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From the Archives: For one summer, L.A. set up an ‘urban campground’ for the homeless. No one called it a success.

June 26, 1987: A view of the "urban campground," located near the Los Angeles River at 4th Place and Santa Fe Avenue, looking northwest toward downtown Los Angeles.
June 26, 1987: A view of the “urban campground,” located near the Los Angeles River at 4th Place and Santa Fe Avenue, looking northwest toward downtown Los Angeles.
(Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times)

In 1987, the Los Angeles Police Department embarked on a major crackdown on homeless encampments on skid row. In response, Mayor Tom Bradley proposed a temporary site to relocate the homeless.

In a June, 4, 1987, Los Angeles Times article, Penelope McMillan and Roxanne Arnold reported:

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. …

On June 15, 1987, the urban campground opened. Within two weeks, about 500 homeless were at the site. Social service agencies sought to help. Schooling and daycare were provided for the children.

June 16, 1987: Two people sleep while a stack of cots go unused at the
June 16, 1987: Two people sleep in open-air tents at the campground. Larry Bessel / Los Angeles Times
June 26, 1987: Mike Linea checks on his wife Patricia, right, who was hurt in a car accident. They a
June 26, 1987: Mike Linea checks on his wife, Patricia, right, who was hurt in a car accident. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
June 15, 1987: Child gazes at banner displayed by protestors outside of the Urban Campground. Protes
June 15, 1987: A child looks at a banner displayed by protesters outside the encampment. Activists said the city needed more low-income housing, not campgrounds for the homeless. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times

But the site was temporary – it closed on Sept. 25, 1987.

The headline for a McMillan article in the Sept. 25, 1987, Los Angeles Times summed up the results:

Homeless Camp Ends Much Like It Began : A Grim Place of Refuge Closes Today — and No One Involved Calls It a Success

From McMillan's article:

It was ugly to begin with, a flat stretch of land flanking the Los Angeles River, fenced and then filled up with trailers, canopies, hundreds of cots and tents. Then came the people, 2,600 in all, who said they had no other place to go.

It is still ugly as it ends, a grim, dusty refuge for 236 people who say they still will have no other place to go when the camp is shut down at 5 p.m. today.

The City of Los Angeles' urban campground for the homeless has been, as Maj. William Mulch of the Salvation Army put it, "a desperate attempt to help very desperate people.”

No one calls the attempt a success--not the city, the Salvation Army or advocates for the homeless.

The city's ambition when it opened the camp June 15 was to temporarily shelter the homeless, provide social services and help them find work. The camp did shelter people, in the most minimal way, and several services were set up.

But officials noted that only a small percentage availed themselves of the services, and the vast majority of the homeless who passed through the campground apparently left no better off than when they came.

After 103 days and $397,000 in city costs, Deputy Mayor Grace Davis said the camp left city officials convinced "we should not be in the shelter business." …

The Salvation Army, which incurred $227,000 in costs of its own in running the camp for the city, leaves with its reputation as a friend of the needy tarnished.

“'We never thought the Salvation Army would be involved in something like this.' I've had that said to me," Lt. Col. David P. Riley, the army's Southern California division commander, said.

"There was the dust in the air all the time, lack of drainage of the water, showers that leaked from the day they were installed," Riley continued. "The equipment was not adequate. There was no way you could bring dignity or cleanliness to it."

"The campground was unsanitary, unhealthy and a bad environment for children," said Jack Faz, social services coordinator for Para Los Niños, the service agency that shouldered most of the burden of relocating 119 families with 265 children, 75% of whom came from within Los Angeles County. "It was a bad thing all around."

Yet, it did give a small number — 240 of the 2,600 homeless who passed through -- a leg up with help to find jobs. "I couldn't have done that on the street," said 22-year-old Raymond Byfield, who now has a $640-a-month job driving a truck. It also helped more than 100 people obtain legal identification, which employers must require under new immigration laws.

"A lot of people learned to live collectively and to share," David Bryant, a homeless leader, said. "For a lot of people, there was a real sense of community they hadn't had."

This post was originally published on Dec. 20, 2016.

June 15, 1987: A man is searched for concealed weapons and contraban at entrance of the Urban Campgr
June 15, 1987: A man is searched for weapons and contraband at the entrance to the encampment. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
June 26, 1987: Two children play with toys and an empty box at the Urban Campground. This photo was
June 26, 1987: Two children play with toys and an empty box at the encampment. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
June 26, 1987: Lisa Gillie, 7 months pregnant, sorts clothes outside her tent at the Urban Campgroun
June 26, 1987: Lisa Gillie, 7 months' pregnant, sorts clothes outside her tent. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
June 26, 1987: Esperanza Huerta washes clothes in front of tent while her dog Snowball takes it easy
June 26, 1987: Esperanza Huerta washes clothes in front of tent while her dog Snowball takes it easy in the shade. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
July 15, 1987: Volunteer Janice Estes of Fullerton examines 2-year-old boy with sores at Urban Campg
July 15, 1987: Volunteer Janice Estes, a medical assistant from Fullerton, examines a 2-year-old boy with sores on his legs. The boy's mother and sister look on. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
July 15, 1987: Carolyn Blue hangs her wash on fence at Urban Campground, while daughter Shameka, 3,
July 15, 1987: Carolyn Blue hangs her wash on a fence to dry while daughter Shameka, 3, plays. Blue, mother of five, was at the camp awaiting housing assistance. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
Aug. 14, 1987: Assistant Principal George Alexander, third from left, confers with teachers at Plase
Aug. 14, 1987: Assistant Principal George Alexander, third from left, confers with teachers at Plasencia School where a dozen students from the encampment are enrolled. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
Aug. 14, 1987: A child peers out of school bus window as she waits for others from the Urban Campgro
Aug. 14, 1987: A child peers out of a school bus window as she waits for others at the encampment for the ride to Plasencia Elementary School. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
Aug. 11, 1987: Adult Fred Jordan Mission day camp workers, from left, Louis Dambra, Willie Jordan an
Aug. 11, 1987: Children are gathered to be taken to the Fred Jordan Mission day care program. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
Aug. 11, 1987: Children from skid row hotels and the Urban Campground have breakfast at the Fred Jor
Aug. 11, 1987: Children from skid row hotels and the encampment have breakfast at the Fred Jordan Mission day care program. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
Aug. 13, 1987: Segura Williams, 13, rests his hand on shoulder of his brother Lamartina, 7, as they
Aug. 13, 1987: Segura Williams, 13, left, with his brother Lamartina, 7, outside of their tent. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
Sep. 18, 1987: A bit of social commentary left on wall near the Urban Campground for the homeless. T
Sep. 18, 1987: Graffiti left on a wall near the encampment for the homeless. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
Sep. 18, 1987: Jose Lopez washes the shampoo from his hair with a garden hose at the Urban Campgroun
Sep. 18, 1987: Jose Lopez shampoos his hair with the help of a garden hose. He was cleaning up before going on a job search. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
Sep. 24, 1987: The Urban Campground as seen from the 4th Street bridge, the day before it was shut d
Sep. 24, 1987: The encampment as seen from the 4th Street bridge the day before it shut down. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
Sep. 25, 1987: With his belongings on a shopping cart, Alfred Gueva leaves the closed Urban Campgrou
Sep. 25, 1987: With his belongings piled on a shopping cart, Alfred Gueva leaves the encampment where he had lived since it opened in June. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times
Sep. 23, 1987: Shirt flaps in the breeze after Urban Campground is closed. This photo appeared in th
Sep. 23, 1987: A shirt flaps in the breeze after the encampment is closed. Iris Schneider / Los Angeles Times

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