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Skid Row charity drops: More harm than good?

September 13, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Police and local shelters are raising questions about drop-off donations on downtown L.A.'s Skid Row.L.A.'s Skid Row has been called the homeless capital of the country and for years, people have been visiting Skid Row to drop off both food and clothing. And even though crime has been lowered there by 40 percent over the past five years, there are quite a few people who believe that the Good Samaritans are actually doing more harm than good.

Deon Joseph has been patrolling the streets of Skid Row for more than a decade. As the Los Angeles Police Department's lead officer of Skid Row, he deals with crime prevention and quality-of-life issues.

Joseph says one of the big problems in the homeless community stems from people who are trying to help by dropping off food and clothing.

"I love what they're doing, but I see it on the ground level," said Joseph. "When they leave, the halos come off and the police department and the homeless community has to deal with the aftermath of the clothes being left in the street, the food being left in the streets, the roaches, the rats and everything else. And also, people fighting over the clothes, because they're taking a lot of the items and selling it so they can make money to buy crack."

Community members often spend part of the morning cleaning up the food and trash that's left behind.

"It's getting bad because people stand here and eat and leave the trash in the street," said one local resident. "It's getting worse."

"This is a nightmare, OK?" said Joseph. "This is somebody's community. This is their community. They don't want this stuff in their neighborhood either because it also affects their psyche. If my area looks like a dump, then people are going to keep dumping on it."

Three local missions together already serve about 7,000 meals per day on Skid Row. One woman, staying at a nearby shelter who did not want to be shown on camera, said local church groups, or people just trying to help, are actually feeding the community's problems.

"All these people are drug addicts, and that food thing is just a scam," said the unidentified woman. "Nobody's out here starving. The only reason that they're stuck on the free food is because they can sell their food stamps because they know the free food is coming. That's enabling, aiding and abetting. That's not helping them."

"We don't want to discourage groups to come down here and serve. However, there are unintended consequences to what they do," said Mai Lee, who represents downtown's Midnight Mission. "You know what, schedule a time with us. Let me show you a right way -- a safe way. Let's build a community effort."

Officer Joseph wants to urge anyone who wants to donate to do so only to the shelters on Skid Row because, as he says, as long as people continue to drop off food and clothing and other items to the homeless people, there will be no incentive for them to ever leave the streets.


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