The depiction of the [Skid Row] community in the The Soloist is very fictional. I've been downtown for over 7 1/2 years either living or working in the community. During that time I've never seen the amount of lawlessness that's shown in this movie. It [the lawlessness] validates the perceptions that the business community is using to advance the criminalization of poverty. As to the number of people on the street outside LAMP - you could walk down San Julian Street [where LAMP Community is located] now or in 2005 or 2006 when the film depicts Lopez' visiting Nathaniel Ayers and never see that many people. The perceptions advanced by Steve Lopez' [LA Times] articles were the basis to validate the increased police presence. Only a few months after Lopez' last article, the Safer City Initiative was launched.The Safer City Initiative (SCI) referred to by Diaz is considered by Skid Row advocates to criminalize poverty. It institutes regulations that make it nearly impossible for the poor to live lawfully on the streets of Los Angeles. Included in the legislation are laws that outlaw sitting or lying on the sidewalk between the hours of 6AM and 9PM, and a rigorous enforcement of jaywalking regulations that wield hefty fines. SCI designates that Skid Row residents can ONLY sit or sleep on the sidewalk between the hours of 9PM and 6AM or else they will be cited. The fines for breaking these laws are impossible for the poor and homeless to pay. As a result, their unpaid tickets go to warrant and the warrant results in arrest and imprisonment. It's an endless cycle of citation and incarceration designed to reduce the number of homeless in Los Angeles and pave the way for rapid gentrification. Elaborate downtown reconstruction has already been completed and more is underway to usher the upper class and wealthy into expensive renovated lofts and send the homeless packing from the one square mile of Los Angeles that was designated to serve them. In the 1970's, under a policy known as "containment," Los Angeles purposely concentrated its homeless services into this one tiny area. And now, as the wealthy move into their lofts, the homeless are disappearing at alarming rates. Jamie Romano is furious by the unjust consequences of this legislation. She characterizes it as a sinister plot and tells me with unflinching candor:
The Skid Row population is predominantly black. Removing a race of people from their home by whatever means amounts to ethnic cleansing.New renovation of downtown Los Angeles (Photo by Linda Milazzo) New construction in downtown L.A. Homeless people right below it. (Photo by Linda Milazzo) To Steve Lopez' credit, he's voiced strong concern over the Safer City Initiative. As he recently told me:
The fact that there are fewer people there [on Skid Row] today doesn't necessarily mean we did all the right things public policy wise. A lot of people have been shooed and scattered to other areas. There has been quite a bit of permanent supportive housing put in place since the whole story began...
We've got a long way to go. A lot of people have argued that they were a little too heavy handed with the police action and too many people who didn't pay the last jaywalking ticket now end up in jail or prison and it's no surprise to anybody that 2,000 people in the LA County Jail and between 20 and 30% of the nation's prisons are people dealing with mental illness. You know of course that there are better ways to deal with them.In truth, I wasn't expecting a white-washed or sanitized view of Skid Row homelessness, mental illness, poverty and drug addiction in this movie. But I have personally witnessed the humanity on Skid Row. And so has my friend, Jamie, who tells me deep with emotion:
I've been working among the people of Skid Row for over 7 years. My experience with the Skid Row community has consistently been moving and inspiring. In the midst of sickness and despair is a loving, familial community of people who care for, protect, and provide for each other. It's a place where people are humble with gratitude. Countless times I've been kissed, hugged and blessed for something as simple as providing a pair of socks or a bottle of water. Skid Row is absolutely holy ground.(Photo by Linda Milazzo) For the record, I'm no stranger to Skid Row. But unlike Jamie, who traverses the area regularly, I continue to visit periodically as I have since 1974 when I became a community organizer with the Greater Los Angeles Community Action Agency (GLACAA), the nation's second largest anti-poverty program which bestowed upon me at age 25, the absurdly long title of Volunteer and Resource Development Specialist. My office at GLACAA bordered Skid Row at 6th and Hill. Each morning I parked my car at the Greyhound Bus Terminal on Skid Row, returning to it often during the day and frequently into the night, passing homeless folks along the street. I was on a first name basis with many and lent a few dollars whenever I could. They were friendly and gracious. Some suffered varying levels of mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction. Some had simply fallen on hard times. They were unkempt and pungent. Some walked me to my car parked on the darkened roof of the Greyhound Station when I worked into the night. They were never antagonistic or aggressive and they often made me smile. They were folks - as was I.
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