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City's Sweep of Two Downtown Homeless Encampments

July 02, 1988

At 8:30 in the morning and without warning, according to the report in The Times (Metro, June 25), police and city sanitation workers raided two homeless encampments and made off with the belongings that were found there. Claiming disingenuously that the items had been abandoned, the city workers refused to give those present a five-minute reprieve to summon their missing companions so that they could rescue their few worldly goods. Nor would they permit them to salvage anything other than their own belongings, maintaining that it wasn't part of their orders.

How did the authorities justify their actions? It seems a previously established encampment for the homeless had been shut down as a health hazard. Now, apparently, their meager possessions posed a similar threat. "We were just following orders," claimed David Reed, identified as an assistant director of the sanitation bureau.

Police officers of my acquaintance have suggested that the homeless live on the streets because they want to--perhaps this raid was meant to be a part of a treatment program to help cure them of their antisocial behavior? On the other hand, if the homeless are on the streets because they perceive it as the safest, most affordable place for them to go, then the confiscation of their earthly possessions in the name of public health is a crass misrepresentation of what is simply an act of harassment on the part of public servants whose sense of service seems sadly deficient.

Samuel Johnson once said that, " . . . a decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization." It would appear that in that judgment we have been found wanting.

JAMES PAUL JENAL

South Pasadena

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