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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.

Archive for February 2008

Every day I come to work I see the direct results of a well intended law protecting the mentally ill from institutionalization. Every day at the Los Angeles Mission we are confronted with those not kept in places of safety and emptied to the streets! I never thought I would think of Pat Morrison, Brittany Spears and my Aunt Dorothy in the same sentence. Pat’s article in the Los Angeles Times really struck a cord.

I am passionate about mental illness because like so many others it is something I have been affected by all of my life. No, I don’t think I’m nuts but some might disagree. However, I have two aunts affected by conditions that over the years have become more manageable with drugs and treatment. No, not perfect, but one at least is functional. The other lives in an old trailer on the back of her daughter’s property. It is nothing great and frankly frustrates me and my mother to no end. But, it is safe, clean and somebody loves her.

Over the years however life was not so calm. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in private hospitals. After her money ran out it was the run of state institutions. TMI as my kids say.

Closer to home there is David. He is a handsome and vibrant guy when he takes his meds. But, when he feels good and stops he transforms into a smelly, wandering empty soul quoting the Bible and looking for food. I have even offered to give him his medications every day to be sure he keeps taking them. Unfortunately the attorney types tell me no. You could be accused of forcibly medicating him!

Healthy people have rights and should exercise them. But, at what point does the need for human love and care take over? Should we allow self destruction in the name of personal freedom? NO! Laws alone are imperfect. We need compassion and wisdom guided by law to deal with those in need. There has been enough solid science on brain research to now know that mental illness is not some demonic issue but a physical one. Yes, I believe in miracles and I have seen some, but when miracles don’t happen we need to be the miracle workers to help those in need who are not able to care for themselves. How about durable powers of attorney for mental illness not just end of life issues … or there will be more Kevins.

But Pat, really, what’s with the hat?

–Herb Smith, President

My hat is off to the diligent staff of Project 50 led on the ground by Carrie Bach. I have blogged before about my concerns with the Project 50 – such as jumping ahead of those in line for housing or providing support services from day one. On the ground rules I’m still concerned, but on the ground where change is happening, I am enthusiastic.

The Los Angeles Mission staff has risen to the occasion to try and fill a simple need of the “stuff” a person moving from the concrete into a home needs. We are thrilled to share from the abundance of what we receive to help this unique group of new residents. This is not about us but about helping each other in skid row as we work together to help 50 persons in need.

Food boxes and fry pans; sheets & towels, toasters and toiletries all those “dorm room basics” are flying out the door this last week to the now 7 or maybe its 8 newly housed persons. We are pleased to support this effort in a simple way to bring joy and hope to each person.

We still want our voice heard for on-going services. We open our doors daily for education in our Salvatore Learning Center with GED classes and ESL classes to name just a few of the courses offered. Our Career Development department is open for those needing help with employment. Our Chaplains are available for spiritual help and guidance. We invite our new neighbors to join us for a meal and get to know what the Los Angeles Mission and Los Angeles Mission Community Clinic can provide to support them in this new journey.

There will be time for critical evaluation of the program in the months to come, but for now I reiterate my initial comment. Let’s give it a try. To steal a phrase from Senator Obama, we need to rebuild this country block by block. Where better to start than right here in skid row!

–Herb Smith, President