Will homeless people trust providers who work with police?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 29 May 1999 15:52:38 -0700 (PDT)

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Street outreach workers, policy makers and program developers might well
consider the questions below:

Do homeless people trust providers who work closely with police, business
associations or homeowners' associations?  What's your experience?

Are providers' roles shifting from assisting to policing the homeless?
Is the game now "go to shelter - and get with our program - or go to jail"?

What barriers or incentives to trust between homeless people and our
"helpers" might occur as a result of providers' roles changing - from
securing material resources (entitlements) for the poor - to requiring poor
people change our personal behaviors?

How could barriers be reduced or incentives increased for trust-building
between homeless people and groups whose stated aim is to help us?

Or might homeless and poor people be better off if "helpers" just left us
alone?  Who decides the standards which measure whether we are better off?

Two related LA times articles follow:

FWD  Los Angeles Times - Saturday, May 29, 1999


     Social service agency representatives say
     low turnout at homeless resource fair
     due to recent removal of Sunland encampment.


SUNLAND-TUJUNGA -- She watched and listened and asked a few questions, but
it took her a while to get through the door.

After standing out in the hot sun for a few minutes, Sharon Hartnett
ventured into the Sunland-Tujunga Municipal Building Thursday to see what
was being offered by the social service agencies attending Connections Day,
a resource fair for the homeless.

Although there were more than 20 agencies offering everything from medical
attention to shelter placement, Hartnett agreed to no more than a hot meal
and some fliers, hesitant to accept any more help.

Only about 30 of the area's homeless population showed up to the fair

Hartnett is among those recently forced to leave "Jurassic Park" -- a
Sunland homeless encampment so named by those who used to inhabit the
wooded enclave in the hills above the Foothill (210) Freeway.

"We just got kicked out of Jurassic Park. I don't know who you can trust,"
Hartnett said.

"They have to earn my trust," she said.

A hazard abatement crew was sent Monday to begin clearing out the camp,
which was located in what is considered to be a high fire hazard area.

Officials said the removal of Jurassic Park was directed by the property owner.

The owner could not be reached Friday for comment.

Jurassic Park was one of several encampments identified in the
brush-covered foothills of Sunland-Tujunga that officials say pose a
serious fire hazard.

Complaints of camp fires and police reports of a rise in the area's
transient crime rate led local fire, police and city officials to join with
representatives from several social service agencies in March to begin
offering relocation options to the homeless.

The informal committee had tentatively set the removal of the encampments
for July 1, but officials have since said there is no action planned for
that date and disagree as to what will be done with the camps.

Pat Davenport, a field deputy for Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs
who is coordinating communications between the agencies involved, said July
1 has been designated as no more than the start of the most dangerous part
of the brush fire season.

"No directed removal by city agencies is planned," Davenport said Thursday.

Sgt. Bob Kirk of the Los Angeles Police Department Foothill Division said
Friday officers hope to provide the homeless with the help they need to get
off the streets and eventually remove the encampments.

"Our overall goal is to break up the camps," he said.

Cheryl Chimarusti, a project coordinator for the Los Angeles County
Department of Mental Health Services and the Connections Day organizer,
said conversations with some of the homeless led her to believe the timing
of the removal of Jurassic Park kept people away from the fair.

"The reason we had the low turnout we did is because of the destruction of
the camp," Chimarusti said.

"That kind of action just makes the homeless more angry and more suspicious
of any agency. One thing can negate all the trust you've built with them,"
she said.

John Horn of the Los Angeles Family Housing Corporation agreed the success
of the fair was hurt by the camp's removal.

"The impression we got is that nothing would happen until July 1," Horn
told Davenport after the fair.

"And nothing did, based on any city agency," she said.

When Horn asked if the property owner had been informed of the resource
fair, Davenport said, "I seriously doubt it."

The Los Angeles Municipal Code states the owner of a property that does not
comply with brush clearance regulations will incur the cost of fighting any
fire started on it.

Chimarusti said regaining the trust of the homeless will take time.

"It's possible but it's going to take continued, regular contacts," she said.


An earlier LA Times article follows:

Los Angeles Times - May 28, 1999


Assistance: Social service and government agencies offer 'Connection Day.'
Poor turnout is blamed on a camp closure.

	By ANNETTE KONDO, Times Staff Writer

It was supposed to be "Connection Day," linking the homeless in
Sunland and Tujunga with social service and government agencies that
could help them.

But the 50-plus officials far out-numbered the 20 or so homeless
people at Thursday's meeting at Howard Finn Park.

The thin turnout was in part due to Monday's closing of an encampment
on private land known as Jurassic Park in Sunland, officials and homeless
people said.

Although officials had agreed upon a July 1 deadline to close homeless
settlements in dangerous brush fire areas, the private property owner in
Sunland decided to bulldoze the site.

On Thursday, several angry homeless people said the action raised
fears that if they attended the meeting they might be individually
identified for future encampment closings.

"It was a devastating thing," said Pattee Colvin, a former Jurassic
Park resident who had lived in the settlement of huts and tents for one
year. "What did they connect me with here? I've already been with L.A.
Family Housing and the San Fernando shelter. . . . We thought we could
get jobs."

Colvin's friend, Benny Colon, who lived at the encampment for three
years, said no shelter will accept him with a dog. Colon added that he
had been content with the steady flow of odd jobs in the Jurassic Park

"Even if I got a job, I love being outside," he said while eating a
lunch of teriyaki steak, mashed potatoes, salad and corn served by
servers in chef hats and aprons who ladled food from chafing dishes on
white linen tablecloths.

One Sunland resident, Elizabeth Goodknight, 45, said she would try to
help her displaced friends, such as Colon.

I don't feel they should be pushed out of the neighborhood," she
said. "My daughters have known him for four or five years. I've hired
them to work for me and they help with gardening and jobs around the

Thursday's event offered a free lunch to homeless individuals who met
with five service agency representatives, such as the federal Veterans
Affairs department, San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission, American Indian
Housing and about 30 other organizations.

While several homeless people were fearful or skeptical of city
efforts to assist them, social service representatives were disappointed
with the low numbers of people they could help.

We were expecting obviously more," said Judy Maurella, a case manager
at the Sepulveda Veterans Affairs medical facility. She said about 10
people visited her information table, and perhaps five were vets.

"I guess a lot of the homeless may lose faith with the social service
agencies that were trying to help them," said John Horn of the Los
Angeles Family Housing Corp. "It's very frustrating."

But Pat Davenport, deputy to Councilman Joel Wachs, said the homeless
should not rely upon the July 1 date, which is based on brush fire

The fire hazards are already apparent, she said, and some private
property owners can take action ahead of government agencies.

"Community improvement is displacing encampments that were formerly
out of sight," she said, citing two new developments scheduled to be
built in the Tujunga area. "There are steady pressures from a changing

Since January, Davenport said her office has received about 15
complaints from businesses and residents. She said a few of those were
about Jurassic Park.

One man, who wanted to be identified only by his nickname "Munchkin,"
said he had been homeless for 10 years but always found odd jobs instead
of relying on general relief or other benefits. Shelters were not an
option, he said.

"We're trying to live like the Native Americans," he said, keeping
watch over his black and white dog. "To live off the land."


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