this time we cannot  support  2014 -2015 $3.7 million  allocation as proposed.

Community residents, members of LA CAN, have fought long and hard to ensure public health infrastructure would become a reality. In fact, residents conducted a participatory research project entitled The Dirty Divide, which captured and measured the true depths of the problem associated with a lack of trash cans; non-working and too few restroom facilities; no soap and water for washing and drinking; and, a heavy reliance on the LAPD and business community to serve as the voice of public health needs in our community. Many of the final conclusions and recommendations mirrored the items that the City of Los Angeles was cited for in multiple inspections by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

LA CAN prides itself in developing leaders so that we may have voice, power and opinion in the decisions directly impacting us. The CAO report and its expedited timetable robbed our members and other Angelenos the opportunity to weigh in with substantive feedback. In short, this proposal was waived passed two committees and placed on the City Council floor for its first and final decision. Moreover, the impetus to move the proposal so swiftly was nothing more than political double-talk – with the City Attorney informing the Council that this proposal was the only thing that could bring them in compliance with the Lavan Injunction, which prevents the City and its agents from stealing and destroying houseless people’s property. It also notes that in the event property is creating a health or safety hazard there are still measures that must be taken by the City before simply taking personal property.

As is the case with many things related to homelessness and poverty in Los Angeles, the only time we seem to move is when the heat is on. At LA CAN we plan to keep the heat on to ensure that the $3.7 million is not squandered and wasted in administrative costs and that Downtown’s poorer residents get their fair share. We believe that our City is better than the contradictions its elected officials continue to allow in Downtown.

KPCC/SCPR 5/13/14: “Los Angeles City Council approves funding for Skid Row cleanup”

Link to full story at www.scpr.org HERE.

Written by Alice Walton

Skid Row in downtown L.A. will get additional clean up crews and trash cans thanks to $3.7 million approved Tuesday by the City Council.

The funding is part of Operation Healthy Streets, which was created after a court decision limited how and when city crews can remove personal belongings from the streets and sidewalks of Skid Row. The money — about double what the city was budgeted to spend this year — will provide additional bathroom facilities, storage for homeless residents, and increase the frequency of trash collection.

“Our responsibility … is to ensure that the public health and safety of all people in public spaces are protected and well served,” said Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the area. “It is a disgrace on Skid Row and we have not done a good job.

“A few years ago, when we started Healthy Streets, it did a lot to clean up a very disgraceful place.”

Still, Huizar called the additional funding “a drop in the bucket.”

The funding was opposed by members of the Los Angeles Community Action Network. One activist with the group, General Dogon, expressed concern that too much of the funding would go toward salaries or other costs that do not directly benefit Skid Row residents.

“West of Main Street, you have got street furniture, exercise equipment, parklets, green gardens and dog water fountains,” he said. “East of Main Street, we ain’t got nothing.”

KTLA 4/23/14: “After #myNYPD Twitter Debacle, #myLAPD Also Brings Out Unflattering Images”

Link to full KTLA coverage HERE:

by Melissa Pamer

In the wake of a public relations campaign that backfired embarrassingly for the New York Police Department this week, the LAPD was the target of a similar phenomenon on social media.

mynypd

This April 22, 2014, tweet from the New York Police Department prompted an unintended backlash. (Credit: CNN)

The East Coast department’s effort Tuesday to get New Yorkers to post photos on Twitter using the hashtag #myNYPD spawned images of police brutality instead. The department had asked for photos of members of the public posing with New York’s finest.

Within a few hours, #myLAPD was among the online hashtags cropping up in a variety of cities where critics were posting unflattering images of local police departments.

Locally, #myLAPD tweets included allegations of violence and abuse on the part of the Los Angeles Police Department, including several mentions of the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Lake View Terrace.

Lt. Andy Neiman of the LAPD reacted to the #myLAPD hashtag on Wednesday afternoon.

“Its certainly not an official LAPD site, but its an opportunity for people apparently to vent about how they feel about the police department and bring up things that people perceive we did wrong in the past,” Neiman said.

LAist 4/23/14: “#MyNYPD Twitter Fail Spawns #MyLAPD, Showing Police Hard At Work Beating Folks Up”

Link to LAist post HERE.

lapd2.jpg
The LAPD in the 77th Street division at work (Photo by Atomic Hot Links via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)

When the NYPD decided yesterday it would be great PR campaign to ask New Yorkers totweet out happy photos of the police doing good, coupled with the #MyNYPD hashtag, we’re pretty sure they immediately regretted it. The NYPD didn’t expect New Yorkers to tweet out an onslaught of photos, videos and personal stories sharing their personal experiences with police brutality. Hours later, cities all around the country had come up with their own subversive, anti-police brutality hashtags featuring violent snapshots of their local forces.

That spawned L.A.’s own #MyLAPD hashtag: instead of photos of the LAPD helping elderly ladies cross the street or posing happily with babies, we got these images of the LAPD:

Photos of the police holding cute puppies? No, more like shooting a dog point blank:

And remember Kim Nguyen, the handcuffed woman who fell out of an LAPD squad with her top undone? She says Koreatown police officers sexually assaulted her.

Let’s not forget these two infamous ones:

#myLAPD #myNYPD @LAPDHQ “oops we shot at the wrong vehicle” 2 females injured delivering newspaper pic.twitter.com/p0tfaChhjv

— JCL_50 (@JC_Lomeli) April 23, 2014

LA Times 4/6/2014: “The air horn heard around skid row”

Full article HERE.

“The air horn heard around skid row
Written by Gale Holland

It was billed as a guided tour for downtown residents, church and business groups and elected officials to see skid row for themselves.

As the group headed out on foot from L.A.’s Midnight Mission, it was confronted by demonstrators whistling, drumming and chanting: “You’re not welcome here!” and “You’re the problem!”

That was in June 2011. A year later, Deborah Burton, a community organizer who was once homeless, was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery on two tour leaders.

Her alleged weapon? An air horn.

A jury acquitted Burton. But she and her group — the Los Angeles Community Action Network — now have launched their own court action, filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, alleging that police have conspired with business leaders to quash protest on skid row.

City Atty. Mike Feuer said the suit had no merit whatsoever, but the story of the noisemaker and the court cases it spawned illustrates the acrimony and mistrust as change comes to the 50-block district.

Once designated an official “containment” zone for homeless people, skid row now is home to a doggie boutique and craft cocktails. Nearby, an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 people live in the streets, and thousands of formerly homeless are in refurbished flophouses and apartments.

Both sides in the legal disputes are seeking many of the same things: safer and cleaner streets, for instance. But they also are in sharp conflict.

Activists want skid row preserved as a haven for poor people; business and political interests see it as downtown’s shiny new frontier.

“While we have a common goal, eliminating homelessness,” said Mai Lee, an executive at the Midnight Mission who was caught up in the case, “we don’t have a common vision.”

The skid row walks were launched in 2005 to help revive interest in the derelict neighborhood.

“When you tuck it away in an area few people experience, the rest of the city doesn’t understand how chronic the problem is,” said Orlando Ward, who worked at the time for the Midnight Mission and is now an executive director of Volunteers of America in Los Angeles.

As the walks drew attention to the area, they also brought its complicated factions to light.

Burton’s group wants to preserve housing for the very poor and stop what it sees as the “criminalization” of skid row residents, and they believe police and business are gentrifiers bent on running the homeless and the poor out of skid row.

“You can’t just herd us away,” said Burton, 62. “We’re not inanimate objects. We’re people.”

Some social service groups and business associations, however, want the homeless off the streets and in shelters or programs.

They backed a cleanup strategy, launched by the LAPD in 2006, that deployed 50 extra officers to the area — targeting crime and quality-of-life infractions such as jaywalking, urinating in public and resting on the sidewalk.

Many oppose expanding housing for the homeless on skid row, which they view as a toxic environment for people clawing their way out of substance abuse, mental illness and poverty.

They see the activists as ideologues and enablers for dysfunctional behavior. They’re “advocates for everybody being able to use drugs, sell drugs, keeping skid row skid row,” said the Rev. Andy Bales of the Union Rescue Mission.

Ward said both camps oversimplify.

“People say it’s just poor people who need a hand up, jobs and housing — well, it’s more complicated than that,” Ward said. “Others say they just want to be there by choice, and it’s more complicated than that.”

The tension increased after the police were successfully challenged twice in court, resulting in limits on the department’s ability to sweep encampments of the homeless or confiscate their unattended belongings.

On June 1, 2011, Estela Lopez — then head of the Central City East Assn., an influential business group — and Lee led a group of several dozen people into skid row. They were flanked by police officers and the business group’s security guards, with the protesters on their heels.

Burton periodically let go a blast from a hand-held air horn. “If you had a protest, there’s noise, songs, spoken word,” she said. “You don’t just stand there and look.”

Burton said she sounded the horn over her head, eight feet from Lopez. Lopez testified later that Burton blasted the horn right in her ear. Lee was captured on videotape bending over and covering her ears.

In its civil rights lawsuit filed in January, Burton’s Community Action Network cited emails between Central City East officials and Lt. Shannon Paulson, in charge of the LAPD’s skid row initiative, as evidence that police and business interests were trying to find a way to prosecute Burton.

Central City East had emailed Paulson, asking that charges be filed against Burton. Paulson responded that prosecution could raise 1st Amendment issues.

On July 2, Paulson emailed Central City East, saying the group needed to identify some people who could “articulate discomfort due to the air horns utilized at the June walk.”

On Nov. 10, 2011, five months after the walk, Lopez for the first time said that Burton had sounded the air horn directly in her ear, the civil rights lawsuit alleged.

Lopez and Paulson, both defendants in the civil rights suit, declined to comment.

Burton was charged with three misdemeanor counts of assault and battery likely to produce “great bodily injury.”

“If you’re using an air horn for legitimate 1st Amendment purposes, that’s one thing,” said Don Steier, lawyer for Central City East, “but that instrument becomes a weapon if used in the wrong way.”

At a trial last summer, Lee testified that she didn’t sustain any lasting injuries. Lopez told the jury that Burton’s blast caused her significant hearing loss, but the defense presented evidence that Lopez had ear problems dating to 1989.

Burton was acquitted on all counts. Feuer declined to discuss the case in detail, but said, “We proceeded … in a highly professional way and handled it as effectively as one could expect.”

The skid row walks are no more. Lopez has joined a lobbying firm and Paulson has transferred out of skid row. Burton’s group and police and business interests remain stuck in an uneasy standoff.

“Anywhere else it would seem absurd,” skid row activist Alice Callaghan said of the prosecution. “But on skid row, it’s like, there they go again.”

HUD Rejects Los Angeles Housing Authority’s $30 Million Grant Application

via the LA Human Right to Housing Collective and the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative.

HOUSING AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ADVOCATES CALL ON HACLA TO USE THE TIME CREATED BY HUD’S REJECTION OF $30 MILLION GRANT APPLICATION FOR JORDAN DOWNS TO FULLY MITIGATE TOXINS

The granting of redevelopment funds would have created a fast-track timeline that, in all likelihood, would have led to HACLA failing to fulfill its responsibilities to protect residents from the health impacts of toxins.  

March 18, 2014, Los Angeles – The LA City Housing Authority’s billion dollar plan to convert the 700 unit Jordan Downs public housing development in Watts into a “mixed income urban village” were stalled on Monday when the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI ) grant application for Jordan Downs was unsuccessful.

Last week, at a community meeting on the redevelopment, HACLA environmental advisor, Matt Rhoda, told the packed auditorium that no one needed to worry about lead in their community.  Some residents expressed frustration that HACLA continues to refuse to test the soil and groundwater under their homes – something several hundred residents requested via petition – and were concerned that had this CNI grant been awarded, a full testing for toxins and subsequent clean-up might have been sacrificed to meet the strict project timeline. Residents also expressed feeling intimidated due to an onslaught of legal notices and aggressive evictions served on residents – which may affect their good-standing and ability to access the new units.  Although, the removal of residents and the refusal to test for toxins have always been unacceptable, the  denial of the CNI application affords HACLA the opportunity to immediately engage in area-wide groundwater and soil sampling, create a comprehensive clean-up plan and support residents in maintaining their housing stability.

Jordan Downs’ resident and single mother, Ely Acevedo has been organizing with other concerned mothers and residents to hold HACLA accountable for securing the health of current residents, who are expected to stay on site during the redevelopment of the neighborhood. Ely said, “They are playing with our health and the health of all the small children that live here. How dare they tell us that we shouldn’t be worried about lead in our neighborhood?”

HACLA’s own studies confirm levels exceeding 6,000ppm of lead at the vacant Factory site inside Jordan Downs. 80ppm is the state of CA standard. Earlier this month, Thelmy Perez, of the LA Human Right to Housing Collective, testified before the County Board of Supervisors: “We cannot comprehend how or why state, county and local officials can make such a fuss over the Exide contamination and ignore Jordan Downs, where there the same toxins have been found. All of our communities – especially where the majority of residents are children and people of color with little resources and the lowest life expectancy in the state – have the right to their health and to a high level of accountability from government when their health is in jeopardy.”

The Housing Collective members and allies at the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, Legal Aid Foundation of LA, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA and National Economic and Social Rights Initiative believe HUD’s decision provides HACLA with an immediate opportunity to ensure an adequate and comprehensive environmental testing and clean up is conducted, which fully protects the community’s health. The CNI program is ongoing and another application could be submitted after all environmental health and other community concerns are addressed. While HUD has chosen not to give a CNI grant to HACLA, the Watts community is entitled to adequate federal funding to secure their human right to housing, without it needing to be contingent on  redevelopment. CNI is not the panacea, there are many federal funding opportunities, including from the Environmental Protection Agency, which should be actively sought by our local officials in an effort to uplift and preserve the cultural richness of Watts and its residents.  After decades of neglect, it’s time to invest in the people of Watts.

“U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts”

via the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty:

U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts
U.N. Human Rights Committee Questions U.S. Delegation

Geneva, Switzerland – On Thursday, March 13, the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed U.S. compliance with a major human rights treaty, raising concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for the practice of criminalizing homeless people for performing necessary life functions such as sleeping and eating in public when they have no private alternatives.

The criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. is documented in a report, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, submitted to the Committee by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (“NLCHP”) and the Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.

The U.S. review, which takes place periodically under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the last review was in 2006), follows a U.S. report to the Committee, submitted on December 30, 2011.

“I appreciate that the federal government is acknowledging that the criminalization of people living on the street for everyday life activities, such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas…raises serious human rights concerns…,” said Walter Kaelin, a Swiss member of the Committee, “There are ample reports about how criminalization of the homeless is discriminatory; how, as stressed by several UN Special Rapporteurs, and also federal agencies, how such instances of criminalization often raises concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

Kaelin continued with specific questions, “Do you already provide, or do you plan to provide incentives for decriminalization? Do you plan to withdraw funding for local authorities that continue to criminalize the homeless in a discriminatory way, in a way that may amount to inhuman treatment, degrading treatment? Do you plan to sanction criminalization policies, or are your activities really limited just in sensitizing local authorities, something very important, but probably not sufficient.”

Rather than responding to the specific questions, Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, US Department of the Interior, responded with a general list of issues being worked on by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, including efforts to encourage cities not to criminalize homelessness, exactly the sort of efforts the Committee said were “important, but not sufficient”.

“The U.S. government knew these topics would be on the Committee’s agenda since last March, when they put it on their list of issues for discussion, and last July, we held a meeting to discuss specific recommendations for action,” said Jeremy Rosen, Policy Director at NLCHP, in Geneva for the review. “The lack of specificity in the government’s response is pretty disappointing.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker continued on behalf of the U.S. delegation by explaining his city’s more constructive approach of providing housing rather than criminalizing, which has led to a 75% decline in chronic homelessness in the state. The mayor said this makes him “surprised when he hears homeless even in the same breath as criminalization.”

However, as documented in the report submitted to the Committee by NLCHP , Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-one of the “ample reports” of criminalization to which Kaelin referred-the approach demonstrated by Salt Lake City is far from universally implemented.

“As homelessness becomes more visible in American communities, some, like Salt Lake City, have made generally positive responses,” said Mr. Rosen. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen an increase in communities passing ordinances banning camping or sleeping outdoors, despite providing no alternative, forcing people to make the cruel choice between sleep and being arrested.”

“Sleep deprivation and hunger are widely recognized as techniques that are cruel, inhuman and degrading when used against prisoners. It shouldn’t matter if the prison is bricks and mortar, or one of economic policies and draconian ordinances,” said Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children’s Rights Programs at NLCHP. “As Committee Member Kaelin stated, the federal action on this issue so far is ‘not sufficient,’ and our government must do more to protect homeless people from these policies.”

“We expected more concrete responses from the federal government at this review,” Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at NLCHP, concluded. “But we look forward to working with the government on additional-and stronger– measures in response to the concerns and questions raised by the Committee.”

The Committee will issue its final recommendations to the U.S. government, called Concluding Observations, on March 26.

###

 

ACTION ALERT! Tell the CCA that Downtown LA is for EVERYONE!

CCA

 

Join us THIS THURSDAY as we call out the Central City Association for their continuous efforts to push low-income and homeless residents out of Downtown LA!

Most recently, the CCA pressured the LA County Board of Supervisors to back out of a plan that would have provided housing for up to 500 homeless and extremely low-income people at the Cecil Hotel in Downtown LA.

LA CAN and Cecil tenants worked hard in recent years to ensure that the Cecil Hotel remained protected from conversion and demolition. It is protected from demolition as part of the City’s Residential Hotel Ordinance and cannot be significantly altered with ensuring affordable housing (either on-site or through replacement units).

Instead of continually calling for more police that can do nothing to end homelessness or poverty AND calling for an end to affordable housing production in DTLA, the CCA should support and invest in solutions that serve EVERYONE and uplift all of us in Downtown LA.

Footage and Coverage of LA CAN Press Conference on LAPD Lawsuit

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7txMjhKDjKU?rel=0]

Yesterday morning in front of LAPD Headquarters the Los Angeles Community Action Network announced our lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, LAPD, and the Central City East Association because of their coordinated efforts to silence LA CAN, prevent us from exercising our first amendment rights, and their malicious acts that resulted in the wrongful prosecution of one of LA CAN’s longest term organizers, Deborah Burton.
Click HERE (or on the photo to the left) to read the Los Angeles Times article covering the announcement.

This lawsuit is a result of years of unfair and unjust targeting of LA CAN staff and members by LAPD, a long history of retaliation against us for fiercely and loudly opposing LAPD’s racist Safer Cities Initiative in Skid Row, and, more recently, their efforts to even more blatantly favor the Downtown business community’s position by stifling our right to protest and manufacturing charges against our staff.Through all of the attempts to criminalize us and silence us, LA CAN leaders and members remain unified and strong.  We will continue to organize, continue to protest when needed, and we are hopeful the federal courts will uphold our constitutional rights and direct the City and LAPD to change their tactics, since all efforts at engaging with City officials to stop the years of harassment have failed.

Click HERE to read the official LA CAN Press Conference Statement in its entirety.

Click HERE to view the press packet, which includes the Press Release and a copy of the lawsuit, as well as a few key photos and emails from LAPD Officer Shannon Paulson to employees of the Central City East Association. These documents only scratch the surface of the coordinated effort to prevent LA CAN from exercising our constitutional rights.

Additional Coverage:

LA Times: “Skid row activists file lawsuit accusing city of stifling dissent”

Below you will find a Los Angeles Times piece by Gale Holland covering the announcement of the LA CAN lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), Central City East Association (CCEA), Downtown Industrial District Business Improvement District, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, LAPD Lieutenant Shannon Paulson, and former CCEA Executive Director Estela Lopez.

Click HERE for the full press release.

Deborah Burton
By Gale HollandMarch 10, 2014, 4:29 p.m.

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday accuses the city of Los Angeles of malicious prosecution for charging a skid row community organizer with assault after she blew an air horn during a demonstration.

City Atty. Carmen Trutanich charged Deborah Burton, 62, with misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly blowing the horn in officials’ ears during a 2011 skid row protest. Burton was acquitted of all charges last July. The suit says the charges were aimed at stifling political dissent.

Police conspired with business leaders, distorted crime reports and lied on the witness stand to frame Burton for crimes she did not commit, the suit says.

City Atty. Mike Feuer, who succeeded Trutanich, said in an earlier interview that the Burton claim had no merit.

“We proceeded in that case in a highly professional way,” he said.

LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman said the department would not comment on a pending lawsuit.

The suit, brought by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles on behalf of Burton and the Los Angeles Community Action Network, also accuses police of harassing and intimidating group members and falsely arresting its leaders.

The actions were designed to silence the group’s protests against the displacement and “criminalization” of poor residents of skid row, the densest concentration of homeless and extremely low-income people in the country, the suit says.

“Many business interests and the City officials who support them apparently see the existence of high concentrations of poor people in the area, especially African American men and the highly visible homeless population, as an obstacle to planned business expansion and development,” says the suit.

Also named in the suit are the Downtown Industrial District Business Improvement District, whose security guards patrol skid row on bikes; Central City East Assn. and its former director, Estela Lopez, who ran the improvement district; the Los Angeles Police Department; Police Chief Charlie Beck; and Lt. Shannon Paulson.

“Really, the city should have been helping them fight against homelessness, not put every barrier in their way and blatantly violate their 1st Amendment rights,” said Legal Aid Foundation attorney Barbara Schultz.

The suit seeks an injunction to halt interference with L.A. Community Action Network’s civil and constitutional rights; a declaration that the rights of Burton and her group were violated; and general, special and punitive damages. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

LA Times 3/10/14: “Skid row activists file lawsuit accusing city of stifling dissent”

Untitled

 

Link to Los Angeles Times HERE.

Written by Gale Holland

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday accuses the city of Los Angeles of malicious prosecution for charging a skid row community organizer with assault after she blew an air horn during a demonstration.

City Atty. Carmen Trutanich charged Deborah Burton, 62, with misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly blowing the horn in officials’ ears during a 2011 skid row protest. Burton was acquitted of all charges last July. The suit says the charges were aimed at stifling political dissent.

Police conspired with business leaders, distorted crime reports and lied on the witness stand to frame Burton for crimes she did not commit, the suit says.

City Atty. Mike Feuer, who succeeded Trutanich, said in an earlier interview that the Burton claim had no merit.

“We proceeded in that case in a highly professional way,” he said.

LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman said the department would not comment on a pending lawsuit.

The suit, brought by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles on behalf of Burton and the Los Angeles Community Action Network, also accuses police of harassing and intimidating group members and falsely arresting its leaders.

The actions were designed to silence the group’s protests against the displacement and “criminalization” of poor residents of skid row, the densest concentration of homeless and extremely low-income people in the country, the suit says.

“Many business interests and the City officials who support them apparently see the existence of high concentrations of poor people in the area, especially African American men and the highly visible homeless population, as an obstacle to planned business expansion and development,” says the suit.

Also named in the suit are the Downtown Industrial District Business Improvement District, whose security guards patrol skid row on bikes; Central City East Assn. and its former director, Estela Lopez, who ran the improvement district; the Los Angeles Police Department; Police Chief Charlie Beck; and Lt. Shannon Paulson.

“Really, the city should have been helping them fight against homelessness, not put every barrier in their way and blatantly violate their 1st Amendment rights,” said Legal Aid Foundation attorney Barbara Schultz.

The suit seeks an injunction to halt interference with L.A. Community Action Network’s civil and constitutional rights; a declaration that the rights of Burton and her group were violated; and general, special and punitive damages. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

LA Activist 2/20/14: “Homeless woman arrested 87 times for resting on sidewalk”

Link to laactivist.com piece HERE.

“Homeless woman arrested 87 times for resting on sidewalk”
by Dan Bluemel

Annie Moody, a homeless woman who lives in Skid Row, starts her day on the morning of Feb. 16. Since 2010, police have arrested her multiple times for sitting, sleeping or lying down on the sidewalk, which has resulted in her spending months in jail. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

A special task force of LAPD officers has been targeting Annie Moody, a homeless woman in Skid Row for little more than sleeping, sitting or lying down on a sidewalk, according to police emails obtained by a public records request. Called “Operation Bad Moody,” the campaign has led to Moody being arrested scores of times and spending months in jail.

“They just constantly harass this poor woman to the point where it is just ridiculous,” said Aaron Jansen, an attorney with the public defender’s office who is representing Moody.

Jansen has filed a motion in LA County’s Superior Court to have the current round of charges against Moody dropped. He is arguing the police campaign against her violates the equal protection clauses provided for in the federal and California constitutions.

Moody’s violations mostly concern a municipal code that bars sitting, sleeping or lying down on a sidewalk. In 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the code violated the Eighth Amendment’s protection from cruel and unusual punishment. The city appealed and an informal agreement was reached that the code would only be enforced between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

But Moody is far from the only violator of this code, said Jansen, as any brief walk through Skid Row would reveal.

“It is some sort of vendetta or grudge that the LAPD and city attorneys have against her,” he said. “Out of all the homeless people they have sleeping, sitting or lying on the sidewalk, they keep bringing in Ms. Moody.”

The emails (see below) were requested by the public defender’s office in April 2013 after it was discovered that Moody’s name appeared in another set of LAPD emails from a separate public records request. Those emails are concerning a Skid Row nonprofit.

Beginning in at least 2010, Operation Bad Moody involved numerous staff from the LAPD’s Safer Cities Initiative Task Force, the city attorney’s office and the Central City East Association (CCEA), a business and property-owner advocacy group in Skid Row. The emails reveal a dogged pursuit of Moody that often borders on obsession.

“Any chance of an Anne Moody arrest Thursday or Friday?” wrote Steven Keyser in a February 2011 email. Keyser was the CCEA’s then director of operations, himself a 23-year veteran of the LAPD.

“We’ll take her in the early afternoon,” wrote back Lt. Shannon Paulson, who heads the task force and oversaw Operation Bad Moody.

Lieutenant Paulson would sometimes appear at Moody’s court hearings to report on their progress to the CCEA. At other times, she would personally confront Moody herself in Skid Row. When Moody was ordered by the court to stay 200 yards away from Sixth Street and Towne Avenue, the site of her repeated arrests, Lt. Paulson ordered two officers to measure the distance and provide her landmarks, presumably so they could quickly determine if Moody was violating the order and arrest her again.

A sign posted on a building in Skid Row hangs as a constant reminder of an LA municipal code that bars resting on city sidewalks. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

In numerous emails, LAPD officers and CCEA staff show a malignant pleasure and jubilation over Moody’s repeated arrests and jail time.

“Judge Randolph Moore sentenced Ann Moody to 180 days with no early release,” wrote Sgt. Ronnie Crump in a June 2010 email. “He also ordered her to pay $1,000 dollars in County Public Defender fee’s [sic]. He actually held her after the jury found her guilty on Wednesday, and sentenced her on Friday. [Deputy City Attorney] Felton Newell said the Judge also took the $200 she had on her personal property and applied it towards the public defender fee’s [sic].”

“That’s great. Thanks to you all,” wrote back Vicky McCormick, then director of the CCEA, herself also a 23-year veteran of the LAPD.

In one email from July 2011, Lt. Paulson wrote to her superior, Capt. Todd Chamberlain: “It just dawned on me that we got a greater jail sentence for Anne Moody. … Don’t that beat all!”

In another email, officer David Marroquin promises to send Moody “the message” that violating the city ordinance about not relaxing on a sidewalk will not be tolerated. “Outstanding! Take care of her for me!” wrote back Lt. Paulson.

The campaign against Moody even extended to the city’s Risk Management team, which processes insurance claims over property damaged by the LAPD. In a November 2012 email, Richard Morrett told Lt. Paulson that he would “deny all of [Moody’s] Claims” of property damage.

“When you see the emails, they are really unprofessional,” said Jansen. “It’s like they just have to win, like they want to break her. They already locked her up; they’ve taken years out of her life, her property, her money. What do they want out of her?”

The LAPD declined to comment on Operation Bad Moody given the current court case over it. Within the emails, however, is a statement from Lt. Paulson, which she asked to be attached to every arrest report written on Moody. It reveals some possible answers as to the LAPD’s interest in her.

According to Lt. Paulson, Moody had been the subject of numerous complaints from “citizens, business owners and staff and parents at nearby elementary schools” for blocking the sidewalk with her belongings and “because she engages in as well as attracts other illicit, illegal and hazardous activities and behaviors.” She criticizes Moody for not taking offered shelter assistance and for using a five-gallon bucket as a toilet.

Though Lt. Paulson alleges that Moody, who declined to be interviewed by LA Activist, is involved in drug sales, the most police ever got after years of targeting her are a few arrests for allegedly selling cigarettes and beer. The remainder of Moody’s arrests have been related to sitting, sleeping or lying down on a sidewalk or illegal lodging.

But there is another reason, judging from the tone of the emails, that Moody may be angering police and staff at the CCEA: she’s insists on invoking her constitutional right to a jury trial. It is a strategy that has worked for Moody and irritates her antagonists. Since 2007, Moody has been arrested 87 times for misdemeanors, but only 14 have led to convictions.

“Ms. Moody insists on taking her cases all the way to trial, even if it means she has to spend time in jail or they take away her stuff or she has to pay fines,” said Jansen. “She feels that they are harassing her, that she is not doing anything wrong.”

Jansen figures that, between the LAPD and city attorney’s office, hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money has been spent on targeting and prosecuting Moody.

The city attorney’s office, as well as the CCEA, did not respond to LA Activist’s request for comment.

General Dogon, an organizer for the Los Angeles Community Action Network, a group that works to defend the rights of the homeless and low-income renters, called Moody the “poster child of SCI.” The Safer Cities Initiative began in 2006 and focused solely on Skid Row. Though the initiative was marketed to Angelenos as a policing program that was going to target criminals, such as thieves, rapists or murderers, most of SCI’s focus ended up being on people like Moody, who are caught relaxing on a Skid Row sidewalk.

“You can’t stand up all day,” said Dogon. “Your body at one point in time is going to have to sit or lie down and get some rest. That’s just how the body is. It is wrong for them to criminalize people for that.”

Predictive Policing? What’s there to predict?

During a recent (February 11 2013) LAPD Police Commission presentation LAPD Capt. Sean Malinowski attempted to describe the science behind the latest policing craze, “predictive policing.” After a little joyful back and forth banter between himself and Commission President Steve Soboroff Malinowski asserts that he doesn’t really understand the science because its “high math and small boxes.” This gleeful assertion coming directly from the person in charge of, yep you guessed it, “predictive policing.”

As could be expected the presentation, and festivities surrounding it, felt more like a pep rally than a presentation geared towards informing the public. Left out of the presentation was the actual cost of the program and potential impacts (social and otherwise) in communities that found themselves located in one of those small boxes. The LAPD did, however, offer up that there was no criminal profiling associated with the new design–sort of suggesting that the computer is responsible for the selecting of squares thus removing bias.

That notion is of course flawed because a living and breathing human being will decide which of the multitudinous small boxes deserves the immediate attention of the LAPD.  Additionally, communities of color (and others) located in gentrifying neighborhoods will most certainly bear the brunt of this latest attempt to “put lipstick on a pig.”

Rest assure, new policing methods are simply new attempts to legitimate and legalize old and  illegal practices. It is important that we understand the tactics are the same soup warmed over and it is our job to reign in the police state.

Join the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition housed at LA CAN to learn more and do more.

LA Times 2/3/14: “Venice’s famed tolerance is being tested by the homeless”

Link to Los Angeles Times article HERE.

“Venice’s famed tolerance is being tested by the homeless”
Written by Gale Holland

The homeless people camped outside a planned Google facility in Venice were beginning to stir when Los Angeles police rolled up around dawn.

Chesnel Dorceus was slow to dismantle his makeshift shelter and wound up briefly in handcuffs.

“Wow, blankets on a cart is a structure?” said Dorceus, 26, who was cited for illegally lodging in the street and released. “Why can’t you guys leave me alone?”

Such interactions have become routine in the beachfront neighborhood. Under a 2007 court settlement, homeless people may sleep on sidewalks in the city of Los Angeles as long as they move on by 6 a.m. When they don’t, officers find themselves on wake-up patrol.

“Sometimes I wish I had crime that was more police-related,” said Sgt. Theresa Skinner, who estimated that 75% of the complaints she deals with as a senior lead officer were about transients.

The county is home on any given night to 58,000 homeless people, according to a U.S. Conference of Mayors report. Venice long has been a magnet for transients and affluent homeowners alike — the two groups generally coexisting in a community known for embracing people on society’s fringes.

But now — with gang crime on the wane, new business ventures bringing in jobs and property values on the rise — gentrification is going strong. Homelessness is also on the rise, leading to increased tensions.

In recent weeks, officials counted 174 homeless people on Venice’s streets and 132 more at its winter shelter, a jump from a year ago, police said.

Some newer residents are quick to call police about things the old guard would have shrugged off, locals say. At the same time, young, aggressive transients — other homeless people call them “dirt punks” — are upsetting longtime residents.

Carolyn Flook, who has lived in Venice since the 1990s said she asked a homeless friend last month to help her eject a young transient from her carport. Instead of leaving, the man chased her down the driveway on his skateboard.

“He gave me the finger and was yelling obscenities,” she said. “This didn’t go on before.”

Grievances cut both ways.

Brian Connolly, an aspiring screenwriter, said he arrived at Starbucks with a sleeping bag on his back and was told he would have to take his sausage sandwich and coffee outside.

In an article he wrote in a local newspaper, Connolly accused the store of instituting “Jim Crow laws” for the homeless in Venice.

In response, Starbucks said that a blanket exclusion of homeless people was against company policy. “We spoke with our store partners and used this as a coaching opportunity,” said spokeswoman Laurel Harper.

L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose Westside district includes Venice, said it was time to move beyond stereotypes of homeless people as either victims or predators.

“All of these things are true and none are exclusively true,” he said. “When we use homelessness as a catch-all, we cannot find solutions.”

Even a modest plan to get shopping carts and tarps belonging to the homeless off the streets ran into trouble: Someone attached extra padlocks to a cargo container that had been set up for homeless people to store their property while they are at a winter shelter. The Department of Recreation and Parks had to get a bolt-cutter to free the belongings.

Deborah Lashever, a boutique owner who said she was forced off Abbot Kinney Boulevard by high rents, said NIMBYswere behind the vandalism. “They don’t want any homeless services,” she said of people with a “Not in my backyard” mindset.

Bonin pointed out that the beach town offered expansive homeless services at facilities such as the St. Joseph’s Center and the Venice Family Health Clinic.

But a public discussion about moving the homeless storage bins from behind the beach paddle tennis courts set off alarms among some residents. Bonin appeared before the Venice Neighborhood Council to calm things down after rumors that a senior center on Westminster Avenue was being converted into a homeless shelter.

“Venice is a place where controversy is close to the surface,” Bonin said later.

He also angered advocates for the homeless by telling the Los Angeles Police Commission that people in Venice were afraid of transients.

Protesters at a Martin Luther King Jr. weekend “sleep-in” for homeless rights responded with T-shirts emblazoned, “I am house-free in Venice and I am not afraid.”

During the recent morning patrol, Skinner pointed out toppled shopping carts and piles of trash left behind by encampments and public meals. But there was also a man named Al who swept his spot clean outside the planned Google site, saying: “Even though I’m in the streets, I like to be neat.”

Some of the “unhoused” accuse police of harassing them with petty tickets they can’t pay. “They’re trying to get us so frustrated to move us out,” said Gregory “Buddha” Gussner, a 1985 Venice High School graduate.

Others say police protect them from predators.

“They’re humanitarians,” said one homeless man trudging down the boardwalk.

Last weekend, Bonin announced stepped-up police patrols along the boardwalk in response both to complaints from businesses and some high-profile crime, including the December beating of a homeless man.

Also at Bonin’s request, the city started cleaning the boardwalk twice a month, hauling unattended belongings downtown. Under another court order, the city must store the property for 90 days but will return it if the owner asks.

“They come in hazmat suits, like some bad movie,” said Roberto Luis Santana, 52, an actor. “Those monies should be put into funds for housing for people.”

Bonin too wants to see more housing, with medical and mental health services, to help homeless people reenter society.

But U.S. Housing and Urban Development vouchers are frozen, and the city added only 771 permanent supportive housing beds last year.

“Looking to the city to solve homelessness is like asking your plumber to rewire your house,” Bonin said.

Google has given grants to Venice homeless agencies. When the tech giant moves into the new facility complex, police expect the homeless will scatter, then turn up somewhere else.

“We’ll never make enough arrests or write enough tickets to get rid of homelessness,” Skinner said.

West Coast Day of Action!

January 18-19 2014–

LA CAN joins organizations across Los Angeles to pursue a Homeless Bill of Human Rights to stop abuses in Los Angeles as well as up and down the entire western region. Mad respect goes out to Hunger Action Los Angeles, Occupy Venice, Occupy LA, Venice Food Not Bombs, A.W.A.R.E., Revolutionary Autonomous Communities, Monday Night Mission, Intercommunal Solidarity Community, Martin Luther King Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, NESRI, and WRAP.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzHMx0HYvaE&feature=c4-overview&list=UU4GseLrHLZaqQ-NdBdh8z4w]

The DWAC Variety Show/Fundraiser on February 21 – BUY YOUR TICKETS TODAY!

DWACVarietyShowv2014

 

It’s that time of year again!
The Downtown’s Women’s Action Coalition presents the DWAC Variety Show/Fundraiser!

A night of comedy, spoken word, music and song featuring artists and performers from the Skid Row Community.

For tickets, contact Becky at 213.228.0024 or beckyd@cangress.org.

$25 General Admission
5 for $50 Group Rate

ALL PROCEEDS benefit DWAC programming.

The Downtown Women’s Action Coalition mission is to empower women to influence public policy change that promotes health, safety, and economic and social justice for women through collective action, public education, community building, advocacy and leadership opportunities.

VICE: “AN LA HOUSING PROJECT COULD BE GIVING ITS RESIDENTS LEAD POISONING”

via VICE:

By Daniel Ross (@1danross)

Eleazer Acevedo and her children in their home inside the Jordan Downs housing project

It’s not necessarily the patchy linoleum flooring, the egg-white cinder block walls, or the bars against all the windows that gave Eleazer Acevedo’s unit at Jordan Downs in Watts, Los Angeles, its penitential quality—it’s more the sparsely furnished rooms, noticeably bare save a few scant furnishings that look as though they’ve been plucked from a dozen different roadsides and yard sales.

“Sit, sit,” Acevedo insisted, pointing towards two foldaway picnic chairs and a narrow stool in her living room—any more than three visitors and those holding the short straws have to sit on the floor. Acevedo perched on the edge of the stool and leaned forward. With her hands cupped between her knees as though in wide-eyed prayer, she began her story.

Acevedo, 29, and her four children—ages 13, 11, five, and three—lived in Downtown LA for 12 years. After losing her job selling clothes, she was forced to relocate three months ago to a much cheaper unit at Jordan Downs—or what was purported to be a cheaper unit. The $600 that she currently pays was supposed to be $400, and three months in, she’s still trying get her rent reduced to something manageable for an unemployed single mother of four.

Acevedo does get food stamps, but in order to pay for rent, electricity, extra food for her children, clothes, gas for her car, and a spreadsheet’s worth of daily expenses, she turns to her friends for financial support—all her family live in Mexico. There’s no spare cash for furnishings. She’s exhausted with worry; the dark shadows haunting her face betray countless sleepless nights. But Acevedo’s concerns extend beyond the immediate. An even greater worry to her is that she has been forced to relocate somewhere that potentially poses a major health risk to her and her children. “When I came here, they never said anything about the development project or the contamination,” she said. “They kept their mouths closed… and I’m worried for my kids because lead is very dangerous.”

The Jordan Downs urban redevelopment project has been decades in the imagination, years in the works, and months under the glow of a green light—a major landmark for a community long bedeviled by crime, poverty, and unemployment. Last August, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved plans to raze the current 700 units and replace them with approximately 1,800 mixed-income apartments along with chain stores and new streetscapes in order create “a vibrant urban village and model for public housing developments throughout the country,” according to the city’s five-year plan for South Los Angeles. This urban village was going to cost around $1 billion. Current government subsidized tenants have been promised one-for-one rehousing, as long as they remain in good standing with the Housing Authority. The full scope of the project hinges on a $30 million Choice Neighborhood Initiative Grant—a sought-after federal grant likely to be awarded in May.

At the center of Jordan Downs is a 21-acre L-shaped industrial site called the “Factory.” Now vacant, adorned mostly with rubble and weeds, the Factory abuts the residential complex; the two are separated by an eight-foot-high brick wall with holes large enough for a child to crawl through. This is the source of everyone’s fears.

A 2011 Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) concluded that the site contains elevated levels of lead, arsenic, trichloroethylene (TCE), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), stating that the “results indicate that lead does pose an unacceptable hazard to children in a residential scenario.” All the contaminants listed pose major health risks, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, including cancer and autoimmune and neurological diseases. A Housing Authority interoffice memo from 2009 said, “Jordan Downs revitalization efforts will include development of other parcels including the parcel on which the 700 units are currently located. It is quite possible that these properties might also suffer from environmental contamination and therefore might require remediation.”

As a result of the HHRA’s findings, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) commissioned a Remedial Action Plan. While HACLA agreed to excavate and move 33,600 cubic yards of soil from the Factory—at a cost of around $8 million—the residential land remains unmentioned. Even after a recent ExxonMobil pipeline groundwater investigation in which the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) sent a letter to the Housing Authority that concluded that “groundwater sampling conducted as part of the M-145/M-8 Pipeline investigation and remediation by EXXON-Mobil Corporation has indicated that groundwater adjacent to the site has been impacted by petroleum hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds,” the DTSC has recommended further evaluation only on the northeastern edge of the Factory—not beyond the wall. The DTSC has yet to sign off on the Remedial Action Plan.

Lenny Siegel, executive director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO), a nonprofit, said he has advocated for months that testing be extended beyond the Factory’s boundary. He believes that from the limited data produced thus far, further testing for TCE vapor intrusion (a carcinogen) should be conducted in residential areas at least beyond the north and south boundary of the wall.

“It’s strange to me that you would have indications of TCE with so little sampling… and you don’t have a reading that high and contamination stop at the property line [of the Factory],” Siegel told me. “A property boundary does not define the catchment area of groundwater contamination.”

David Pettit, a senior attorney of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental advocacy group, thinks along similar lines. In fall of last year, the Housing Authority circulated a leaflet among the residents designed to allay fears of contamination-related health risks. The flyer says outright, “There is currently no risk to residents.” The leaflet also states that “collections of soil vapor revealed that Volatile Organic Compounds [an umbrella term under which TCE falls] do not pose a risk for future residents.” Pettit believes that contrary to what the leaflet states, thorough testing on the residential properties needs to be conducted before such assertions can be made.

“The concern, in essence, is that there’s nothing [that’s] been done to investigate soil conditions or soil vapor conditions in the [residential] site,” said Pettit. “The reason I have concerns is, given the neighborhood where this is, I would think you’d want to know whether the people living on the existing units are at risk. And that analysis just hasn’t been done. The thing is, if they build this [development] and people are getting sick because of pollutants that the Housing Authority knows about now, there’s tremendous liability for them down the road.”

Decades of heavy industrialization in and around Jordan Downs means that there are reasons beyond the environmental report’s findings to think that residents are at high risk of contamination, according Pettit. A disused smelting plant from the 1960s sits vacant not far from the housing project. In 2004, 1,250 tons of soil were excavated from the David Starr Jordan High School football field after elevated levels of lead and PCBs were discovered—a result of an explosion at the nearby S&W Atlas Iron and Metal Company recycling facility two years prior. Another lead cleanup operation is currently being conducted at the high school.

Pettit believes that the Remedial Plan falls short of safeguarding residents from lead exposure. “Lead is a neurotoxin that affects brain development. What you see are communities affected by lead that have lower IQs than surrounding communities,” he said. “Once a kid takes it in, the effects are irreversible. Let’s not forget, this is a multi-family project. There’s going to be lots of kids around, and I do know that there is no safe level for lead. I felt the cleanup plan that the DTSC came up with was not health-protective enough.”

In an email, the DTSC stated that using the environmental evaluations conducted following USEPA’s methodology, the highest concentrations of contaminants found in soils onsite would not pose a risk to offsite residents or the school from wind-blown dust. “However, DTSC cannot comment on the impacts of past operations at the site or the surrounding neighborhood, as DTSC did not oversee these processes. It should be noted that testing for contaminants in the surrounding communities will not answer the question as to the source of the contaminants itself. For example, lead-based paint and leaded gasoline were routinely used until the 1970s. Lead-based paint is still part of many of the older buildings. Therefore, finding lead in the surrounding properties would not automatically mean that the site was the source.”

According to Doug Guthrie, the Housing Authority’s president and CEO, officials knew when they acquired the site that a cleanup process would be necessary, and the Housing Authority and developers have complied with all demands made by the DTSC. “We’ve always been very open with all the testing that we’ve done there,” he said. “We entered into a voluntary agreement with the DTSC. We’ve been very cooperative and open when it comes to ensuring that we’re doing the right thing by the residents. At this point in time, we will do whatever the DTSC tells us to do to clean the site.”

Undeterred, community activists have promised to keep pushing for testing beyond the wall’s boundaries. Thelmy Perez, the Housing Collective coordinator at Los Angeles Community Action Network, has worked for months bringing together a collective of residents, advocates, and activists, all of whom she says are concerned for the immediate health of people living at Jordan Downs.

“Where you have a Housing Authority that isn’t being accountable to the residents and is not being transparent about the threat of toxins in the area, it obviously generates a lot of fear in the community,” said Perez. “There are 700 families who live at Jordan Downs and their health is a priority—or it should be a priority.

Washington Post 1/10/14: “States and cities choose dollars over safety”

Link to full washingtonpost.com piece HERE.

Opinion: “States and cities choose dollars over safety”

Written by Radley Balko

Over at Reason, Brian Doherty dives into the effects the enforcement of petty crimes like jaywalking and traffic infractions can have on the poor.

L.A. police had already been issuing over a thousand tickets per month for jaywalking in the name of homeless management. A 2007 study from UCLA law professor emeritus Gary Blasi, “Policing Our Way Out of Homelessness? The First Year of the Safer Cities Initiative on Skid Row,” found such jaywalking or other petty citations given at rates 48 to 69 times those in the rest of the city. It noted that “of the 1,000 people per month who receive citations and are unable to pay the fines, most will face subsequent arrest and jail, even though the original offense may have been littering or a pedestrian signal.”

Some of those ticketed were in wheelchairs or otherwise disabled, or pushing a cart full of all their possessions in front of them as they tried to struggle across the street, says Pete White of Los Angeles Community Action Network, a poverty activist group. Blasi found the timing of skid row lights to be the absolute minimum imaginable for anyone to get across a street.

As damaging as the fines themselves can be, says White, his group also hates strict pedestrian law enforcement because it’s “an excuse for search, harassment, and intimidation of the poor” in a situation where a population of thirteen to fifteen thousand people downtown were receiving nearly that many citations a year.

Lawyer Carol Sobel, who helps represent many downtown L.A. residents who receive such citations, says you can often beat the rap if you go to court (usually because officers don’t show up, or your lawyer can prove they gave a citations that wasn’t legally warranted). But if you cannot beat the rap or pay the fine, that simple ticket for stepping off a curb can lead to an arrest warrant—which many activists think was in part the point of the city’s crackdown to begin with, a component in a general plan of clearing the homeless out of downtown L.A.

Contemplating how something as simple as a ticket for a couple hundred bucks could effectively ruin a life reminded me of the last time I was in traffic court, for driving a car in California with an expired license plate. I heard brief versions of the stories that brought dozens of my fellow citizens before the judge, some facing imprisonment, most just facing fines of more than a thousand dollars (that could lead to imprisonment if not paid).

Every single story that brought them there—overwhelmingly minorities and, my guess based on their demeanor and stories, working class—began with a “small fine” for some traffic-related infraction that, not dispatched with prompt bourgeois responsibility, ballooned to larger fines and/or arrest warrants.

Do the crime, pay the fine, many might think. Why wouldn’t they? Maybe the fine represented too large a part of their disposable income to be dealt with in time, or maybe they just aren’t that skilled at remembering to take care of expensive problems promptly.

I’ve written quite a bit about how cities have come to use traffic cameras not to maximize public safety, but to bolster city revenues. It’s gotten to the point where several cities have been caught shortening yellow lights to hand out more tickets, a practice that makes intersections significantly more dangerous.

That’s all bad enough. But Doherty explains that revenue-motivated traffic enforcement not only is often arbitrary, but can have crushing, cascading consequences for low-income drivers.

As David A. Harris pointed out in a 1997 article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology called “’Driving While Black’ and All Other Traffic Offense: the Supreme Court and Pretextual Traffic Stops,” a driver is pretty much always committing a moving violation, since they can include actions as vague and open to interpretation as not giving “full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle.”

As Harris goes on to note, and disproportionate effect on the poor, that is going to have a disproportionate effect on minorities which, given American socioeconomics, can mean adisproportionate effect on the poor.

As will the state’s demands that we pay them off in various ways for permission to drive, a core element of modern working life for many. Tom Nordlie, a former assistant public defender in Florida in the 1990s  (and, disclosure, an old college buddy), remembers nearly a third of misdemeanor cases he represented involved people driving with licenses suspended (DWLS). A first offense could net two months in jail and a $500 fine — even though the crime did not necessarily cause any harm to anyone.

“In the world of misdemeanor crimes, many offenses come about because people are impulsive, drug-addicted, cruel or avaricious,” Nordlie says. “Most DWLS cases don’t happen for any of those reasons. DWLS cases come about because people are poor. Or, at the very least, because they don’t manage their money well … DWLS is more strongly linked to economics than any other misdemeanor offense.” It frequently occurred because of unpaid tickets, or lack of insurance.

“I had many clients tell me, ‘I had to keep working to have a chance to raise the money I needed to fix this situation, and in order to work, I had to drive.’ Bam. It’s a DWLS charge waiting to happen.”

Nordlie knows “there are situations where someone needs to stop driving, due to demonstrated incompetence or disregard for other peoples’ safety, But in my experience, those situations represent only a small fraction of DWLS cases.”

Many states also now tack “processing fees” onto traffic violations that can exceed the fine for the violation itself, sometimes several times over. Another trick: Make it more expensive to challenge a ticket than the cost of the ticket itself. Another strategy: Should they lose their challenge, hit motorists with an added fine so large, no one in his right mind would consider exercising his due process rights.

Skeptical? Consider this decision released just this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, upholding an Illinois town’s $30 “booking fee” for arrestees, even if the arrest doesn’t result in any criminal charges. That may not sound like much. But think of the implications. As one commenter at the Volokh Conspiracy put it:

It seems to me that this case, according to the majority, depends on the fact the $30 is not charged as a result of the underlying crime for which the arrest was made. That being the case, I see no reason, under this decision, that the police could not charge a fee for every time they become involved with citizens. The police could charge for making traffic stops regardless of whether a ticket was issued, they could charge for conducting searches, or giving breathalyzers. Maybe they could charge every time they testified at trial, why should expert witnesses be the only ones paid?

Another commenter added:

Think about the possibilities this ruling opens up: a city could charge an admission fee to anyone who crosses the city limits and an exit fee to those leaving, every time police pull over a vehicle the driver owes a $25 fee for the stop even if no ticket is issued, every Terry stop and frisk comes with a $50 fee payable immediately by the friskee whether or not a weapon is found.

If you think those (alleged) arrest and stop-and-frisk quotas are bad now, wait until city officials discover that they can start charging citizens $50 each time they’re subjected to the privilege of a pat-down or wrongful arrest.

So what happens if you just can’t pay all these fines? Some state are bringing back the debtor’s prison, though they won’t explicitly call it that. Here’s the economist Alex Tabarrok, writing at the Marginal Revolutionblog a couple years ago.

Debtor’s prisons are supposed to be illegal in the United States but today poor people who fail to pay even small criminal justice fees are routinely being imprisoned. The problem has gotten worse recently because strapped states have dramatically increased the number of criminal justice fees. In Pennsylvania, for example, the criminal court charges for police transport, sheriff costs, state court costs, postage, and “judgment.” Many of these charges are not for any direct costs imposed by the criminal but have been added as revenue enhancers. A $5 fee, for example, supports the County Probation Officers’ Firearms Training Fund, an $8 fee supports the Judicial Computer Project, a $250 fee goes to the DNA Detection Fund. Convicted criminals may face dozens of fees (not including fines and restitution) totaling a substantial burden for people of limited means. Fees do not end outside the courtroom. Jailed criminals can be charged for room and board and for telephone use, haircuts, drug tests, transportation, booking, and medical co-pays. In Arizona, visitors to a prison are now charged a $25 maintenance fee. In PA in order to get parole there is a mandatory charge of $60. While on parole, defendants may be further assessed counseling, testing and other fees. Interest builds unpaid fees larger and larger. In Washington state unpaid legal debt accrues at an interest rate of 12%. As a result, the median person convicted in WA sees their criminal justice debtgrow larger over time.

Many states are now even charging the accused to apply for and use a public defender! As a result, some defendants are discouraged from exercising their rights to an attorney.

Most outrageously, in some states public defender, pre-trial jail and other court fees can be assessed on individuals even when they are not convicted of any crime. Failure to pay criminal justice fees can result in revocation of an individual’s drivers license, arrest and imprisonment. Individuals with revoked licenses who drive (say to work to earn money to pay their fees) and are apprehended can be further fined and imprisoned. Unpaid criminal justice debt also results in damaged credit reports and reduced housing and employment prospects. Furthermore, failure to pay fees can mean a violation of probation and parole terms which makes an individual ineligible for Federal programs such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Family funds and Social Security Income for the elderly and disabled.

Arguments against policies like primary seatbelt laws, jaywalking enforcement, traffic cameras, “distracted drivers” laws, and arbitrary speed enforcement are often met with derision. But these laws inevitably become more about revenue generation than public safety, and when local and state governments start to see motorists and pedestrians as piggy banks, you get policies like those above. For a good percentage of the population these fines can be devastating, and for them, there’s nothing petty about the aggressive enforcement of petty crimes.

Reason.com 1/8/14: “Petty Law Enforcement vs. the Poor”

Link to full Reason.com piece HERE.

Petty Law Enforcement vs. the Poor
How the state’s desire to manage our movement harms the poor

Written by Brian Doherty

The New York Times recently noted a new trend in Los Angeles: strict enforcement of jaywalking laws downtown, including the little-known regulation that makes it a crime to enter a crosswalk after the red crosswalk light is flashing—even if that red light, as it often does in L.A., is counting down the seconds until the light changes.

A normal person might assume the city was giving you useful information to make an intelligent judgment as to whether you can make it across the street safely before the light changes. In effect, though, the countdown light is just entrapment to commit an expensive—$197—infraction.

The New York Times story focused on bourgeois downtown residents and shoppers. (New York itself is a city that manages to thrive despite pretty much never enforcing its own jaywalking laws.) The story didn’t mention that an earlier wave of jaywalking enforcement in Los Angeles began back in 2006, under the aegis of the “Safe Cities Initiative.”

L.A. police had already been issuing over a thousand tickets per month for jaywalking in the name of homeless management. A 2007 study from UCLA law professor emeritus Gary Blasi, “Policing Our Way Out of Homelessness? The First Year of the Safer Cities Initiative on Skid Row,” found such jaywalking or other petty citations given at rates 48 to 69 times those in the rest of the city. It noted that “of the 1,000 people per month who receive citations and are unable to pay the fines, most will face subsequent arrest and jail, even though the original offense may have been littering or a pedestrian signal.”

Some of those ticketed were in wheelchairs or otherwise disabled, or pushing a cart full of all their possessions in front of them as they tried to struggle across the street, says Pete White of Los Angeles Community Action Network, a poverty activist group. Blasi found the timing of skid row lights to be the absolute minimum imaginable for anyone to get across a street.

As damaging as the fines themselves can be, says White, his group also hates strict pedestrian law enforcement because it’s “an excuse for search, harassment, and intimidation of the poor” in a situation where a population of thirteen to fifteen thousand people downtown were receiving nearly that many citations a year.

Lawyer Carol Sobel, who helps represent many downtown L.A. residents who receive such citations, says you can often beat the rap if you go to court (usually because officers don’t show up, or your lawyer can prove they gave a citations that wasn’t legally warranted). But if you cannot beat the rap or pay the fine, that simple ticket for stepping off a curb can lead to an arrest warrant—which many activists think was in part the point of the city’s crackdown to begin with, a component in a general plan of clearing the homeless out of downtown L.A.

Contemplating how something as simple as a ticket for a couple hundred bucks could effectively ruin a life reminded me of the last time I was in traffic court, for driving a car in California with an expired license plate. I heard brief versions of the stories that brought dozens of my fellow citizens before the judge, some facing imprisonment, most just facing fines of more than a thousand dollars (that could lead to imprisonment if not paid).

Every single story that brought them there—overwhelmingly minorities and, my guess based on their demeanor and stories, working class—began with a “small fine” for some traffic-related infraction that, not dispatched with prompt bourgeois responsibility, ballooned to larger fines and/or arrest warrants.

Do the crime, pay the fine, many might think. Why wouldn’t they? Maybe the fine represented too large a part of their disposable income to be dealt with in time, or maybe they just aren’t that skilled at remembering to take care of expensive problems promptly.

Imposing “small fines” for our (often objectively harmless in and of itself) behavior as we move through the world or through traffic is one of the most significant ways Americans interact with the state. Even if the fines don’t balloon to bigger fines and eventual arrest warrants, such interactions open up Americans to violations of dignity (like being publicly jacked up and handcuffed), privacy (you are supposed to identify yourself and give the cops a chance to look into your background), and possibly liberty.

That’s if the traffic stop degenerates into a search, and it’s easy for cops to make that so. The Supreme Court decided in the 1996 case Whren v. U.S. that no matter what a cops’ real motive for pulling you over was, even if he’s really just scrabbling for an excuse to get a closer look at you or your car, if you in fact committed a moving violation, that’s totally cool.

As David A. Harris pointed out in a 1997 article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology called “’Driving While Black’ and All Other Traffic Offense: the Supreme Court and Pretextual Traffic Stops,” a driver is pretty much always committing a moving violation, since they can include actions as vague and open to interpretation as not giving “full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle.”

This means that “any citizen [is] fair game for a stop, almost anytime, anywhere, virtually at the whim of police. Given how important an activity driving has become,” Harris wrote, “Whren changes the Fourth Amendment’s rule that police must have a reason to forcibly interfere in our business.” As Harris goes on to note, and as many studies have indicated, that is going to have a disproportionate effect on minorities which, given American socioeconomics, can mean a disproportionate effect on the poor.

As will the state’s demands that we pay them off in various ways for permission to drive, a core element of modern working life for many. Tom Nordlie, a former assistant public defender in Florida in the 1990s (and, disclosure, an old college buddy), remembers nearly a third of misdemeanor cases he represented involved people driving with licenses suspended (DWLS). A first offense could net two months in jail and a $500 fine—even though the crime did not necessarily cause any harm to anyone.

“In the world of misdemeanor crimes, many offenses come about because people are impulsive, drug-addicted, cruel or avaricious,” Nordlie says. “Most DWLS cases don’t happen for any of those reasons. DWLS cases come about because people are poor. Or, at the very least, because they don’t manage their money well…DWLS is more strongly linked to economics than any other misdemeanor offense.” It frequently occurred because of unpaid tickets, or lack of insurance.

“I had many clients tell me, ‘I had to keep working to have a chance to raise the money I needed to fix this situation, and in order to work, I had to drive.’ Bam. It’s a DWLS charge waiting to happen.”

Nordlie knows “there are situations where someone needs to stop driving, due to demonstrated incompetence or disregard for other peoples’ safety, But in my experience, those situations represent only a small fraction of DWLS cases.”

UCLA’s Donald Shoup, wizard of parking (whose controversial policy proposal is to hugely raise the price of parking) has written on the idea of graduated parking fines, in recognition of the fact that, in his survey of Los Angeles one year, 8 percent of ticketed cars generated 29 percent of tickets.

Shoup isn’t moved by the idea that parking or other violations might disproportionately harm the poor. Lots of people just think “I got a ticket and I’m aggrieved so I’ll say they hurt the poor more,” Shoup says. “It’s like pushing poor people in front of themselves like human shields.” Nevertheless, the graduated fine idea could be used to give a break to the working poor or destitute and could also be applied to moving violations to keep people from losing jobs or ending up in jail over what are ultimately no, or pretty low, harm crimes.

For those who fear traffic mayhem absent strict enforcement of moving violation fines, a study by Shoup, published in a 1973 issue of Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, is tantalizing. He found that in a controlled experiment in Los Angeles in 1968, having motorcycle traffic cops merely observe from a visible place and take no action produced only a one percent rise in injury accidents over a control period. Switching the cop to a policy of approaching violators but merely warning them led to a 13 percent decrease in injury accidents. Perhaps rugged fine-based enforcement isn’t necessary for a civilized and safe roadway.

Macro data on the specific effect of parking and traffic fines and laws on the poor don’t seem to exist. Blasi, the UCLA law professor who studied the effects of jaywalking enforcement in L.A., says “it’s almost impossible to get any kind of data on pure citations, it’s not part of national crime reporting.”

Gathering data or dreaming up policy fixes for to stop the pettiest end of state law enforcement from ruining the lives of the poor isn’t a high priority for academics or even most activists, Blasi says. “Except those representing people on the street, like L.A. Community Action Network, I don’t think anyone pays any attention… [to] policing that seems minor,” he explains. “It’s minor to someone like you or me, but to other folks not at all minor.”

SCPR (Audio) 12/26/2013: “Jordan Downs housing plan marred by contaminated soil problems”

To listen to audio at Southern California Public Radio website, click HERE.

Take Two with Alex Cohen and A Martinez 

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

An ambitious redevelopment project in Watts has locals concerned about the environment. The billion dollar project by the L.A. city housing authority would transform the Jordan Downs housing project into an urban village.

The problem is that the soil is contaminated with lead, arsenic, and other industrial chemicals. Community activists say the city’s plan to clean it up doesn’t go far enough.

Joining us now is one of those activists, Pete White. He’s a co-founder of the LA Community Action Network.

What the Hell: So Jaywalking tickets are fine as long as they go to poor, predominantly Black, people in Downtown Los Angeles.

I’m taking this opportunity to call foul! The recent “firestorm” about jaywalking tickets http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-jaywalking-20131218,0,6633088.story#axzz2nyPUszgU in downtown would be laughable if not for the obvious…poor and homeless people of color have been targeted for the same offense (allegedly stepping off the curb after the light starts blinking); handcuffed and detained for inordinate periods of time; and ticketed over and over again on the same streets, for nearly eight years.

Since the launch of the Safer Cities Initiative in 2006 the LAPD has written as many as 1,000 tickets (mostly jaywalking) per month in Downtown Los Angeles. The majority of those tickets have been given to poor, homeless and disabled residents living within the rapidly gentrified boundaries of the city’s center. To put it in perspective that is 1,000 tickets, per month, given to a population of 12,000 – 15,000 people.

Ironically, this is not a new situation. There have been numerous studies and reports done; residents have lobbied the LAPD, the Police Commission, Mayor Villaraigosa, Department of Justice and numerous other duty-bearers; there have been numerous public actions and protests to decry the discriminatory actions  but the complaints fell on deaf ears.

The jaywalking tickets reached such outlandish proportions that it led to the development of the LA CAN Citation Defense Clinic. Week in and week out lawyers from the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation and large downtown law firms provided legal representation for residents in downtown to fight against a system that was clearly tantamount to the creation of a debtors prison. But it wasn’t just large firms that responded to this obvious targeting of poor people. Carol Sobel, Gary Blasi, John Raphling and many other lawyers and students brought their resources to bear to stop the ticketing. Research was done; numerous meetings with the City Attorney’s Office happened; meetings with judges in charge of Metropolitan Court happened and plenty of press releases went out…but never the type of FIRESTORM (editorials and such) that we are being bombarded with today.

So, why is that?

The only thing different  is the socio-economic status and race of those (few people) whose privilege is suddenly challenged.

Could it simply be implicit bias? Or, is it institutional and structural racism on full display before our eyes. Is it really the media’s way of saying that poor and homeless people should only be spoken of during holiday dinners served by celebrities? Or, in the case of Downtown poorest residents, Black and Brown residents, are you saying that their humanity simply doesn’t matter?

Rest assure, the FEW tickets given to privileged newcomers in Downtown Los Angeles pale in comparison to the 10’s of thousands DOCUMENTED tickets given to poor Downtowner’s. And, if this outcry is truly about injustice you would feel  duty-bound to lift the injustice in its entirety. You would say, “what’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander!”

There is plenty of EMPIRICAL data, if you so choose to search. You can start right on our blog and that will lead to the United Nations (yes, they had something to say about this) and numerous reports and publications. We look forward to reading fair and balanced coverage of an issue that has crippled many in our community; oftentimes leaving them without Driver’s Licenses; with outstanding arrest warrants because they can’t afford to pay multiple tickets; and, short circuiting their ability to take a step forward.

 

 

Bratton’s Return as NYC’s “Top Cop”: Hold the Press!

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To say that Chief Bratton’s return to the NYPD is troublesome would be an understatement. His reinstatement highlights the shockingly short institutional memory of politicians eager to use Bratton’s well developed media appeal.  Unfortunately, beyond the headlines and soundbites, Bratton’s true impact comes at the expense of poor communities of color. Upon announcement of his return to the position of NYC’s “top cop” there has been nothing short of an all-out media fawning for the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Oddly, Los Angeles has been used to justify and prop-up why NYCs “top cop” is worthy of returning to his East Coast throne. But missing is the readily available facts that paint the real picture of Bratton’s reign in Los Angeles.

For example, Dennis Hamill of tge Daily News writes a fluff piece (non-critical evaluation of things sputtered by Bratton) that simply allows Bratton to control the narrative. In one especially bothersome and long quote Bratton is allowed to talk about;  1) how he supports and utilized stop and frisk in Los Angeles; and, 2) how it was not focused on “good kids on the way home from school or work.” (See Full Article HERE)

A simple internet search would have led Hamill to the extensive campaign organized by the Labor/Community Strategy Center’s Community Rights Campaign who have led a multi-year effort to stop the ticketing and harassment of these exact “good kids” going to and from school–a policy ushered in by Chief Bratton and is another manifestation of his celebrated stop and frisk strategy. In fact, a staggering 47,000 tickets, from 2004-2009, were issued to predominantly African American and Latino students. Hamill could have also searched the LA Times would have found extensive coverage on the subject matter.   And if that was not enough information, he could have simply picked up the phone and made a few calls to those who were working on the ground in poor communities of color under Bratton’s tenure in LA to ensure journalistic integrity was applied.

But it’s not just Hamill’s article.  There has been a wave of articles since Chief Bratton’s reinstatement and very few of them have been critical of his record in Los Angeles. Instead, we have been bombarded with Bratton quotes and politically connected civil rights advocates assertions that have nothing to do with the realities in our communities. LA CAN will work to set the record straight as the “Bratton media express” rolls out its fabricated versions of Los Angeles policing because the record should be clear and authentic.

Please visit often because until fair and balanced journalism happens we will continue to provide a blow-by blow accounting of Bratton’s racist and brutal policing practices we experienced here in LA, and especially Downtown LA.

Fighting for a Homeless Bill of Rights: A look From the Front Lines

Hollywood, CA–

The food and medical services provided for poor people on Sycamore and Romaine Streets has been going on for nearly a quarter. Recently there has been a campaign by Los Angeles Councilmember LaBonge and “neighbors” to shut the services down. Connected to the shutdown is a larger attempt to create policy that would effectively stop charitable services from being provided on public property. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until freedom comes and will not sit by idly while special interests dictate how we take care of one another.

COURT APPROVES $1.5 MILLION HUNTINGTON HOTEL LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT

LOS ANGELES, CA (November 15, 2013) — The Honorable Richard Rico of the Los Angeles Superior Court approved a $1.5 million settlement of a lawsuit brought against the owners of the Huntington Hotel in downtown Los Angeles today. The lawsuit was brought by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) and Steptoe & Johnson LLP, on behalf of three individual tenants and the Los Angeles Community Action Network, a community based organization. The lawsuit was based on the unlawful displacement of at least 60 tenants living in a historical building downtown, in the throes of gentrification. The tenants alleged that after an ownership change, they were subjected to illegal rent increases, discrimination, harassment and retaliation as the owner attempted to force them out while circumventing statutory tenant protections. All of the individual plaintiffs represented by LAFLA were elderly and/or persons with disabilities. Many became homeless after leaving the Huntington.

The $1.5 million settlement includes monetary relief for individual plaintiffs’ emotional distress and statutory damages, for LA CAN’s lost resources, a relocation fund for other displaced Huntington tenants, and attorneys’ fees and costs. “It is very difficult to put a monetary value on the cost of being rendered homeless, like so many tenants were,” stated Barbara Schultz, attorney for the plaintiffs. “But at least individual plaintiffs can now afford to improve their living situation, and other displaced tenants are eligible for the pool of relocation funds.”

During the course of the litigation, filed December 2011, the plaintiffs won three preliminary injunctions, based on the legal rental amounts of the units, disability and source of income discrimination, and the right of one individual tenant to return to her unit after an unlawful eviction. “The Huntington Hotel tenants endured some of the worst conditions in the City for years, and then got illegally pushed out as the conditions finally improved. The settlement creates a means to compensate dozens of tenants for this harm, though the City and other regulators must do more upfront to prevent these things from happening at all,” said Becky Dennison, Co-Executive Director of LA CAN.

LAFLA will be honoring Steptoe & Johnson LLP at their Access to Justice Dinner on December 3, 2013 for their laudable pro bono assistance on this case. Find more information at: http://www.lafla.org/access.php.

CONTACTS:

Barbara Schultz, Esq. – Legal Aid Foundation of Law Angeles 213.640.3826
John Swenson, Esq.- Steptoe & Johnson LLP 213.439.9424
Becky Dennison – Los Angeles Community Action Network 213.840.4664

COURT APPROVES $1.5 MILLION HUNTINGTON HOTEL LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT

LOS ANGELES, CA (November 15, 2013) — The Honorable Richard Rico of the Los Angeles Superior Court approved a $1.5 million settlement of a lawsuit brought against the owners of the Huntington Hotel in downtown Los Angeles today. The lawsuit was brought by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) and Steptoe & Johnson LLP, on behalf of three individual tenants and the Los Angeles Community Action Network, a community based organization. The lawsuit was based on the unlawful displacement of at least 60 tenants living in a historical building downtown, in the throes of gentrification.  The tenants alleged that after an ownership change, they were subjected to illegal rent increases, discrimination, harassment and retaliation as the owner attempted to force them out while circumventing statutory tenant protections.  All of the individual plaintiffs represented by LAFLA were elderly and/or persons with disabilities. Many became homeless after leaving the Huntington.

The $1.5 million settlement includes monetary relief for individual plaintiffs’ emotional distress and statutory damages, for LA CAN’s lost resources, a relocation fund for other displaced Huntington tenants, and attorneys’ fees and costs. “It is very difficult to put a monetary value on the cost of being rendered homeless, like so many tenants were,” stated Barbara Schultz, attorney for the plaintiffs. “But at least individual plaintiffs can now afford to improve their living situation, and other displaced tenants are eligible for the pool of relocation funds.”

During the course of the litigation, filed December 2011, the plaintiffs won three preliminary injunctions, based on the legal rental amounts of the units, disability and source of income discrimination, and the right of one individual tenant to return to her unit after an unlawful eviction. “The Huntington Hotel tenants endured some of the worst conditions in the City for years, and then got illegally pushed out as the conditions finally improved. The settlement creates a means to compensate dozens of tenants for this harm, though the City and other regulators must do more upfront to prevent these things from happening at all,” said Becky Dennison, Co-Executive Director of LA CAN.

LAFLA will be honoring Steptoe & Johnson LLP at their Access to Justice Dinner on December 3, 2013 for their laudable pro bono assistance on this case. Find more information at: http://www.lafla.org/access.php.

CONTACTS:

Barbara Schultz, Esq. – Legal Aid Foundation of Law Angeles 213.640.3826
John Swenson, Esq.- Steptoe & Johnson LLP 213.439.9424
Becky Dennison – Los Angeles Community Action Network 213.840.4664

And Ya Dont’ Stop!: Continuing the Fight Against the Criminalization of Our Communities

This week LA CAN members and allies continued our fight against the increasing criminalization of poor communities of color throughout the City of Los Angeles.

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AB 5 SUPPORTS

On Saturday, over a dozen community organizations convened to launch the California Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign (see photos above). After an overview of the campaign goals, those in attendance broke out into small groups to outline campaign strategies and create an action plan for the next few months. The campaign will be a long and hard fight, but when the event ended it was clear that organizations in Southern California are committed to organizing to protect and uplift the Human Rights of Homeless individuals throughout California and beyond!

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On Tuesday, LA CAN continued a busy week of Anti-Criminalization actions at both the LAPD Commission and the LA County Board of Supervisors.  At the Board of Commissioners, LA CAN members were on hand to let the newly appointed Commissioners know that while the Board has changed, the devastating impact of LAPD’s Safer Cities Initiative has not. We demanded a new commitment to dialogue as well as a Town Hall specifically on the Safter Cities Initiative, which has continued to make Skid Row the most heavily policed and criminalized community in the country. Just down the street, LA CAN members joined the No New Jails Coalition to demand that the LA County Board of Supervisors reverse its decision to create a $10 million contract with the City of Taft and instead put more resources into rehabilitation (NOT more incarceration). See the video above for more information. Stay tuned for more information on how you can get involved in the fight. Until then, ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

JOIN US at the Homeless Bill of Rights SoCal Launch Event THIS SATURDAY!

1186126_10201139849032034_1743356466_nJoin LA CAN, Hunger Action LA, the LA Human Right to Housing Collective, W.O.R.K.S. and many more THIS SATURDAY for the Southern California Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign Launch Event.

Saturday, October 5 | 10am – 12pm
Young Burlington Apartments | 820 S. Burlington, Los Angeles, CA 90057

For more information or to RSVP please call 213.228.0024.

HBR Campaign Flyer - 19 September 2013

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LA CAN and the LA Human Right to Housing Collective at the Joint City Planning Commission/Affordable Housing Commission Meeting in Van Nuys.

Downtown LA for the California Little Hoover Commission Meeting on Realignment?

LA CAN IN THE HOUSE!

Mid-Wilshire for Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles Commission Meeting?

LA CAN IN THE HOUSE!

Van Nuys for the Joint City Planning Commission/Affordable Housing Commission Meeting on the LA Housing Element?

 LA CAN IN THE HOUSE!

Highland Park for a Community Pop-Up Market Training?

 LA CAN IN THE HOUSE! 

The people power of LA CAN was felt across the City of LA this morning as community leaders raised their voices on behalf of low-income Skid Row and South LA residents in meetings in Downtown LA, Mid-Wilshire, Van Nuys, AND Highland Park. Whether it be fighting for the housing rights of public housing residents, increasing access to fresh and nutritious food for low-income communities of color, or stopping all jail expansion plans – if there’s a decision-making table gathering, you better believe we’ll be there fighting alongside our fellow sister and brother freedom fighters!

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Members of the LA CAN Civil Rights Committee at the Ronald Reagan State Building, (at the Little Hoover Commission hearing) in Downtown LA voicing the need for more housing and services versus further costly prison expansion. Siding with previous findings of the Little Hoover Commission LA CAN knows, personally, that scores of CA inmates would be better served in outpatient settings.

So, what did YOU do today?

Hoover Commission –

Ok prisoners to be sent to another city.

LA TIMES 9/19/13: “More people, making more money, are flocking to downtown L.A.”

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Link to Los Angeles Times article HERE.
By Emily Alpert
September 19, 2013, 4:09 p.m.

More people are flocking to downtown Los Angeles — and they have more money to spend, downtown advocates declared as they unveiled the results of a new study Thursday.

“We have more people. They’re making more money. They are more educated. And they are demanding more,” said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District.

Schatz based her comments on an online survey promoted through community newspaper ads, postcards and door hangers. It drew responses from more than 8,800 people, including more than 3,700 residents. The group cautioned the study was not a “census,” but a sampling of “likely consumers.”

It found that median household incomes of downtown residents had risen by 10% since its last survey two years ago, and that downtowners were also increasingly educated.

The Downtown Center Business Investment District, funded by special taxes in the downtown area, hopes the results spur more investment in the urban core. People who live, work or visit downtown said they were especially interested in a Trader Joe’s or new department stores such as Nordstrom, the survey found. A Whole Foods is already on the way.

But the changes reshaping the city center have also raised worries about whether poorer residents will be served by a gentrified downtown.

“Low-income and middle-income people are also consumers,” said Becky Dennison, co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, an advocacy group for people in poverty. “Everybody needs to be taken into account when looking at the future.”

The survey was released to reporters in a bright 9th Street loft owned by architect Simon Ha and his wife, Nikki Olson-Ha.

When they moved downtown six years ago, friends and family asked whether it was safe and where they would get groceries, Ha said. Now, people who hear they live downtown ask about new restaurants and how the neighborhood has changed, he said.

MintPress News 9/12/13: “Chicago Officers Have A New Way To Police The Streets: On Foot”

Link to article HERE.

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By Katie Rucke
September 12, 2013

Chicago Police patrol the neighborhood, Monday, Aug. 26. 2013 in Chicago, Ill. The Chicago Police Department is experimenting with on-foot patrols in attempt to reduce violent crime. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

In an effort to reduce crime on the streets of Chicago, the Chicago Police Department has expanded the use of foot patrols to 20 of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

The surge of on-foot officers in Chicago first began in March. Twenty rookie officers were stationed in “impact zones” on the South and West Sides of the city, where reportedly 20 percent of all violent crimes have occurred in the past three years.

Since the implementation of the foot patrols, the department has reported a decrease in the number of homicides and shootings. Officers also have seized more than 1,550 illegal firearms.

As of 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2013, there have been 299 homicides in Chicago this year, compared with 377 during the same time period in 2012. However, compared with the numbers from 2011, there has been a slight increase in the number of homicides this year.

Arthur Lurigio is a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University in Chicago. He said he views an increase in foot patrols as positive. “Residents are more likely to talk to the police and provide them with information about crimes occurring or crimes in the making,” Lurigio said, adding that the police presence not only makes people feel safer but increases the likelihood residents are out of their homes, visiting neighbors and local businesses, which he says also deters crime.

Howard Brookins, alderman of Chicago’s Ward 21, agrees with Lurigio that foot patrols will help lessen the city’s crime rate. “Some 40 years ago my father was a police officer and walked a beat,” he said. “We’ve gone too much to the technology, too much to cars, horses and all-terrain vehicles and not enough to the old fashioned policing.”

On-foot patrols are the oldest form of police patrol. The resurgence of this type of police work in troubled neighborhoods occurred in the early 2000s when the New York Police Department began having cops routinely walk through violent neighborhoods. The man behind the NYPD’s use of foot patrol is the same person behind Chicago’s “Operation Impact” — Garry McCarthy.

McCarthy, who is Superintendent of the CPD, said, “These officers are making a real difference, they’re working to stop crimes from happening, they’re making arrests when necessary and connecting with the community all at the same time.”

Talking to a local NBC affiliate, McCarthy claimed that the use of foot patrols in 20 targeted areas throughout the city has led to a reduction in shootings by 48 percent, murders by 45 percent and overall crime by 29 percent, which he says is twice as much as city-wide averages.

 

Does it work?

While McCarthy and Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) boast the new foot patrol program, not everyone is convinced foot patrols really benefit a city.

In 2009, the Philadelphia Police Department and researchers from the Department of Criminal Justice and Temple University conducted an experiment on the effectiveness of on-foot police patrols.

In the group’s experiment, researchers identified the highest violent crime corners in Philadelphia by using data from 2006 to 2008. Police commanders then assigned 120 foot patrol areas around these highly violent areas. During a three-month period, the group reported that the foot patrols prevented 53 violent crimes and violent crime decreased overall by 23 percent.

The researchers reported that during the foot patrol experiment, drug-related incident detections increased by 15 percent, pedestrian stops increased by 64 percent, vehicle stops increased by 7 percent and arrests increased by 13 percent.

That study only examined the effects of foot patrols for a three-month time period. But a different group of researchers examined the long-term effects of having officers on foot and discovered that once foot patrols were removed from an area, crime levels returned to levels before experiment of foot patrol officers were introduced.

So while foot patrols may be an effective way to reduce crime, they do not necessarily work to prevent crime in the long term. They are seen, however, as a way to improve a police departments relationship with community members, as the officers are not only more visible, but are more likely to engage with community members on a regular basis.

In addition to building a relationship with officers, foot patrol experiments have found that citizens begin to see their communities as safer and better places to live, which the Police Foundation, an organization that researches policing strategies, said was “something no other police strategy has been able to do.”

 

On foot and ready to stop-and-frisk

While the Temple University study found that foot patrols helped reduce crime levels, another found that foot patrol officers techniques more often include stop-and-frisk policies, which may cause increased tension in some communities.

In Los Angeles, officers on foot patrols reported that after a few years patrolling the streets, they have increasingly been asked by residents and local businesses to remove panhandlers and homeless persons sleeping on the sidewalks.

Becky Dennison, co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, which advocates for the homeless and low-income communities, said that she doesn’t understand how the police department can spend money on foot patrol officers when the city has had to cut other parts of the budget due to the state of the economy.

“In terms of allocation of officers, I really don’t understand this, especially in an era when finally the LAPD is seeing some [budget] cuts, to continue to pour officers into Central because the business community says crime might go up,” Dennison said. “It’s questionable public policy.”

Some in Chicago have also raised an issue about the cost of the foot patrols, especially since the city had toclose 50 public schools last May, citing budget problems.

But others like Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the Central City Association, view the foot patrol as an investment in a city’s success.

“There hasn’t been an area in the entire county of Los Angeles that has not benefited from making Downtown come alive,” said Schatz. “When people are sleeping on the streets… it affects our ability to continue to attract investment and continue to make this Downtown thrive.”

Another issue for some is which officers, exactly, carry out these foot patrols — rookies. In Chicago, officers who have just completed their mandatory 12 weeks of field training after graduating from the police academy are the ones walking the most violent streets of Chicago.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing rank-and-file police officers, shared some concernsabout the rookie officers’ safety. Police watchdog groups have also expressed concern that those armed officers patrolling the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods are the newest members of the CPD and were not given the opportunity to work with an experienced officer.

“They’re just out there in their groups with radios and guns doing 12-hour shifts at straight time for a 60-hour week,” wrote one blogger. “Talk about taking advantage.”

LA TIMES 8/31/13: “L.A.’s urban parks: for the homeless too?”

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 2.06.14 PMLink to Los Angeles Times article HERE.

By Gale Holland
August 31, 2013, 10:00 a.m.

Dawn was breaking when three scruffy men in dark clothing trudged past Grand Park’s bubble-gum-pink benches and into its purple-tiled bathrooms to wash up.

The early-morning ablutions have become a daily ritual for homeless men at the 1-year-old park across the street from Los Angeles City Hall. But their presence has done little to dim the appeal of the $56-million, county-owned venue, as office workers, loft-dwelling professionals, curious suburbanites and, yes, the homeless flock to evening concerts, public ceremonies, fireworks shows and farmers’ markets.

“I went to the opera the other night,” said Tom Hackett, 60, a former garbage collector from upstate New York and one of the regulars at the homeless bathroom lineup. “I’ve never been to an opera.”

The situation isn’t so harmonious in other downtown parks, however, as officials’ efforts to make the facilities more welcoming to the new urbanites have spurred claims of harassment by skid row advocates.

These efforts have also led to homeless nudged out of one park simply relocating to others blocks away — a reminder that even as much of downtown crackles with new, upscale condos, bars, restaurants and stores, the central city’s revival still depends on maintaining an uneasy truce with one of the nation’s largest concentrations of people living in the streets.

“It’s a game of cat and mouse,” said UCLA law professor Gary Blasi, who has studied homelessness in Los Angeles, “except the mice have nowhere to go.”

In the last year, the city and county have opened or planned several new public spaces, including Grand Park, Spring Street Park, an Arts District park and a parcel next to Grand Park to be developed and managed by the city. They join parks that have welcomed visitors for many decades, including Pershing Square, the grassy grounds of City Hall and the historic sites near Olvera Street that mark the city’s founding.

Park managers at Spring Street and Grand Park included extensive regulations and design elements to discourage homeless people from camping out. Grand Park’s open spaces, stretching 12 acres from Bunker Hill to the foot of City Hall, in the shadow of the criminal court building, offer few hiding places for prostitutes or drug users. It’s also farther away from skid row than some other parks, keeping the homeless count comparatively low.

But five blocks south, a resident describes Pershing Square, the city’s original central park, as a “day-care center” for homeless people. The city is trying to change the park’s character with a whirlwind of movies, concert series and farmers’ markets.

“The homeless need somewhere to sit and be,” said Kevin Regan, a park administrator. “We just aren’t going to let them live there.”

Skid row activists call it harassment.

A Los Angeles Community Action Network activist known as General Dogon leads a weekly patrol at Pershing Square and other downtown parks to monitor what he says is widespread intimidation of the poor and homeless.

Dogon pointed out concrete seating in the shade that had been cordoned off with yellow police tape. A chain blocked access to the lawn. Restrooms in the underground garage are off-limits to anyone without a parking ticket, and cafe tables with umbrellas where homeless people once rested are hauled out only for the noon concerts and other activities.

Police patrol cars park, sometimes two abreast, on the concrete plaza around the fountain, and officers stop people for loitering, Dogon said.

“How do you loiter in a park?” Dogon said.

Park officials said the seating is tied off for cleaning or so farmers can store their crates during market days. The grass is off-limits to protect the sound system or to prepare for concerts.

Police and city officials deny any bullying campaign, saying their enforcement efforts are directed at illegal activities.

“We welcome anybody from anywhere into any of our parks,” said Rick Coca, spokesman for Councilman Jose Huizar.

“The key is keeping the area in a way that can be used by all,” said Los Angeles police Capt. Horace Frank, who heads the downtown detail.

Police stepped up their presence at Pershing Square last year in response to complaints afterOccupy Los Angeles was forcibly ejected from the City Hall lawn, Frank said. Remnants of the group disrupted the farmers’ market, urinating on walls, grabbing food samples and demanding spare change, the market manager said.

As Occupiers drifted away from Pershing Square, a rowdy encampment arose outside El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, home to Olvera Street and the site of the city’s founding. People partied to all hours and tossed needles over the wall into La Plaza de Cultura y Artes — a museum focused on the contributions of Mexican Americans in Southern California — said Father Richard Estrada, the parish priest at nearby La Placita church.

“It was like a tent city all day long,” he said.

A city-county task force was formed to clean up the encampment, and some of the tarp-covered shopping carts and tents can now be seen at Father Serra Park, across the street from Union Station.

Climbing out of a tour bus with his family, Berlin tourist Nico Gruenberger looked askance at the huddle in Serra Park, with their plush blankets and carts bristling with plastic bags.

“In Germany we have homeless people, but [this is] a historical part of the city,” Gruenberger said. “Here, unfortunately, everything is together.”

Frank said people have complained about the homeless camp at Serra Park, but other “people put out a blanket, so do they. All you can do is shift them around.”

The newest downtown green space, Spring Street Park, opened in June between 4th and 5th streets. The sign at the entrance lists 12 rules, including a ban on shopping carts. Its metal perforated benches discourage lying down, and there are no little enclosed “alcoves,” said downtown neighborhood council President Patti Berman. So far, the only open conflict has been over loose dogs, she said.

But at less than two-thirds of an acre, including a playground, the small park needs to be watched closely to make sure everyone is comfortable and safe, Berman said. She heads a nonprofit that is raising private money to pay for a full-time city ranger to patrol the park.

Not long after Spring Street Park opened, a security guard at the loft building next door called police to investigate two men suspected of cooking heroin purchased on skid row. Zach Calig, a television writer, came down from his condo to find his cousin, whom he hadn’t seen for years, slumped on the ground in handcuffs.

Calig said he is in recovery from substance abuse himself and understands how people end up addicted and homeless. But he doesn’t want them overrunning his neighborhood park.

“We don’t want it to be Pershing Square,” he said. “We want it to be Grand Avenue park.”

Standing on the side of Human Rights, Standing beside the Hunger Strikers in CA’s Prisons

We say no to human rights violations in all forms. It is not enough to rise up and protest conditions that happen afar (though that is necessary as well) without first lifting a finger to the egregious violations happening a stones throw away. The demands for humanity coming from behind the walls of California’s state prisons need to be heard and acted upon by all. The demands are clear and need your support now!

The Pelican Bay Five Core Demands:

1. Eliminate group punishments and administrative abuse.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.

3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons and end long-term solitary confinement.

4. Provide adequate and nutritious food.

5. Create and expand constructive programming.

LA CAN and friends say, “No New Jails” in Los Angeles County!

Los Angeles residents, organizations and activists say no to a planned jail expansion in Los Angeles County. The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors is currently exploring five proposals offered by Vanir Construction Management Inc. that include building a “mental health facility” (jail) and a “women’s village” (also a jail) at a cost of $1.3 – $1.6 billion dollars. Nowhere in the Vanir proposal is any alternative(s) to building new jail facilities. The proposal is short-sighted and residents are gearing up for a fight to have those dollars placed in community-based crime prevention solutions like housing, services and economic opportunities. Get involved today and please comment on the video. Even the LA Times Editorial section has questions. 

Get involved.

Deborah Burton Not Guilty on All Charges!

We hope July 11 ends the years of targeted efforts by the LAPD and LA’s City Attorney to criminalize organizing, dissent and public protest by LA CAN and dozens of other organizations across Los Angeles.  We know the tactic of criminalizing political movements goes well into our history and well beyond Los Angeles – but yesterday marked a key victory in preventing these attacks on those working for justice.

Yesterday afternoon, a jury found Deborah Burton not guilty on 8 charges of assault and battery, including the “lesser charges” the City Attorney was able to include in the jury instructions.  These unjust charges stemmed from a legal protest of the Central City East Association’s public safety walk in June 2011.  Charges were filed in August 2012 and Deborah has shouldered this burden on behalf of LA CAN and the social justice movement in Los Angeles since then.  She stood strong and firm, and truth and justice prevailed!

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LA CAN is proud to have Deborah as a long time member and organizer – she continues to demonstrate on a daily basis what commitment, dedication, compassion and bravery look like as she works to defend and promote human rights in Downtown and South LA.  We thank all of our members, staff, Board, community partners, and others who supported us leading up to and during this case.  We express deepest gratitude to John Raphling, who defended Deborah and continues to provide much needed legal representation to community organizers and activists in Los Angeles.

We are all Deborah Burton!  And we are all NOT GUILTY!

group picture after verdict

See community partner’s perspective at NESRI’s blog HERE.

Visit past blog posts for more information on this case – such as HEREand HERE.

CBS 2: “Protestors Demand LAPD Investigate Charges Against Community Organizer”

Click HERE to view CBS 2 Coverage of today’s action.

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Dozens of human rights protestors gathered Tuesday morning to protest charges filed against a community organizer.

The group marched into a Los Angeles Commission board meeting at 9 a.m. at the LAPD Headquarters at 110 W. 1st St.

The organizers were demanding the LAPD Commission investigate the case against 62-year-old Deborah Burton, who has been charged with three counts of assault for alleged actions during a protest.

“It’s a cloud hanging over my head, because I didn’t do anything wrong,” Burton said.

Burton was charged in August 2012 for her actions at a legal protest in June 2011.

“You can absolutely see there is a conspiracy against Los Angeles Community Action Network and human rights organizers and defenders,” protest organizer Hamid Khan said. “We’re demanding that the abuse of power and the charges be dropped by the Los Angeles Police Commission.”

The protestors are asking the LAPD to investigate the case, rescind what they call “faulty evidence” and drop all charges against Burton.

LAPD Commander Andrew Smith says the organizers have a right to let themselves be heard, but the department has no comment regarding the issue.

Burton’s trial is set to begin on June 26.

The community-based organizations involved include: Dream Team LA, IDEPSCA, Immigrant Youth Coalition, Labor/Community Strategy Center, Los Angeles Anti-Eviction Campaign, Los Angeles Community Action Network, Los Angeles Human Right to Housing Collective, POWER, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Union de Vecinos and Youth Justice Coalition.

Unearthing the Truth: Drugs, Addiction, Race and Poverty Forum and Book Signing with Dr. Carl Hart

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Unearthing the Truth: Drugs, Addiction, Race and Poverty Forum and Book Signing with Dr. Carl Hart
June 20th, 2013 6:00pm – 9:00pm
www.highpricethebook.com

From the streets of Miami to becoming Columbia University’s first tenured African-American professor in the sciences, Dr. Carl Hart writes about his journey into academia and seamlessly interweaves his groundbreaking research on addiction. Join us on June 20th at 6pm Loyola Marymount University University Hall in the Ahmanson Auditorium, (1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90045).

Click HERE to view an interview with Dr. Carl Hart on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.

Click here for interactive map Click here for pre-paid parking instructions Admission is Free but RSVP required by June 18th to la@drugpolicy.org.

Unequal and Targeted Enforcement Escalated again on Main Street Yesterday – People Cited for Handing out Seedlings to the Community and Police Monitor Arrested

Downtown Los Angeles gentrification continues to reach all-time lows as LAPD carries on with its mission to rid downtown of poor and homeless, and mostly Black, faces. In the May 20th episode, LAPD took action to stop…wait for it…a seedling give-a-way in front of the LA CAN office. The bustling operation, coordinated by LA CAN’s community gardeners in front of our office, was being visited by a vast array of downtown stakeholders. In fact, our garden project almost always demonstrates the real potential of bringing together disparate communities and realizing the purported vision of a “mixed-income” downtown – there is widespread support for community gardens and giving residents access to seedlings to start their own gardens of any size.

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The Great Plant Caper – Seedling Give-Away at LA CAN

LAPD Officer Owens apparently isn’t a fan of gardening, but is fine with perpetrating the Jim Crow policing used under Downtown’s Safer Cities Initiative.  The tool of choice for years to move poor and homeless people off Main Street has the been the enforcement of municipal code 41.18D – no sleeping or sitting on the sidewalk.  And that’s what Officer Owens was doing yesterday – issuing a ticket to an elderly gentleman sitting in a portable stool and two LA CAN members sitting in chairs handing out seedlings.  Never mind that all parties cited were actually on private property – within 3 feet from a private building.  Never mind that a legal settlement agreement requires LAPD to give people warnings and the opportunity to comply BEFORE citing or arresting anyone for 41.18D.

Fully aware of their rights, and the actual 41.18 D rules, the LA CAN members stated they could not be cited for 41.18D and requested to speak to a supervisor. Instead, within minutes, nearly a dozen police responded to the plant give-away “crime scene.”  Thelmy Perez was monitoring this incredibly over-use of LAPD with her cell phone camera when she was seized by three officers and arrested.  Thelmy was released later in the day and now faces a charge of interfering with police investigation.  Sean and Esteban also received misdemeanor citations for their community gardening activities, and Jody, our elderly neighbor, faces misdemeanor charges for just sitting down for a brief rest. 

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Monitoring Police as they Detain Community Gardeners

We of course won’t accept Jim Crow in Skid Row – we will continue to fight for equal rights and equal enforcement through local fights and statewide fights like YES on AB 5, the Homeless Bill of Rights.  We will also fight these four cases together and ensure this most recent round of criminalization of perfectly legal community activities and organizing does not stick! LA CAN will continue our community gardening and seedling give-away programs in public space as well.

Yesterday is unfortunately just one example of the blatant selective enforcement and civil rights violations that define the Safer Cities Initiative, and the continued criminalization of organizers who stand up against these violations.  If you aren’t familiar with Main Street – wealthier residents and visitors sit and stand on the street regularly.  Below you will see the bench in front of the Nickel Diner and the tables and chairs for the new “Creamery”  – where their upscale customers sit without any police harassment, within a block of LA CAN.  Apparently the Nickel Diner can put a bench in front of their establishment (complete with a sign that says “customers only”), but LA CAN members can’t be found in chairs in front of our office.   Again – we won’t accept this and will fight for equity on Main Street and throughout all of LA and beyond.

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Fiddler Creamory

Nickel Diner

LAPD Opens Fire on Skid Row Corner (AGAIN), At Least 1 Person Shot and Killed

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This morning, LAPD officers shot into a crowd on the corner of 5th and Wall in Skid Row. At least one person was shot and killed. LA CAN is still looking into the matter and collecting information from witnesses.

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However, even if LAPD were responding to a crime, was everyone on the corner a suspect? If not, then why shoot multiple rounds in the middle of one of the busiest corners in Skid Row? How many innocent people were put in danger? Were any of them wounded?

This is not the first time this happened. Police officers shooting into crowds of civilians does not make the community safer. It is extremely dangerous and completely unacceptable. Community residents will not stand by idly and allow this to happen. We demand answers and accountability!

CCEA Illegally Using Bolt Cutters to Steal Skid Row Resident Property

Yesterday the LA CAN Community Watch Team came upon the Central City East Association (CCEA) Security Guards attempting to use bolt cutters to illegally confiscate the property of a Skid Row resident. The team intervened to prevent them from stealing the private property, which was clearly not abandoned. However, when the team returned an hour later, the property was gone and the lock was cut.

A September 2012 decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an injunction that bars the City of Los Angeles and LAPD from seizing the property of Skid Row residents. However, private Business Improvement District officers continue to illegally steal property from residents. They regularly claim that this property is abandoned, but LA CAN has documented time and time again that this is not the case. More often than not the property belongs to residents who step away for a few minutes to use the restroom, get a meal, or engage in other life sustaining activities.

Homeless Bill of Rights Passes the CA Assembly Judiciary Committee!

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Dozens of homeless individuals, organizers, and advocates were on hand on April 23 as the Homeless Bill of Rights and Fairness Act (also known as Assembly Bill 5, or AB 5) passed out of the Judiciary Committee of the California State Assembly with at 7-2 vote.

LA CAN sent a delegation up the Sacramento to make sure the voices of Skid Row residents were heard on this important legislation. Amongst other things, the Homeless Bill of Rights would protect homeless people’s right to use public space and engage in life-sustaining activities such as sleeping and resting. It would also create hygiene centers for people who don’t have access to bathroom or basic hygiene needs and protect homeless peoples’ right to personal property and belongings.

However, contrary to many reports (including the ABC 7 clip posted above), AB 5 would not permit anyone, homeless or not, to harass people on the streets or maliciously block sidewalks. Nor would it allow people to urinate and defecate publicly or allow homeless people to harm or interfere with local businesses’ operations.

AB 5 is not about creating special rights. Rather, it is about ensuring equal rights for homeless individuals.

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The successful Judiciary Committee vote marked a win for a growing movement. However, we still have a lot of work ahead.  AB 5 now heads to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations, and then, hopefully, to the full assembly by late Spring/early Summer. For more information or to get involved, visit wraphome.org.

Coverage of the Judiciary Committee Vote on AB5:

Associated Press – “Bill says homeless have right to be on the street
LA Weekly – “Homeless rights Act Says Homeless Can Sleep Outdoors Without Arrest
Sacramento Bee – “Updated homeless ‘bill of rights’ passes CA legislative committee
San Francisco Examiner – “S.F. lawmaker’s ‘homeless bill of rights’ passes state Assembly committee
San Francisco Gate – “Scaled-down homeless rights law advances

PRESS RELEASE: The Dirty Divide Highlights the Continued Lack of Public Health Equity for Poor Downtown Residents

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PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                             

Contact: Becky Dennison, Los Angeles Community Action Network (213) 840-4664

The Dirty Divide Highlights the Continued Lack of Public Health Equity for Poor Downtown Resident

LOS ANGELES — On April 11, the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) released The Dirty Divide, a participatory research project that highlights the continued lack of public health infrastructure for poor residents residing in Downtown Los Angeles – with a particular focus on trash services and restrooms.

“Dirty Divide blends science, politics, outrage and policy development; resisting the gated community of policymakers, Dirty Divide exemplifies the best of public participatory science for environmental and racial justice,” said Michelle Fine, Ph.D., City University of New York.

The report documents a growing dividi­ng line between the “new Downtown” and Skid Row communities, with new Downtowners continuing to see an influx in resources and services of all kinds while Skid Row continues to see resources and services threatened or all together cut. While the gentrification of Downtown LA impacts for more than trash and restroom access and associated public health disparities, but The Dirty Divide provides a snapshot of the inequities that exist in the City’s center – inequities that have been increasingly scrutinized by health agencies.

“As a 30-year resident of Downtown LA, I’m seriously concerned about the growing inequality between the new Downtowners and long-term Skid Row residents,” said low-income resident James Porter. “They complain about the trash, but refuse to give us trash cans. They put in automated restrooms, but they’re always broken. We’re not going to stand for this anymore.”

In May of 2012, the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health (DPH), at the request of the City of Los Angeles, released a report highlighting the severe water and sanitation shortcomings faced by Skid Row residents. DPH recommendations included, among other things, a call for the City to “Provide additional public toilets particularly on San Julian, San Pedro and Crocker Streets” and to “provide adequate number of trash bins with frequent, as needed disposal to prevent the accumulation of trash and debris on the sidewalk.” However, in the year since the relea­se of the report, the City has yet to implement these recommendations.

LA CAN embarked on its own participatory research project to further its continued work on these issues. Findings include that in only 32% of 147 spot checks of public restrooms were they open, clean and stocked with supplies.  In order to respond to the human rights violations outlined in The Dirty Divide and to ensure public health equity, the report offers recommendations that include: 1) Shift current political and governmental priorities and resources from criminalization to housing; 2) Place adequate numbers of trash receptacles in Skid Row and establish frequent trash collection; 3) Increase access to restrooms; and 4) Develop a community health council to address issues for the long-term.

“This report shows how Los Angeles is violating not just with its own health department’s recommendations but international human rights norm,” said Eric Tars of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). “We at NLCHP are proud to support LA CAN in this call for L.A. to live up to its human rights obligations, stop treating its citizens like trash, and start treating them like human beings deserving of their basic human dignity.”

To read the full text of The Dirty Divide, visit www.cangress.org or the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty website, www.nlchp.org.

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Deborah Burton’s Trial Expected in Late April – These Unjust Charges Should be Dropped!

Yesterday, LA CAN was featured on Voices on the Frontlines with Eric Mann. Listen below to find out more about the coordinated efforts of CCEA, LAPD, and the City Attorney to silence the human rights work of LA CAN.

Deborah Burton, longtime LA CAN member and organizer, has been unjustly charged with three counts of assault for alleged actions during a legal protest in April 2011. She was not charged until August 2012, 16 months later, and public records show that in the interim months LAPD and the Central City East Association actively lobbied the City Attorney to criminally charge LA CAN members involved in a monthly protest of the CCEA’s “Skid Row Walk.” Deborah is just the latest target of the City Attorney’s ongoing campaign to squash protest and political dissent in Los Angeles, including other LA CAN members.

Since 2006, LA CAN has led the charge against LAPD’s Safer Cities Initiative (SCI), which has brought up to 150 additional cops into the Skid Row community and resulted in mass criminalization of homeless and poor, mostly African American, residents. In 2011, LA CAN and partners began protesting the CCEA’s “Skid Row Walk” because it was a tool to promote SCI, perpetuated myths about homeless people, and lacked the voice and participation of community residents.

Immediately after we began our protests, the CCEA, LAPD, and the City Attorney’s office began coordinating and strategizing on ways to stop LA CAN’s opposition to the walk. The quotes below, from emails obtained through Public Records Request, begin to shine light on just how CCEA was trying to use LAPD and the City Attorney to criminalize first amendment rights.

In one email sent the evening of the alleged incident with Deborah, CCEA’s Estela Lopez assures her Board of Directors that the City Attorney informed her that “they would explore all legal options to protect us and allow us to conduct our walk without interference from LA CAN.”   In another email from LAPD’s Lieutenant Paulson, she tells the City Attorney that she needs information about the filing of cases related to the public safety walk because “This is going to be an ongoing problem until it gets too costly for them.”

Stay tuned for more information about the documents obtained.

The targeting of LA CAN members exercising first amendment rights by LAPD, at the demand of business leaders, is clearly unjust. The City Attorney should not prosecute this unsubstantiated case and should not continue his past history of criminalizing protest and first amendment rights.

LA CAN members and supporters will be calling on the City Attorney over the coming weeks to drop these charges and not pursue this trial. Please join us! You can call the City Attorney’s office directly (213-978-8100) and/or stay tuned for other ways to get involved by spreading the word through social media and other public actions.

LAPD Police Presence on Main St. Continues to Escalate, Two LA CAN Members Arrested

Over the last few weeks, we have seen an increase in LAPD presence and hostile policing on Main St. in Downtown.

This dangerous trend continued late last night when a large group of officers began roughing up  a couple of black female residents. LA CAN members were on hand to video and document the altercation. And when the officers decided they did not like that, they had two of our members arrested.

This type biased and violent policing has only increased since the Safer Cities Initiative was implemented in 2006. And long-term, low-income residents who have stood up and resisted have been met with repression and constant harassment. But we remain undeterred. We will not sit back and allow LAPD to intimidate and attack our community.

Community Support for Deborah Burton Continues to Grow

Deborah Burton is just the latest target of the City Attorney’s ongoing campaign to squash protest and political dissent in Los Angeles, including other LA CAN members.

Deborah, a longtime LA CAN member and organizer, has been unjustly charged with three counts of assault for alleged actions during a legal protest in April 2011. She was not charged until August 2012, 16 months later, and public records show that in the interim months LAPD and the Central City East Association actively lobbied the City Attorney to criminally charge LA CAN members involved in a monthly protest of the CCEA’s “Skid Row Walk.”

To learn more about Deborah’s case, click HERE. Stay tuned for more information!

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Central Division, LAPD Officer Earl Wright, and 1.2 million Reasons to Finally Erase Racism

This week the City of Los Angeles, really LA taxpayers, paid Officer Earl Wright S1.2 million after a jury (after 4 hours) found that fried chicken and watermelon birthday cakes were indeed RACIST!  http://www.scpr.org/news/2013/03/26/36562/black-lapd-officer-wins-1-2-million-discrimination/ and http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-lapd-verdict-20130326,0,617450.story

LA CAN has witnessed Officer Wright and other officers named in this suit during the course of their duties for years.   There are relatively few Black officers in Central, a division that sits squarely in the middle of one of LA’s last African American/Black strongholds.  What is clear from the details and outcome of this case is that Central Division is as racist and brutal toward African Americans internally as they are externally.

Based in Downtown LA’s  Skid Row community, Central Division sits as if it’s a gun tower on a prison yard. Skid Row is definitely treated as a carceral  community, day in and day out, and bearing witness to human and civil rights violations is a daily occurrence. The issues of race and racism are not new in the community and regardless of what the “new and improved” LAPD might tell you.  Black folks are catching hell in Central Division, inside and outside of the station.

LA CAN has been on the front-lines fighting against the banishment of poor, mostly Black people in Downtown Los Angeles for more than a decade. Our nationally recognized Community Watch program educates residents on their civil rights, documents police activities in our neighborhood, and  intervenes in cases of rights violations by the LAPD and Business Improvement District security guards.  Videos taken over the years shows racist and insensitive behavior that is hauntingly, though probably not surprisingly, similar to the issues faced by Officer Wright.

Officer Wright was harassed with photos depicting him as a character in the 70s TV show  Sanford and Son.  In the news clips below Central Division Officers are caught illegally taking property from skid row residents and dumping it under the 6th Street bridge. Once there, Central Division officers sing the Sanford and Son theme song to summon homeless residents to unload their vehicles and take whatever they want.

Clearly the behavior alleged by Wright is not new and from LAPD’s response to this video — not frowned upon. When we released the footage LAPD’s response was nonchalant and questioned if it was indeed racially charged.  Racism inside…racism out side – that pretty much sums it up.

Take a look for yourself.

LA CAN will continue to fight against LAPD’s oppression and racism in Skid Row, South LA, and across the City. LAPD now has $1.2 MORE reasons why they should finally get serious about confronting, preventing and erasing racism.  Charlie Beck’s “new and improved” mantra, with the support of people like Connie Rice, simply means a better public relations department – not real change.