LA Drop-In: Center for Respite or Concentration Camp? FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 20 Apr 1999 13:07:19 -0700 (PDT)

I invite your comments on the article below:
FWD  Los Angeles Times - Friday, April 16, 1999  [California, USA]


     $1.2-million facility is heralded as an alternative
     to conventional centers, but homeless advocate warns
     it will become an 'internment camp.'

     By Bob Pool, LA Times Staff Writer

Convenient and comfortable? Or concentration camp?

A debate that has swirled for five years over plans for a
city-developed homeless drop-in center continued Thursday as the place
finally opened its doors to skid row transients.

City leaders who gathered in the center's Mediterranean-style
courtyard to admire the new $1.2-million project predicted it will
attract street people who are afraid or unwilling to visit conventional
downtown homeless shelters.

But a veteran advocate for the homeless warned that the 24-hour center
will become a dumping ground for those who will soon to be caught up in a
city crackdown on loiterers and panhandlers.

"The police will use this place as an excuse to empty the sidewalks of
homeless people," asserted Alice Callaghan as she stood outside 628 S.
San Julian St. holding a huge banner that labeled the center a "Skid Row
Internment Camp."

Police denied that sidewalk sweeps are coming, however. "Absolutely
not," said Deputy Police Chief Gregory Berg, who was on hand for
Thursday's opening. Added Capt. Stuart Maislin, commander of the downtown
area's Central division: "We're not doing anything of the sort. Alice and
I have spoken and I've assured her this won't happen."

Built with federal and local funds under the coordination of the Los
Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the 30-bed center is designed to
serve 200 homeless people a day by letting them sleep in shifts inside,
relax on a grassy lawn outside, wash their clothes and receive mail in
their own postal boxes.

The one-story, 8,500-square-foot center is designed to appeal to
street people who are wary of the closely controlled environments of
downtown operated by missions and other private groups.

Development of the center was first proposed in 1994 by downtown
business leaders and supported by Mayor Richard Riordan. Its original
concept called for a $4 million urban campground serving as many as 800
homeless people on a fenced-in lot.

As part of that plan, outreach vans would circulate through downtown
streets and social services workers would invite transients to ride with
them to the center. But the city scaled back its proposal after critics
such as the Los Angeles Coalition to End Homelessness blasted the plan as
"a first step on a slippery slope down to concentration camps in rural
areas for homeless people."

The project was delayed further when it was decided that an effort to
convert a 1920s dairy building into the drop-in center was not feasible.
Workers eventually had to remove a series of underground dairy tanks
before construction could take place.

"Now we have an oasis" in the middle of the downtown's desert of
concrete, William Powers, chairman of the homeless authority commission,
told about 100 people gathered in the courtyard.

City Councilwoman Rita Walters praised the center as "a place of
softness, a place of respite, a place people will feel comfortable in
coming." Those in the crowd who have been homeless in the past agreed.

"A lot of people are just down on their luck and this place is for
them," said Roosevelt Sadler, who was homeless for four years. Mary
Balli, a resident of a San Julian Street hotel, was puzzled by
Callaghan's "internment camp" banner. "This place is going to help a lot
of people, including myself," Balli said.

Callaghan's protest rankled many on hand for the opening. "We have no
gates here. I've never heard of an internment camp with no gates," said
Bud Hayes, head of the SRO Housing Corp, which developed the center for
the homeless services authority.

"I don't honestly understand her criticism," added Mayor Riordan.
"We're allies 80% of the time. But I disagree with her on this."

Callaghan, head of a skid row social services center called Las
Familias del Pueblo, did not waiver, however.

"We already have evidence that police plan to enforce an ordinance
against sleeping or sitting on the sidewalk when this opens," she said.
"People are already being told this will happen. 'Internment camp' is
exactly what this will be."


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