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Attorney Seeks Justice for the Poor of Skid Row

January 07, 1985|DAVID JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

"Here we are in one of the richest cities in the world and we have 30,000 homeless people," she said, shaking her head in disbelief, "while many other countries with far fewer resources than America do very well for all of their people.

"We don't have to have people living in the streets, deliberately jaywalking in front of police cars so they get a night in jail," said Mintie, one of the leading spokespersons for the occupants of Tent City across from City Hall before it was torn down last week. "I am a great believer in empowering people, in getting them on their feet so they can earn their own way. We have so much wealth in this country, but we have lost our faith that we can have a strong economy and social justice," she said.

Mintie believes not caring for the temporarily homeless leads to massive waste of lives and taxpayer money. "The hard economic truth is if we don't take care of the homeless they become ill and get put into County Hospital at a cost of hundreds of dollars each night," she said.

One of Mintie's clients worked in a restaurant, supporting herself, a grown daughter and an 8-month-old grandchild. But when the grandmother became ill and needed time off for surgery her employer let her go. The grandmother finally sought welfare and got put up in a stinking, rat-infested Skid Row hotel that had filthy bedding and no hot water.

Mintie said her client decided the streets were better than the hotel and moved into a park at 6th and Gladys streets where several dozen people sleep each night. Soon the woman's leg became infected and "now she has lost the use of her legs because she faced the terrible choice of whether to be on the street or in a terrible and unsafe hotel," Mintie said. She has helped the woman get emergency medical care and is now trying to get her daughter on Aid to Families With Dependent Children. "To have a whole class of people unemployed and unproductive who gradually deteriorate from lack of sleep, warmth and food and eventually become seriously ill--running up huge medical bills--to have this open running sore in our society has got to be far more costly than a decent and humane system in which there are jobs for people," she said.

The poor people of Skid Row need an attorney, Mintie believes, because the government often fails to provide promised services and because "so many people take advantage of them. I have a client who works as a trimmer in a garment shop for $8 for 9 1/2 hours of work. How can anyone live on that? How can we allow that?"

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