Los Angeles Forms Partnerships to Clean Up Skid Row

The City of Los Angeles won an Award for Excellence for this project in the League Partners Award category of the 2005 California Cities Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more about the award program, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.

Large scale homeless encampments in the “Skid Row” area of Los Angeles were consuming entire blocks, overwhelming police and service providers, and sending residents and businesses fleeing. The city wanted to reduce the encampments, restore public safety and assist the homeless population. To help craft a solution, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s office formed partnerships with private industry and other city agencies to create the Excess Personal Property Warehouse.

The Problem of Skid Row Encampments

On any given night, as many as 8,000 homeless men, women and children reside on the sidewalks of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. During the day, this number swells to nearly 20,000. As a result of so many people living on the streets, homeless encampments blighted the area and, predictably, subsequent problems escalated, such as:

  • Sidewalks became blocked and impassable;
  • Sanitation and health issues emerged, including disease outbreaks;
  • Dangerous and inhumane conditions became the norm;
  • Crime increased;
  • Residents felt unsafe and businesses lost customers;
  • Public perception of the area was negative; and
  • Residents and businesses began leaving the area.

It was clear to the city that these encampments were necessary to the people living on the streets because they did not have a safe place to leave their belongings. Accordingly, they kept all of their possessions in tents or shopping carts, which were often left stationed on public sidewalks or streets while owners sought out food, shelter, employment or other essential services. Frequently, unattended property would be stolen or discarded.

The sidewalks of Skid Row were so littered with personal property that it was difficult for residents and business customers to walk there, and cleanup of the items was costly and time consuming for the city. Furthermore, when a resident of a homeless encampment was arrested for a crime, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers were required to inventory and book every item of property in the person’s possession. Because these individuals typically kept all of their personal possessions with them in a tent or shopping cart, officers were spending up to six hours in the booking room inventorying items instead of patrolling the streets. These ineffective booking procedures were costing the city approximately $250,000 a year in wasted officer time.

Partnerships Make Warehouse Possible

In January 2003, City Attorney Delgadillo assigned a prosecutor from the Neighborhood Prosecutor Program to solve the problem. The neighborhood prosecutor enlisted public and private partners to establish a storage warehouse where homeless individuals could voluntarily and securely store their possessions for up to one week at a time. The warehouse, which is free of charge, is available to homeless individuals seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The facility employs people who were homeless at one time, training them through Chrysalis, a private agency that finds employment for formerly homeless people. Other groups are involved in keeping the facility operational as well. A private property owner donated warehouse space in the Skid Row area and the Central City East Association (CCEA), a private organization representing downtown property owners, paid the initial setup costs and continues to pay the monthly operational costs.

The warehouse is also used to store abandoned property. A procedure was established and outreach was conducted advising the homeless population that unattended property found on the street or sidewalk would be tagged with a warning sticker by members of the “Clean-Team,” which employs formerly homeless individuals and is run by CCEA. If no one claims the property after three hours, it goes to the warehouse for storage, and a receipt is left at the location indicating where the property can be found. This procedure saves the city money because bureau staff no longer have to make numerous daily trips to the area in response to requests for items to be removed from the street and sidewalk. The city’s Bureau of Street Services conducts a weekly trash pickup at the warehouse for items that remain unclaimed after 90 days.

Efficient New Booking Procedures Instituted

The City Attorney’s Office also rewrote and streamlined LAPD’s outdated booking procedures. The new procedures allow officers to simply photograph, bag and tag an arrestee’s property — as opposed to inventorying every item. The arrestee’s property is then relocated to the warehouse and stored until he or she is released from custody. Now patrol officers who were previously stuck in a booking room for hours each day have returned to patrolling the streets.

Throughout the process of developing the Excess Personal Property Warehouse, neighborhood prosecutors conferred with local service providers and homeless advocates to assess and adequately address the needs of the homeless population. Input was also sought from the business and residential communities and numerous city agencies.

The Warehouse Is a Success

Transients now have the comfort of knowing that their possessions are in a safe and secure facility. Without the burden of transporting their property, homeless individuals are better able to obtain emergency housing and other life-sustaining services. Once engaged in such services and rehabilitative programs, they are empowered to seek long-term housing and employment. This provides incalculable benefits to the economy and to society in general.

Because property is no longer left on the streets and sidewalks, Skid Row has become visibly cleaner and pedestrian traffic has increased. These positive changes have attracted more businesses and customers to the Skid Row area.

This project has also greatly increased public safety in the area. In the six months following implementation, area arrests more than doubled and violent crime was reduced by 16 percent. These encouraging changes were a direct result of the revised booking procedures that allowed officers to spend more time on the streets.

“Whenever we have an opportunity to address a pressing social concern like homelessness and at the same time free up police officers for the real work of protecting our residents, we consider it a victory for the city,” said Delgadillo. “Neighborhood prosecutors across the city are finding creative ways to address entrenched problems and make the city a safer, more compassionate place.”

Contact: Mary Clare Molidor, chief, Safe Neighborhoods Division, Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office; phone: (310) 575-8552; e-mail: MC.Molidor@lacit.org.

This article appears in the June 2006 issue of Western City
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