Addressing Homeless Problems in Northeast L.A.

February 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Representatives of various city and county housing and mental health agencies, elected officials, law enforcement, nonprofit groups, residents and the homeless gathered Tuesday night for a town hall meeting on issues of homelessness in Northeast Los Angeles. While some complained about trash, illegal camping and public safety, others defended the rights of the homeless and called for policies that go beyond “sweeping the problem away.”

The meeting was held at Ramona Hall, a parks and recreation facility adjacent to Sycamore Grove Park on Figueroa Street.

There’s been an ongoing problem with litter and illegal dumping in the area. Residents and a local school have repeatedly complained sidewalks are being taken over by the homeless and their possessions. They fear using the park for recreational activities, despite the city on more than one occasion sending in crews to clean up the area.

Much of the discussion focused on the rights of the homeless and the need for more services to help them. Panelists answered questions about what can be done to lessen the impact on local neighborhoods like Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Montecito Heights and Cypress Park.

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

They were asked about the process for dealing with the seemingly ever-growing number of homeless encampments along the Arroyo Seco Parkway and in public spaces like the 200-acre Debs Park in Montecito Heights; panelists repeatedly responded that the homeless have rights too and need more services to assist them. “When you move them from one corner, they just wind up on another corner,” pointed out one of the speakers. That’s not the solution.

Someone in the audience asked why the city isn’t looking into designating campgrounds where they can live in Northeast L.A..

Senior lead officers from the LAPD’S Hollenbeck and Northeast police divisions said their goal is to not to arrest unless there is a real danger, but to try to encourage the homeless to get services; an approach shared by neighborhood prosecutors for Hollenbeck and Northeast who said they try to deescalate situations rather than prosecute the homeless.

Several panelists pointed out that many of the homeless have deep roots and ties to the neighborhoods.

“They are locals, moving out of the area is not an option for them,” said John Urquiza, a member of the Northeast Alliance.

There are not enough beds, transitional housing or wrap-around services available in the northeast area and they do not want to go to shelters in Skid Row or El Monte, speakers said. They’d rather live on the street, it’s a lifestyle said one of the speakers.

Everybody would like an apartment, countered Rebecca Prine with the Homeless Coalition and Recycled Resources, which does outreach to and collects data on the homeless in Northeast L.A.

They feel safe living along the Arroyo because at some point they were residents somewhere nearby, she said. Some of her clients have families in the area, she said.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) estimated there are 68,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Out of those, more than 31,000 suffer of a physical or mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, psychotic disorder, anxiety, etc. Today, there are an estimated 44,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Urquiza said that Highland Park has become one of the most expensive areas to live, with rent averaging $1,800 a month. “Nobody talks about housing, they all talk about revitalization,” he said.

First District Councilman Gil Cedillo’s Field Deputy Sylvia Robledo told the audience her boss has made affordable housing one of his top priorities and on Wednesday would introduce a motion calling on the city administrator to comprehensively study how the city is using it’s $9 billion in federal funds to provide transitional housing.

The issue is complex, there is not one single solution, said Martin Schlagetev, Councilman Jose Huizar’s aid in charge of homeless issues. He discussed how the councilman’s office is working comprehensively on the issue, from cleaning streets to bringing in county social workers to work with the homeless simultaneously.

Ron is homeless and attended Tuesday’s town hall. He said the homeless feel harassed by the police and park rangers. He accused them of pushing him out of his camp and to the riverbed.

He said there are too many rules and it takes too long to get services. “Go get a TB check, go fill out a survey, do something” and you’re still waiting six months later.

Richard Renteria counsels the homeless and said most of those he’s interviewed are afraid to  live in Skid Row shelters.

“The majority of people here are one check away from being homeless and if I became homeless, I’d rather live here in the Arroyo than in the shelters that I serve,” he said.

For nearly two hours, several residents sat quietly waiting for a chance to discuss their concerns, growing increasingly frustrated, and in some cases angry, that nothing was being said about their right to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

Minutes before the meeting was to end, Edward Carreon finally had a chance to speak. He said he understands homelessness cannot be addressed in one day, that more affordable housing and services for the homeless are needed, but he wants the city and police to do something to protect his and his family’s rights.

“Not all the homeless are good people like it’s been said here,” he said. A lot of them are really bad characters. They are selling and shooting up heroine, and there’s a chop shop where they sell stolen bikes. You come across them having sex in the bushes at Debbs Park, Carreon said. “I can’t even take my daughter out anymore, I don’t feel safe.”

The city needs to step up police patrols to protect residents in the area, he said, before being cut off by the meeting moderator who said they were out of time and had to adjourn.

Immediately following the meeting, several residents said they attended the meeting because they were worried about the growing number of homeless in their neighborhoods and how aggressive some have become.

Kim Hepner has lived in Montecito Heights since 2002 and said she was frustrated that people like her who had followed the rules and waited quietly to ask questions were never given a chance to speak. The meeting was all about the rights of he homeless, she said.

“What about those of us who want to use the park to exercise? There’s a big problem with obesity in this area and people need the park,” she said. “People are afraid, I can’t even walk my dog in the park anymore, she said.

“We used to have gang problems” when I first moved to Montecito Heights, but that got better. Now it’s the homeless and it’s “very unsafe out there,” she told EGP.

She said thanks to the Next Door mobile app she is able to discuss the issues with people living in her neighborhood.

“There are a lot of us on there and we talk about how we can protect each other,” she said. “We watch out for each other” and talk about the illegal homeless encampments, dumping and other illegal activities in the park, Hepner said.

Speaking after the meeting, the residents said they understand the frustration of the homeless, but someone needs to understand them and their safety concerns.

Officer Craig Orange with the Los Angeles Police Department Northeast division told the audience that it is not a crime to be homeless, but more resources are needed to address the issue. “We can’t assume that just clean ups are the solution, or mental health help or housing, it is a combination of all” these things, he said.


EGP Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.

Southwest Museum Named ‘National Treasure’

January 22, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

The city of Los Angeles’100-year-old Southwest Museum was named a “national treasure” today by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The announcement was made at the museum’s Mount Washington location, making it one of just 55 such designations across the country.

What the designation means for the Southwest Museum in practical terms is not yet clear, however, it will open the door to valuable resources and alliances that could aid in securing the  museum’s future, and most importantly, its long term financial sustainability.

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)


The National Trust for Historic Preservation — one of the nation’s leading private historic preservation groups — said today it plans to hold public outreach meetings to gather opinions on how best to use the museum site.

The Southwest Museum has been at the center of a near decade long feud between museum supporters and the Autry National Center of the American West, which took over management of the financially failing museum in 2003 as part of a merger agreement.

Southwest supporters say the Autry has not lived up to its “promise” to restore the facility so it could continue to operate as a fully functioning museum.

According to the Autry, they have invested over $14 million since taking over. Two-thirds of the investment has gone to conserving the Southwest’s extensive collection of Native American and early California artifacts and art – which has been removed from the site – and the remainder to renovations to stabilize the museum structure. But they say they cannot afford to operate the museum or pay the estimated $26 to $46 million cost to upgrade the Southwest to modern museum standards.

Friends of the Southwest Museum, a coalition of individuals and organizations that has tried for years to pressure the Autry – and city officials – to reopen the museum, has long contended that the value of the Southwest’s collections could provide a path to securing the revenue needed for operating the historic facility, but that the Autry has been more interested in using the collections to bolster its status and to build patronage of its Griffith Park campus.

The museum has been mostly closed since 2006, only opening for a few hours on Saturdays, to the ire of many museum supporters.

A recent community-based survey showed overwhelming support for a fully functioning museum at the Mt. Washington site, and possibly a cultural community center with some commercial elements, such as a restaurant.

The National Trust says it plans to hold public outreach meetings to gather opinions on how best to use the museum site and its collection.

Barbara Pah, Western Regional VP of the preservation group, said designating the museum site as a national treasure recognizes “the historic, architectural and cultural values that have made the Southwest Museum site a beloved fixture in Los Angeles for the past century.

“With the collaboration and enthusiasm of the Autry, the city of Los Angeles, and individuals and organizations both in the neighborhood and throughout Los Angeles, we look forward to identifying a sustainable use that ensures that the Southwest Museum site actively contributes to the thriving
urban fabric of Los Angeles for the next 100 years,” Pahl said.

Autry president, W. Richard West Jr., said Autry officials are “honored to partner with the National Trust to identify a proud and viable future for the site that will respect its important legacy and bring value to the community and Los Angeles area.”

The National Trust will take the lead on planning and mediating the tense relationship between community stakeholders and the Autry, and could pursue government and private grant funding to support the eventual consensus on the museum’s future.

Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents the area where the Southwest Museum is located, hailed the National Treasure designation.

“I applaud the National Trust for naming the Southwest Museum, a National Treasure,” stated Cedillo in an email.

The “announcement confirms and validates the importance of preserving our historic resources,” he stated. “I am committed to working with the community and the Autry to help protect and ensure the next 100 years of the Southwest Museum.”


4:30 p.m. This article has been updated to note that the “national treasure” designation has been made; National Trust for Historic Preservation’s plans to hold public meetings; quotes and background information from the National Trust and the Autry.

Action Delayed On Finalizing L.A. City Street Vending Policy

December 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The City Council’s Economic Development Committee Tuesday withheld its support for a permitting program for mobile sidewalk vendors, with several members saying the proposal was not fully developed and calling for more study on how such a program would work.

The proposal to legalize the sale of food and wares on sidewalks and public parks is being championed by Councilmen Curren Price and Jose Huizar, who is up for re-election in March.

The committee meeting was preceded by a rally and news conference organized by the Los Angeles Street Vendors Campaign, in which vendors and speakers from the 55-member coalition prematurely called it an “historic” day in anticipation that the panel would greenlight the proposal and send it on to the full council.

Huizar and Price’s committee colleagues decided otherwise. Councilman Paul Koretz said near the end of the two-hour-plus meeting, “I wouldn’t want our vote to do anything to imply that I was moving a program forward.”

Koretz, along with Councilmen Paul Krekorian and Gil Cedillo, noted the thinness of a city report on the permitting proposal and said they felt as though they were being asked to support a program before key questions were answered.

Supporters of street vendors rally with L.A. Councilmember Jose Huizar, center,  before the Economic Develompent Committee meeting on Tuesday. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Supporters of street vendors rally with L.A. Councilmember Jose Huizar, center, before the Economic Develompent Committee meeting on Tuesday. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The council members said the report was short on details about the number of permits that would be available, the types of food or wares that could be sold, where vending could take place, permit fee amounts and whether there would be enough funding to enforce the regulation, among other issues.

“What I have before me is seven pages of a report that doesn’t really even weigh some of the fundamental policy decisions we’re going to have to make as a council,” Krekorian said.

Cedillo summed up the situation by saying, “This is not cooked yet.”

Huizar expressed bewilderment at the pushback from some business groups and fellow council members who criticized the lack of detail in the report, saying at least two meetings were held in recent months to obtain feedback from the public.

“This motion was introduced a year ago, and I thought we would be much further ahead in understanding what this means,” he said.

Some groups, representing businesses and neighborhood councils, urged the panel to consider allowing the permitting program in some areas, but not in others, depending on the individual needs and characteristics of each neighborhood.

But groups that have been pushing for legalization of street vending said they want the program applied citywide.

Maria Cabildo, director of the East Los Angeles Community Corporation, told the committee that vendors have been “waiting for this for a very long time.”

She said past attempts to permit street vending in MacArthur Park set up an uneven playing field for vendors, “so we really need a policy to be citywide, not just particular designated areas, for this policy to be effective.”

John Howland of the Central City Association, which represents downtown businesses, said “a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work in the city, and each neighborhood should have an opportunity to weigh in.”

There are an estimated 10,000 food vendors and 40,000 non-food vendors doing business in Los Angeles on sidewalks and in parks, according to city officials.

The report presented to the Economic Development Committee describes an organizational chart of what agencies would take part in the permitting program. Food vendors would need to obtain permits from the Department of Public Health, and the Los Angeles Police Department would play an enforcement role, city officials said.

The Economic and Workforce Development Department, the Recreation and Parks Department and the Bureau of Street Services would handle the permitting process under the current framework.

Supporters of legalizing street vending say it would open up entrepreneurial opportunities to low-income people and legitimize an already thriving street food culture in Los Angeles, while critics of the business model worry it would create a public nuisance and unsanitary conditions related to food sales.

The proposal has drawn mixed reaction from neighborhood groups. The Studio City Neighborhood Council officially opposes the idea, while the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council have come out in support of legalized, regulated street vending.

The Mar Vista Community Council expressed “deep concerns” about the proposed permitting system and asked that before street vending is legalized, issues such as liability, sanitation, noise, odors and trash be addressed.

The Central City East Association asked that street vending not be allowed in the Skid Row area in downtown Los Angeles. The group’s executive director, Raquel Beard, wrote in a letter to the City Council that “this area is already plagued with a mixed bag of public safety issues, (and) the last

thing it needs to add to the equation is street vending.”

Some concerns were raised that street vendors would be more prone to extortion by gang members, but LAPD officials said brick-and-mortar shops could also be affected, noting the best way to combat that type of crime is to report it to authorities.

It’s Their Only Option, Say Mobile Merchants

December 4, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

Holding a stack of tickets for illegal street vending, Rosa Calderon stood with a group of about 100 street vendors inside Los Angeles City Hall Tuesday—confident a city council committee was about to move forward a measure to allow them to go about their business legally.

They said they are tired of being chased by the police when they are “just working to support their families and themselves.”

Their hopes were temporarily dashed when the City Council’s Economic Development Committee decided to delay action on a street vending permitting process championed by Councilmen Jose Huizar (CD-14) and Curren Price Jr. (CD-9).

There is an estimated 50,000 street vendors in the city, but according to Huizar spokesman Rick Coca, the exact number is hard to come by because the industry is unregulated. Because street vending is currently banned, sellers are unable to pay for a business license or get a health permit, and are subject to fines if caught.

Rosa Calderon, 85, got multiple tickets for selling Waters and sodas on the street, however, she’s back to selling because she said she doesn’t have another job. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Rosa Calderon, 85, has received multiple tickets for selling waters and sodas on the street, however, she’s back to selling because she said she doesn’t have another job. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Many street vendors are undocumented, elderly or unemployed and according to street vending advocates, they have no other options for making the money they need to live.

This is the case for 85-year old Calderon, who told EGP she has been selling sodas and bottled water in downtown Los Angeles ever since losing her housekeeping job six years ago. She says her undocumented status and advanced age have made it impossible for her to find another job.

Holding five tickets, some issued by the same police officer and each carrying a $300 or so fine, Calderon said she can’t afford to pay the tickets and has been doing community service to try to reduce the debt. She said street vending is her only option for paying her rent and her food. It’s a financial necessity, say street vending allies.

Huizar told EGP that people like Calderon are part of a $400 million underground economy, “that the city does not know about or see.”

“We want to be able to bring it into the light because it benefits everybody,” he said.

Sixty-five-year-old Jose Moreno sells raspados (shaved ice) and elotes (corn on the cob) in the San Fernando Valley. He said vendors like him aren’t hurting anyone. “What we sell is not illegal, we are not hiding our stuff,” he said. But “when [the police] confiscate our merchandise they leave us with nothing,” he said. He said he felt helpless when police took away his cart with about $400 of merchandise. “They don’t understand that we have bills and rent to pay,” said Moreno, who turned to street vending after losing his job.

Selling on the street is hard work and a tough way to make money and no one is getting rich doing it, say street vendors.

“Sometimes we make about $60-$70 [a day], but sometimes we go back home without a dollar in our pocket,” said Lina Rangel, who sells her food at MacArthur Park in the Westlake area of Los Angeles. “But we keep trying.”

According to Rangel, the police constantly take away the food and wares they are selling and just throw them away. “They throw liquids, like champurrado (a hot chocolate type drink) down the drain,” she said in frustration. “They hit our carts with their batons and we can’t say anything or we get arrested.”

“Unfortunately, it is a perception that street vendors take away businesses from store fronts,” Isela C. Gracian, Vice President of Operations with the East Los Angeles Community Corporation told EGP. “We have been working with different store front businesses and they see the value of working with street vendors to attract more clientele to their neighborhood,” said Gracian, hopeful the committee will get its answers and move forward soon on approving a permitting process.

According to a research study by the Economic Roundtable, street vendors create and support an estimated 5,234 full-time jobs. Food vendors alone “create 1,896 jobs,” the study found.


Twitter @jackieguzman

Comienza Programa Piloto para la Recolección de Objetos Voluminosos

May 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Un nuevo programa piloto para “cambiar drásticamente la forma en que la Ciudad recoge objetos voluminosos” comenzó la semana pasada en el Este y Noreste de Los Ángeles del Concejal Gil Cedillo, CD-1.

En una conferencia de prensa, el 24 de abril en una casa en el área de Cypress Park/Mount Washington, Cedillo anunció que la ciudad está explorando los beneficios de permitir al departamento de trabajadores de recolección de basura se lleven mueblería vieja, electrodomésticos y otros objetos voluminosos desde el interior de las casas de los residentes, y no solo en la acera como se hace actualmente.

El servicio de recolección de basura recoge objetos voluminosos de la casa de un residente en Mt. Washington. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

El servicio de recolección de basura recoge objetos voluminosos de la casa de un residente en Mt. Washington. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

El programa de 6 meses ofrecerá 10 locaciones de recolección por día—Lunes a viernes—a los residentes del Primer Distrito, dijo Cedillo. Se permitirá un máximo de cinco artículos por hogar. Se requiere hacer cita y estas serán en base de “primer llegado, primer servido”, dijo Alex E. Helou, asistente director del Departamento de Recolección de Basura de la Ciudad de Los Ángeles.

Desde su comienzo en el Distrito, Cedillo ha centrado muchos de los recursos de su oficina en la lucha contra la basura y problemas de deshechos ilegales en el distrito que incluye Highland Park, Lincoln Heights , Chinatown, Echo Park, Westlake, MacArthur Park y la región Mid-Cities entre otros vecindarios. Este último esfuerzo es una expansión en su Distrito de la “campaña de limpieza” que incluye todo, desde la basura selectiva y la eliminación de artículos voluminosos hasta compactadores de basura y anuncios recordando a los residentes que mantengan la ciudad limpia.

Read this article in English: L.A. Pilot Program to Test In-Home Bulky Removal Service

Aunque los residentes actualmente pueden llamar al 3-1-1 para pedir a la ciudad se lleve objetos voluminosos como colchones y sofás , no todos llaman antes de dejar los objetos en las aceras, terrenos baldíos o en los callejones . Y para algunas personas los requisitos pueden no ser fáciles de cumplir.

“[Tenemos] una norma en la que pediamos a nuestros residentes a poner sus objetos voluminosos fuera para recoger y me pareció inaceptable”, Cedillo le dijo a EGP. Los artículos pueden ser demasiado pesados para que algunos residentes los pongan a la calle, “así que hice una petición para cambiar eso para permitir [a los trabajadores] de recolección de basura para ir dentro de las casas de la gente”, dijo el concejal. Ellos “recogerán [los objetos voluminosos] como si son sus servicios de UPS o FEDEC”, excepto que este es un servicio pagado con los impuestos de los residentes, agregó.

Cedillo dijo que el programa “eliminará la necesidad de dejar objetos voluminosos fuera, atrayendo a más destrozo en nuestras comunidades.”

“Las personas pueden ser pobres , pero eso no quiere decir que quieren vivir en un lugar sucio”, explicó.

Cedillo previamente le dijo a EGP que muchos de los programas que él ha comenzado están destinados a eliminar las ineficiencias burocráticas que complican el proceso de limpiar la basura y eliminar elementos, tales como un trabajador de la ciudad que sólo se lleva un colchón descartado y deja atrás un viejo neumático que esta en el mismo lugar, porque ese es el trabajo de otro departamento de la ciudad.

Sin embargo , la semana pasada, dijo que al mantener la comunidad limpia verificará si la gente de su distrito están dispuestos a cambiar sus hábitos y “dejar de pensar que puedes tirar tus cosas ahí fuera y que alguien va a venir a recogerlo.”

Mientras tanto, Helou dijo que los residentes que deseen que la ciudad vaya a remover sus objetos del interior de sus hogares deben firmar un acuerdo de responsabilidad antes de que los trabajadores puedan entrar. Lo ideal sería que el residente este en casa cuando los trabajadores de sanidad lleguen, pero si no puede estar ahí, Helou dijo que pueden dejar objetos en el porche con una nota que identifique claramente qué cosas han de ser recogidas para evitar que se lleven los elementos equivocados.

La persona que pide el servicio y que este en casa cuando los trabajadores lleguen debe ser mayor de 18 años. No más de cinco elementos se eliminarán por hogar, y todos los artículos deben estar libres de ataduras y no estar en paredes u otras superficies; los aparatos deben desconectarse de las tuberías de gas o electricidad y los artículos deben caber fácilmente a través de la puerta de salida.

La ciudad no se hace responsable por los daños a los elementos retirados, y una vez fuera de la propiedad no se pueden devolver.

El programa piloto será evaluado después del período de prueba de 6 meses, según Helou. Si tiene éxito, “la mantendremos y ampliaremos a más distritos del consejo y en toda la ciudad”, agregó.

Los residentes pueden llamar al (800) 773-2489 24 horas antes para programar el servicio y habrá una ventana de colección de cuatro horas el día de recolección.

Las comunidades en CD-1 son Glassell Park, Cypress Park, Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Solano Canyon, Elysian Park, Echo Park, Westlake, Angelino Heights, Temple Beaudry, Lafayette Park, Chinatown, Forgotten Edge, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Sycamore Grove, Pico Union, Adams-Normandie, University Park, Mid Cities and Mac Arthur Park.


Twitter @jackieguzman

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