Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley has called off the sweeps of Skid Row encampments while he sits down with the people working with the population of the area. So he should.
The clean-up campaign seems to have emerged from confusion within the mayor's office--a confusion apparent in his contradictory statements over whether in fact he had ordered the action. There is no question that some of the encampments harbor drug and other criminal activities, and should have long since been the targets of police action. But the indiscriminate assault on these pathetic settlements was irresponsible in the absence of serious action to enlarge the shelters available.
The first item on the agenda of the mayor's talks must be the future of Skid Row. The tragedy will only be worsened unless the mayor firmly recommits himself to the longstanding policy of the Community Redevelopment Agency to maintain Skid Row as a place where the poor can live in dignity and safety. There is no sure solution to the problems of Skid Row, but no other city has offered a plan with the promise of the CRA program.
There are several forces at work seeking to drive out the homeless and the impoverished so that the area can become an extension of Little Tokyo, which lies to the north, and the businesses that lie to the east. Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, the downtown representative on the City Council, is a spokesman for those groups, a champion of development. "Put the homeless people over closer to the river," he has said. He is wrong.
The issue is far more complicated than the homeless. The sidewalk population is about 1,000, that of the temporary shelters about 2,000, but the total population is 11,000. The great majority of those are permanent residents, living out lives in dingy single rooms and tiny apartments, often funded with little more than a monthly public assistance check. They are symptoms of problems that beset all urban areas, problems that will not be dissipated by relocation. There is no way in which better shelter can be created "closer to the river." The solution lies in implementing the enlightened CRA plan--rehabilitating the hotels and apartments of Skid Row, protecting its boundaries from the encroachments of developers who have known the limits of their expansion all along.
Skid Row is a place of hope as well as despair. The Weingart Center reported the other day that it has had a 66% success rate in its screening and referral services for high-risk homeless. "Success" may be as modest an accomplishment as obtaining appropriate benefits for which the person is eligible, but it also can be measured in persons helped back into full-time employment and off "The Row."
Bradley has a major role to play. But an even greater responsibility lies with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The board has not met its obligations. Until the supervisors act to increase shelters for the homeless, the situation on Skid Row can only deteriorate. The board must be reminded of that over and over again until it takes appropriate action.