Bradley Proposes Temporary Camp for L.A.'s Homeless
In an effort to supply short-term housing for residents of sidewalk encampments on Skid Row who face a police crackdown starting today, Mayor Tom Bradley proposed Wednesday a temporary “urban campground” on vacant land downtown near the Los Angeles River.
“This is a shelter we think will offer another housing alternative for those who are in need,” Bradley said of the proposed campground, which would be operated for two months on 12 acres of Southern California Rapid Transit District land at 4th Place and Santa Fe Avenue.
The camp, which Bradley said could accommodate “600 people or more,” would be operated by the Salvation Army. The Community Redevelopment Agency would fence the property, provide portable toilets, water and lighting, he added.
The campground, which must be approved by both the City Council and the RTD board of directors, could be open “within a week,” Bradley said.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the homeless and attorneys for the city meeting in Los Angeles Superior Court reached an 11th-hour agreement on a policy that would bar police from arresting a Skid Row resident without first offering a voucher for temporary housing.
The mayor’s campground proposal grew out of the mounting controversy over whether the city had enough alternative housing for the homeless after Police Chief Daryl F. Gates announced last week that his officers would start enforcing the city’s sidewalk use ordinance.
“Unless the department has the shelter option to offer, no arrests will be made,” Bradley said Wednesday. “That’s the bottom line.”
The mayor, appearing before the City Council, said he supports a motion approved by council members Tuesday that asked Gates not to arrest people when there is no substitute lodging, but said that he and the chief had made that arrangement last week.
“That was what was agreed to,” Bradley said, even though neither official had said so publicly.
“That’s been part of the plan all along,” said Cmdr. William Booth, the department’s chief spokesman, adding that Assistant Chief David Dotson, who told the council on Tuesday that the law would be enforced whether or not city or county vouchers for hotel rooms were available, “did misspeak.”
The Police Department had not made its agreement with Bradley known, Booth added, because, “we were reluctant to announce publicly too soon, so that those who were so inclined could try to figure out ways to thwart the law.”
At Wednesday’s court hearing, Deputy City Atty. Pamela Victorine reaffirmed the mayor’s and Police Department’s pledge not to arrest homeless people unless alternative housing was offered and refused.
Lawyers for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and the ACLU, who had come to court seeking an order that would block arrests of the homeless, then told Judge Ricardo A. Torres that such an action probably was unnecessary in light of the city’s clarification of its plans.
Torres, saying that he agreed with the city “that something had to be done” to deal with the homeless problem, said he is satisfied with the city’s plan.
“I see no reason to intervene at this time,” Torres told the public-interest attorneys. “If the city doesn’t live up to its representations, I’m sure you will be back.”
Meanwhile, Bradley’s “urban campground"--which must be approved by council members, who referred the matter to committee for review, and the RTD board of directors, which will consider the matter tomorrow--would be the second of its kind in the country.
Camp in Phoenix
A similar campground, containing about 200 people, has been operating in Phoenix for the last three years.
The RTD land, which is now vacant but which is scheduled to be used as a Metro Rail yard and shop site, would be leased to the city at $1 a month, RTD spokesman John Hyde said. RTD plans to start construction there in August and September, he said.
During the two-month life of the campground, Bradley said, “We will continue to look for more permanent solutions” to housing the homeless. “We must do both long- and short-term solutions, if we’re going to meet the problems and demand.”
The city is working to see that social services will be provided to camp dwellers, said Ali Webb, the mayor’s press secretary.
Efforts will be made to pay for the camp through private donations, Webb said, adding that the mayor and his staff are approaching organizations that raise money to help the homeless for up to $100,000 to defray the costs. The CRA appropriated $20,000 on Wednesday to cover the camp’s initial expenses.
Reaction Is Mixed
Among the homeless on Skid Row, reaction to the new camp was mixed.
On Towne Avenue, camp dwellers who organized themselves last January into a communal living arrangement with shared cleanup and cooking duties, were ambivalent.
David Bryant, a 39-year-old former RTD bus driver who is a camp leader there, said he was glad that the city had moved to establish a campground, but was disappointed that the Salvation Army would be running it, with no homeless people involved.
“We need to be involved in our own rehabilitation,” Bryant said. “They’ve never walked in our shoes.”
“I don’t know, I’d have to wait and see,” said Tom Glenn, 37, a resident of a camp on 4th and Los Angeles streets who said he had been living outside for five years. “It’s a way of life,” he said.
Although the plan to establish a campground on the RTD site surfaced only in the last few days, according to the mayor’s office, other officials said the idea is at least a year old.
Visited Phoenix Camp
A delegation of city officials, including James Wood, chairman of the CRA, visited the Phoenix camp last year, Wood said Wednesday, “to see if it could be a resource.”
Because some of the homeless seem to avoid structured environments of social programs and even hotel rooms, he said, “you need a variety of alternatives. . . . If we simply try to force them into the pigeon holes we currently have, this confrontation mode” will remain.
In a related development, seven workers from five Skid Row social service agencies were arrested during a demonstration outside the offices of the Central City East Assn., a business group that has lobbied for a cleanup of the sidewalk encampments.
The group was protesting the announced police raids as “unconscionable arrests of the homeless for not going ‘home,’ ” said Alice Callaghan, one of those arrested. The seven were arrested for blocking a private driveway. They were released on their own recognizance.
Times staff writer Victor Merina contributed to this story.