Los Angeles, CA

Judge finally rules Skid Row should be cleared

Jano le Roux

The decision by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter to sweep homeless people out of skid row and into tents or homes stems from his belief that a misguided emphasis on permanent housing has perpetuated bigotry, spread encampments, and resulted in the avoidable deaths of Black people.

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Two homeless people hugging on Skid Row, Los Angeles.Photo by Mahdi Bafande on Unsplash

However, the realities of homeless people’s life on skid row mean that shelters are at best an insufficient and unwelcome response to the insecurity that has plagued the 50-block downtown area for more than 50 years.

Suzette Shaw, a skid row protester and author, said, “They’re putting the smallest Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging wound.” “They don’t believe we’re real people,” says the narrator.

Carter’s injunction, which comes in reaction to a complaint filed by the downtown company and construction groups, goes to the center of a controversy that has roiled homelessness policy for decades: whether tents and action against street camps or permanent homes with therapy and other programs are the most effective ways to end the long-running homelessness epidemic.

Just skid row and a buffer zone surrounding it was covered by the injunction, which is home to approximately 2,000 families living in sidewalk tents and shantytowns. Carter hopes to give housing to every single one of them by Oct. 18 and promises to protect the constitutionality of anti-camping legislation that the city could employ to evict homeless individuals if it so chooses. He also informed Mayor Eric Garcetti that $1 billion could be placed into escrow to finance the program.

Lawyers representing Los Angeles County, which was listed in the lawsuit alongside the city of Los Angeles, said late Wednesday that they will challenge Carter’s decision to the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals.

In its early days, Skid Row was an enclave with tiny bars, movie houses, and inexpensive eateries that catered to migrant laborers and local railroads. It grew as a spot where alcoholics and other down-on-their-luck people might get a meal and a bed in the 1950s. While some communities established public shelters, Los Angeles focused heavily on religious and other institutional missions.

As veterans of the Vietnam War came home with addictions, accompanied by the crack epidemic, authorities implemented a containment strategy, focusing missions, tents, and other homeless facilities on skid row and enforcing the region with roadblocks and law enforcement.

Encampments expanded across metropolitan L.A. as the affordable housing crisis intensified after the Great Recession, with little noticeable change to the shantytowns and tent cities that dotted skid row block after block.

Garcetti and the bulk of Democrats on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.2-billion building package that prioritizes affordable social accommodation, which provides long-term rentals, counseling, and other programs. However, delays and cost overruns have stymied the project.

Carter also received praise from a number of downtown advocates for coming in when they think city authorities have struggled.

Wendell Blassingame, a member of the Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council, said, “It’s about time he stood up, and there should have been other judges to stand up and start right where the fire is, right here in skid row.”

The last time officials agreed to clear skid row, according to Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, was in 2005, as part of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton’s Safer Cities Initiative, which aimed to combine prosecution of low-level violations on skid row with expanded funding and incentives to access shelters.

The pledged money vanished, and White, the former director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, a skid row anti-poverty organization, said, “We know how that turned out.” “Three years later, there have been 27,000 arrests, 6,000 citations, and untold numbers of people disqualified and pushed out of the housing they had,” he added.

White explained Carter’s order by stating, “He’s lacing Abraham Lincoln quotes in, but basically saying they could provide pallet shelters, tool sheds, anything will do.” “It’s all temporary, out of sight, out of mind.”

“They think we only need a squat and an indoor tent,” Shaw said.

Randall Pierce, 50, was in a park late Tuesday waiting to reenter the Los Angeles Mission after completing a quarantine, and he felt it would be “great to give more people a place to lay their heads.”

Pierce, an artist with a long history of mental wellbeing and drug misuse problems, has spent years in and out of shelters.

Since relapsing, he entered two opioid rehab facilities with expects to pursue a third. Blassingame agrees that shelters are a step toward a more sustainable approach, but he still believes that funding has been squandered on expanding the homeless care sector.

“They spend too much on employee salaries and the vehicles they drive instead of spending it on the homeless people themselves,” Blassingame said. “There are so many vacant warehouses in the 40-block area around skid row that could easily be converted for housing,” says the author.

Other opponents argue that Carter fails to recognize the complexities of the addiction and mental wellbeing issues that concern approximately 30 percent to 50 percent of those living on skid row.

“If people don’t get sobriety the first time, the system expels them,” said Mr. Casanova, the executive director of Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, which helps active opioid addicts.

“The way shelters work is to evict people who are causing problems,” he said. “We’d have to fix the shelter system because it’s broken,” says the author.

Pierce said, “Housing is a better way to go.”

Several activists believe the shelter offers supported by enforcement might embroil L.A. in yet another dispute that would dwarf the uproar about the city’s latest police intervention to clear a vast tent city from Echo Park Lake.

Other analysts pointed out that removing the tents does not resolve the disorder in the streets that businesses and downtown loft dwellers are concerned about. Many tenants of skid row live in small quarters in abandoned flophouses and other structures, are unemployed or underemployed and spend their time on street corners and parks. They are still impoverished, and they, along with other locals and tourists, revert to old habits.

Joy Colbert stood at a 5th Street card table next to a woman grinding pot buds in a portable hand grinder on Tuesday. Colbert gave a passerby a polystyrene foam cup of tea and a bill to a wad in her palm.

Colbert explained, “I’m a product of being homeless and not having a place to stay, and I got housing” on skid row.

People get depressed and abandon their homes, according to two case managers. They sleep in tents within their quarters or try to scavenge and hoard possessions from dumpsters.

Charles Augustus, 31, a case manager with Skid Row Housing Trust, said, “They’re reverting back to ways they know how to survive.” “Housing is seen as something they have been able to do without for years. This is, though, their neighborhood.”

Several homeless people backed Carter’s proposals to cut red tape and construct more affordable and quicker homes, such as hotel conversions and prefabricated and mobile units. Mrs. Bryan, 40, said, “A small house is fine.”

The city’s dorm-style Bridge Home shelters and tiny-house settlements with bunkhouse toilets, on the other hand, are rejected.

Bryan explained, “We need our own little houses; everyone has to have their own separate bathrooms.” “She could be spotless, whereas I am not…. Nobody is supposed to live in a shelter for the rest of their lives. We need a certain amount of separation.”

Drugs and a shortage of accommodation, according to Bryan’s companion, Ashlee, 29, are only a few of the factors that led her and her peers to skid row.

“There is trauma, and there is discrimination,” Gatewood said, noting that her choices have been limited by her time in juvenile prison. “We aren’t treated on an equal footing.”

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