Safeguarding the possessions of the homeless
The Central City East Assn. has served as a storage center for Los Angeles’ homeless since 2002, with 1,100 bins set up to provide those most down on their luck with free means to preserve their belongings.
So how does the system work?
Abandoned items are bagged, tagged and dragged to a fenced storage area in the back. They are held for 90 days. Then they disappear into a landfill.
In the tall metal shelves that hold unclaimed belongings, hints of past lives peek through the plastic bags like puzzle pieces — romance novels, new Barbie Princess sets, strings of pearls, blocky old computers and a cardboard advent calendar, the chocolate crumbling inside.
Leading the project is Peggy Washington, whose former homelessness informs her hard, but mailable line with those who come to the center. She gives individuals leeway in their storage needs, and works for the joy of seeing someone pick up the pieces are successfully move on.
But all too often, she ends up depositing unclaimed items into that aforementioned landfill.
Read more in our latest Column One feature.
Photos: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles v. the Homeless
The city of L.A. is asking the Supreme Court today to overturn a ruling forbidding them from seizing and destroying belongings left unattended on public ground.
The city’s efforts come amid an ongoing fight on how to clean up downtown skid row, as well as a sudden outbreak of tuberculosis in the area.
From Carol Sobel, who is representing the homeless plaintiffs:
The dispute began when eight homeless people accused city workers, accompanied by police, of seizing and destroying property they left unattended while they used a restroom, filled water jugs or appeared in court. The seven men and one woman had left their possessions — including identification, medications, cellphones and toiletries — in carts provided by social service groups and in some cases were prevented from retrieving them.
Photos: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times
A resident of L.A.’s skid row finds comic relief: Elzie Alexander, who’s lived on L.A.’s skid row 12 years, leaves his legacy as a comedian by sharing the repertoire of jokes he’s collected all his life.
This stuff we’re quoting below isn’t funny, but it’s worth reading:
"You’re going to do stuff you’re not proud of," he said of his rough past. "But there’s no inherent respect in starving to death, either. Sometimes you have to do it."
On the corner where he passes his afternoons, the ground smells of sweat and urine. On this day, two police officers make an arrest nearby while on another part of the sidewalk a woman staggers by like a zombie — her head down and eyes fixed on her bare feet. A few feet away, a 32-year-old man yells and writhes on the pavement. Heroin withdrawal, Alexander said, adding, “The trick is to respect the guy no matter what he’s going through.”
Photo credit: Margaret Cheatham Williams / Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles skid row cleanup was prompted by a county report citing public health dangers in the area. Now for a maintenance plan.
A city initiative had helped to reduce the numbers and clean up the sidewalks, but the weak economy and other factors have reversed the trend.
Formerly homeless, they know whereof they speak: Residents of apartments operated by the Skid Row Housing Trust studied storytelling, learned public speaking — all with the aim of sharing what it’s really like to be living on the street.
Theresa Winkler said she got back 11 years when she found her way off the streets. She’d been on her own since she was 12 — a prostitute and an addict. She was living in a bush without money to buy a cigarette when she decided she might as well head downtown.
She found the Skid Row Housing Trust, which began to find her help — starting with locating her birth records. She’d thought she was 53. The records showed she was 42.
Photo: Residents of the Skid Row Housing Trust share their stories of hardship and homelessness before an audience at the Last Bookstore at 5th and Spring streets in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times