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 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.”

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.