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The Los Angeles Mission is a non-profit homeless shelter serving the hungry and homeless of Downtown's Hope Central (historically referred to as Skid Row) for over 70 years.

On June 18th the Mayor’s office announced street cleanings in Skid Row that will comply with the Ninth Circuit injunction related to homelessness on the street. I want to commend all those who have been working on this issue including our politicos, Estela Lopez of Central City East Association (CCEA), the police, fire department and the other area service providers. Skid Row has challenges enough without imperiling everybody’s health with contamination and filth.

While quick to praise, I also want to challenge our political officials to be more open in dialogue and more understanding that this is a long-term issue not a one-time cleaning of the sidewalks.

Rather than announcing a program on the day before it starts and then playing catch up with service providers and outreach teams, why not start up front and get our help? I do not know any reputable service provider who wants to keep people on the streets or just wash sidewalks.

There is a golden opportunity to address both sanitation and relocation in this process. No, I’m not suggesting we force relocation. That would be prohibited. But, we can encourage or entice persons to consider moving into housing or joining recovery programs rather than remain on the concrete. The move to provide storage facilities for our friends and neighbors who are on the street is to be commended. More important than luggage, which can be replaced, what about the men and women living in chronic homelessness? Don’t they deserve at least “warehouse space” but more correctly, safe habitable housing?

In 75 years on Skid Row the Los Angeles Mission has learned that relationships are critical to building trust with our chronically homeless friends and neighbors. So, hiring new Los Angeles Housing Service Authority (LAHSA) workers, elevated police presence or even the slightest signs of force will not be effective in achieving permanent relocation.

Here is my recommendation to His Honor Mayor Villaraigosa and his staff:

1. Move forward aggressively with the process of street cleaning for the health and welfare of all citizens.

2. When coming to our neighborhood (Skid Row) ask those of us who work here 365 days a year in advance for our input and assistance – you might be pleasantly surprised at how willing we are to cooperate.

3. Don’t just bring clean water and soap, bring some housing options and funding beyond that we already have available. And, don’t ask us to divert the limited number of housing vouchers currently available to your program. We are already stretched beyond capacity with our Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative (LACPC) Downtown Pathway Home project to house the most vulnerable chronically homeless persons. Rather, let’s use this activity to reach out to more of this vulnerable group who need supportive housing or programs for recovery.

4. If you want to say you housed persons by this activity, then show us the money… new funding – or else give credit to the brave men and women who compassionately serve with the great agencies here in Skid Row and say we planned ahead and worked together to maximize the limited funding available for now.

5. Don’t stay away long! We do want clean and safe streets for all citizens. Until the issue of street homelessness is ended, be a good partner by providing equality of government services in Skid Row and Beverly Hills.

6. Finally, listen to your hearts and join the fight against homelessness. Use the wisdom and experience gained every day by LACPC members and others. Together we can make a plan to end chronic homelessness on Skid Row and across the Los Angeles Continuum of Care.

The Downtown News reporting on this matter is here, and here. Los Angeles Times coverage is here and it’s editorial about the matter here.

Thursday May 31, 2012 the Los Angeles Mission hosted the 11th annual job faire for Skid Row. This was done in partnership with the Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative and an amazing array of employers, educators and work force development participants.

Work Wanted – The Los Angeles Times printed a photo of Aaron Moore. It was one of my favorites because it captured the spirit of the event, the personal need and it showed a different face of homelessness than the chronic homeless old white alcoholic. Not to put down “old white guys” as they have needs too.  But, in our attempts to end homelessness we need to see images of the full spectrum of those experiencing this temporary state of life. Aaron was articulate, well dressed and intent on finding a job. I hope to report soon that he did so!

Dignity Desired – During the event someone said to me “you should do this every month, there is so much need.”  I agree, every month when unemployment statistics are released we should see images of those lives slowly being destroyed simply because of a lack of employment and income. There are so many excuses why people aren’t employed and there are millions of dollars spent analyzing the problem at the local, state and federal levels of government… to what avail? True some are just lazy and don’t want to work but in my experience, that is a minority. Many of that minority with counseling, encouragement and education can rise above the despair to find dignity in work. Yes, I believe there is a theology of work. My Christian world-view includes God creating us with a desire to work; work to be enjoyed. Adam and Eve are symbolic of the idea that we are created to care for the planet, to work in harmony with creation and to enjoy life to its fullest.

Dignity is a result of self esteem. Self esteem comes from achieving goals and realizing our purpose in life. Work should be a source of completion and fulfillment, not just a paycheck to survival. I have often wondered why job creation in the US comes from small and midsized companies and not the mega corporations. I believe in part it is because those companies are led and fueled by people with passion for what they do bolstered by the dignity achieved in seeing dreams come true.

Help Wanted – I see that passion in the men and women who go through our Fresh Start program here at the Los Angeles Mission. Our recovery programs are not just about addictions, education or work therapy. They encompass all those aspects – capped with a sense of spiritual value and personal self worth – as God intended. We see little visions of “I can” become small businesses like Taylor Made Cakes, God’s Joyful Creation (a florist), Servant’s Catering or CDR a cleaning company, all started by Mission graduates. We see professional goals achieved as nurses, drug counselors, pastors, meat cutters, truck drivers and salespersons all because a spark was ignited and fueled with a little help from the Mission, our volunteers and mentors.

Help Wanted – Persons of integrity, filled with compassion, gifted in coaching, willing to do whatever duties assigned to help end homelessness one life at a time by employing those ready to work or sponsoring those ready to test their dreams of professional achievement by creating small businesses and helping them to grow.

Can we count on you? Give me a call at 213-629-1227 x305 or contact one of the other LACPC service providers in Skid Row and make a difference that counts. Work Wanted- Dignity Desired – Help Wanted.

 

What’s your dream home? Whatever your answer a healthy, loving and safe environment is implied by home. Whether that home is a modest studio apartment in a converted hotel or a mega-mansion in Beverly Hills, without an emotional element it is merely a house, or another piece of real estate.

What makes home special is the sense of security and stability it provides. Recently, while reading about the life of Vincent Van Gogh from a spiritual perspective, I came across this statement:

“In Vincent’s mind, the Yellow House as refuge for struggling artists could be conceived as a monastery, where artists would live and work as simply as monks, with Gauguin as their abbot.

Vincent described for Bernard his plan to decorate the house ‘with a half a dozen pictures of Sunflowers, …effects like those of stained-glass windows in a Catholic church.’ (letter B15).

Early in September Theo sent three hundred francs and Vincent bought two beds, twelve chairs, a table, and a mirror. His joy is obvious.

On September 8, he wrote in high spirits: ‘…a home of my own, which frees the mind from the dismal feeling of being a homeless wanderer. That is nothing when you are an adventurer of twenty, but it is bad when you have turned thirty-five.’ (Letter 533)” (Edwards 72-73).

Wow! I love Van Gogh as an artist. I’d heard the usual explanations of his life from high school humanities class, but I never thought I’d quote him on homelessness.

But what better description is there for the value of home? Ending homelessness should be everyone’s goal. Whether through programs of housing readiness, recovery, or rapid re-housing, let’s end that “dismal feeling of being a homeless wanderer” by putting our support behind all the organizations and individuals who work tirelessly to help those in need to find hope, help and opportunity with housing.

Let’s continue to call on our elected leaders to address the need for affordable housing, education and work skills training to help stem the tide of homelessness. Let’s push to create jobs that give not just income, but a sense of self worth. Let’s value work as good and honorable again. I have been told repeatedly by those who lived on the streets they did so because they were allowed to and they saw no better option. We need to help them find a better way.

The Los Angeles Mission strongly believes in God as foundational to our service to others. But we advocate for equality in education, employment opportunities and affordable housing. We provide emergency (and other) services that we hope inspire a desire for change. There is no single way or best practice to end homelessness. Just as every one of us are different, everyone experiencing homelessness has different issues. The goal is to identify the challenges and provide loving support to overcome the “dismal wandering.”

Van Gogh’s work was despised for years as unsuitable. So too are our homeless friends and neighbors. But, in the end we see in Van Gogh’s work the sense of wonder, hope and beauty which so inspire us today. My prayer this Good Friday is that we will one day do the same for those who so greatly need to see the beauty and worth in themselves. Welcome Home.

Reference:

Edwards, Cliff. The Shoes of Van Gogh. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co., 2004.