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Watts residents concerned about homeless camps

March 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Homeless camps have always been a problem but some say they've become worse with a shrinking economy. One Watts homeowner is pleading for a solution.

Tents and tarps scattered around Wilmington Ave. and the 105 Freeway have become home to scores of people.

"Law enforcement passes by quite a bit. You don't have to worry about laying down and someone standing over you, waking you up with a stick," said "Ron," a homeless man.

Ron feels safe. But homeowners two blocks away do not.

"They are talking to themselves, and they are very vulgar, and saying things that you wouldn't necessary want your children to encounter and hear," said Watts resident Meisha Washington.

Washington says she has complained to city leaders but has seen no progress.

The impact area is on the edge of Watts.

"They're there because it's in close proximity to the shopping center, it's in close proximity to the ambulatory center at King-Drew," said Pastor Stuart Parham, Oneness of the Kingdom Church.

It also borders public housing projects Imperial Courts, Nickerson Gardens and Jordan Downs, which have strict rules.

If you get evicted here, where do you go?

"No other community has had to bear the brunt of four major housing complexes -- 1,200 units here, 500 over here, 700 here," said Parham.

The Office of L.A. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn released a statement: "It is an ongoing problem and we remain committed to dealing with this issue in a humane way, while ensuring that we strictly adhere to all laws and regulations," wrote chief of staff Doane Liu.

A task force of multiple agencies is involved, including the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). Outreach workers say it can take years to establish trust with someone they want to help.

"It is all contingent on them being receptive, and allowing us to help them. Because they do have a choice," said Donald Holt, LAHSA.

Ron says he might consider a homeless shelter, but is depressed sometimes and wants to be alone.

"They bust the sprinkler system and it'll fill up with fresh water, and they use it for washing, drinking," said Meisha Washington.

Local churches are trying to help, but even they are hit by the bad economy, the same economy that prevents Washington from moving farther from the encampment.

Outreach workers had one success story Friday: They say a woman they've been in contact with for two years has agreed to go into a shelter on Monday.