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'Crime Sweep' of Homeless

March 05, 1987

Great controversy has been caused by the city's present effort to create a safer and cleaner environment for all who live and work in Central City East. The "Crime Sweep" program, if it does nothing else, has succeeded by calling greatly needed attention to the deplorable criminal and sanitation problems of our area's businesses and residents.

Our light industrial business community provides a significant tax base to the City of Los Angeles. The multi-agency city task force, responsible for the program, is the first sign that the city is taking direct action to improve the pitiful living and working conditions we face everyday.

For years we have painfully and reluctantly managed to adapt our business operations to rapidly increasing loitering, panhandling, open fires, street sewage, theft, and rising rates of violent attacks on our employees, vendors and patrons. These same criminals prey daily on the residents of the area's hotels. As a result, we have some of the highest liability insurance rates in the city, the most exorbitant security systems and suffer from increasing employee attrition. In the past two years, we have seen the problems worsen.

Critics of the "Crime Sweep" program call it a "cruel policy." Is it a cruel policy to arrest drug dealers? This year alone the Los Angeles Police Department arrested 36 felons at locations the program is going back to in an attempt to discourage a resurgence of this criminal activity.

Is it cruel policy to discourage people from loitering, defecating, and attacking one another in the streets? Would this behavior be tolerated in Encino, or in Pasadena or at Times Mirror Square? Why then must it be tolerated in Central City East?

We have learned much in the one short week of the program. When apprised of available shelters and services by social service providers included to conduct outreach at the clean-up sites, many individuals refused these services. We, as a city, must confront the sad fact that a growing number of homeless people don't want shelters or services. They just want to stay on our streets.

What is clear is that there will continue to be an influx of needy people into Los Angeles, (who are victims of federal and state policies), seeking warmer refuge during the winter months. What is equally apparent is that the short-term, temporary, stop-gap approach to providing soup and shelter is not meeting the needs of this growing, troubled, diverse population.

It is also obvious that people who are mentally ill, sick, and addicted to drugs or alcohol should not be in an environment where they are continually vulnerable to attack. Neither should they be faced with the fact that others want to tempt them back into self-destructive behavior they are trying to escape. As it is, our crime-ridden light industrial sector is not conducive to personal rehabilitation. What happens when the "Crime Sweep" stops? The problems will intensify again.

Does Los Angeles have a long-term policy for solving the homeless problem? No. There is a dire need for a just policy on the homeless that offers bold, citywide, compassionate model shelter and service programs that encourage increasing levels of health and self-sufficiency in the participants so that the homeless can leave Skid Row forever.

We must commit ourselves and our elected officials to debate, create and abide by a public policy targeted to simultaneously enrich the life of the individual while protecting and promoting the public good. It will take creativity, the rapid identification of successful programs, funding, and the willingness of all of us to accept smaller decentralized programs into our communities. The businesses of Central City East are willing to enter into this critical debate.

Skid Row may always be a starting point for the recently homeless; it need not be the end of the line.

LAURI FLACK

Executive Director

Central City East Assn.

Los Angeles

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