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Couple Off to Vegas : $500 Means a New Start for 42 Homeless

Times Staff Writer

It’s not that he wasn’t grateful.

But as soon as Edward Jones cashed his $500 check from the city of Los Angeles on Wednesday, he declared, “I’m getting the hell outta here.”

So with girlfriend Janet Strnad, Jones headed straight for the downtown Greyhound bus station and bought two tickets to Las Vegas. “It’s too expensive here,” he said.

Jones was one of 42 homeless people who, in a settlement with the city, received $500 each as compensation for losses they suffered in a police sweep of a street encampment in June. With two skip-loaders and two dump trucks, city workers had scooped up the belongings of the homeless and carted them to a San Fernando Valley landfill.

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Fault Not Admitted

The settlement, in which the city did not admit any wrongdoing, was reached last week, and the recipients eagerly awaited the actual payoff that followed a press conference Wednesday at Skid Row’s Union Rescue Mission.

Many of the homeless, like Jones, said they would be making tracks out of town. Others set off to replace their tattered belongings. And at least one chose to salt her money away for the future.

Mattie Briggs asked if she could take just $40 of her settlement in cash and open a savings account with the balance. Surprised bankers, who were at the mission to cash the checks, opened the account on the spot.

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Many of the homeless put their money down for nearby hotel rooms.

“I ran right to the hotel from the mission” and paid a full month’s rent, said William Jones, displaying his new key for a room at the Pacific Grand.

“I came back to get my buddy,” said Jones, standing near a homeless encampment on 1st Street between Spring Street and Broadway where the contested police raid occurred.

“He didn’t get a payment, but I’m taking him with me. I can’t leave him on the streets. It’s dangerous,” Jones said.

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Crime on Their Minds

Crime was on the minds of many of the homeless who were suddenly flush with cash.

“There’s people outside right now who may be waiting to rob somebody,” said Tyrone Blake, one of the organizers of the camp that was raided.

Jones’ friend, Frank Parker, said he wanted to get off the street now more than ever. “I didn’t get any money, but they might think I did,” Parker said.

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For some, the money came just in time to keep them from getting tossed out on the streets again.

Robert White and his girlfriend, Vivian Hawkins, went directly to the Huntington Hotel with their combined $1,000 and paid up the $23 that was overdue on their weekly rent. The two said they hope to leave the hotel by next week and settle into a small apartment they had located on 9th Street.

The settlement money, they said, made it possible to put down the necessary first and last months’ rent plus security deposit that many homeless are unable to accumulate. Once in the apartment, White and Hawkins said they hope to keep up the rent payments from their monthly general relief and Social Security checks.

Backpack Replaced

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Some of the homeless had more immediate concerns and uses for their money. James Cambell headed for the The HQ army surplus store on 6th Street to replace a worn backpack he used to carry his belongings.

After paying for the $10.95 pack, Cambell quickly transferred his belongings and discarded the old pack on the spot. Campbell said he also plans to buy some new pants and shoes.

In all, 38 of the 42 who filed claims against the city for damages were present to collect their settlement checks. And 34 of them took advantage of an offer by the Wilshire Bank to cash the checks right in the lunchroom of the mission.

James Davis, an attorney who represented the homeless group for free, said that Janet Strnad “had been inadvertently left off” the original list. She was given her check for $500 from Davis’ office, which will be reimbursed by the city.

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Before handing out the checks, City Atty. James K. Hahn said the settlement does not mean that the city will stop enforcing its policy that forbids building encampments on public streets and sidewalks.

He said, however, that the raid that resulted in these claims could have been handled with “more sensitivity.”

‘Fresh Start’

In the same conciliatory vein, Hahn said, “We hope that individuals will use the settlement today to get a fresh start, seek jobs and reunite with their families.”

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His hopes were shared by many, but the probability that they would come true was discounted by some.

“Realistically, the token payment doesn’t end (homelessness),” Davis said.

And many of the homeless themselves suspected that much of the money would be used to buy drugs and alcohol.

Cambell, an activist in the homeless community for several years, said, “Some of them are probably gonna be broke in the morning.”

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Times staff writer Guy Maxtone-Graham contributed to this story.


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