Los Angeles police shut down the Skid Row shantytown known as Justiceville on Friday, arresting 12 people who refused to leave their makeshift dwellings.
The settlement had become a celebrated cause for those who said that its improvised plywood and cardboard shelters offered a new start for homeless people trying to help themselves.
But to county and city officials, and even to some homeless advocates, the site at 6th Street and Gladys Avenue represented an experiment in squalor that could benefit no one.
Claim of Drug Activity
Justiceville, according to several residents, had attracted not only the desperately downtrodden but also those involved in drug activity.
The problems at Justiceville raised questions about what to do about the hard-core homeless.
Officials said the settlement, located in the middle of what used to be a children’s playground, was in violation of health codes. There was no running water. Portable toilets were installed only recently. Under pressure from the county health department and the city attorney’s office, Ernest Doizaki, president of the Orient Investment Co., which owns the site, told the homeless who had been staying there to leave.
Most of the 63 residents left Friday morning. The 12 who refused to leave were arrested on charges of trespassing. By late afternoon, all but two, who had outstanding jaywalking tickets, had been released on their own recognizance, said Nancy Mintie of the Inner City Law Center. Mintie said bail money for the remaining two in jail had been raised, and they would be released by this morning.
Those who gathered to watch the dismantling of Justiceville--at least half of whom were reporters and photographers--witnessed a mix of suffering and theatrics as residents stuffed their belongings into paper bags and old suitcases.
One woman, 61-year-old Ellen Oliver, bleary eyed, stood quietly, with her three dogs and a cat as police ushered residents out of the settlement.
“It was home. I knew where I was going to sleep every night. Now I don’t know where I’ll go.”
Others shouted and screamed as cameras rolled. One man said he thought that “somebody ought to get us a condominium.”
Among the 12 arrested was Ted Hayes, the organizer who gave the settlement its name. As he was taken by the police, residents and supporters sang “We Shall Overcome” and chanted “There’s no place called home.”
“We were cited for sanitation problems; we never denied that,” Hayes said before he was arrested. “But the kinds of problems they talked about exist in every alley in Skid Row. If we are illegal, then they might as well pick up all the homeless people and put us in the Coliseum somewhere.”
Hayes said he will remain on a hunger strike until he can have “meaningful negotiation” with city and county officials.
‘Homeless by Choice’
The former minister, who left his family to become “homeless by choice,” wants to see shelter sites established where homeless people pay token rent to “live and build in their own area, without living on the street, without standing in line for handouts.” He also called for installation of portable toilets throughout the Skid Row area.
Despite criticism by the homeless of the city and the county’s handling of the homeless problem, Mayor Tom Bradley said the city “made every effort” to help the homeless relocate. About 14 residents of Justiceville were given temporary housing Friday morning at the Weingart Center downtown, a private nonprofit emergency center.
The Justiceville site was bulldozed and cleared late Friday to be leased for commercial development, said Sam Anker, attorney for the firm that owns the site.
“We feel bad,” he said. “I don’t agree with how the city and county handled it, but it’s a societal problem. I’m to blame; you’re to blame.”