Sandy Banks: Could you please check your baggage at the door?

The LA Times, in its never ending quest to dismantle skid row, released its latest propaganda piece to support aggressive and oftentimes illegal policing of the area. In this particular piece, Mission hopes a fee will change skid row’s culture, written by Sandy Banks, the writer goes through great lengths to inculcate the narrative supported by the LAPD, Mayor Villaraigosa, and Councilmember Jan Perry.

Unwittingly, in her article, Banks also documents an illegal search of an EDAR  http://www.edar.org/ by Officer Joseph as well as police activity geared towards displacing homeless people. This documentation supports the case made by local residents and organizations  who have decried the rampant constitutional violations that are blatantly allowed to occur in the name of “public safety.”

The Fourth Amendment is clear when it abolishes this type of behavior by law enforcement–no “warrantless searches” means just that; but it is clear that the choice has been made to disregard constitutional protections in the core of Los Angeles. As one could guess the article drew an assortment of views and opinions; however, the opinion of Barbara Schultz resonates most with LA CAN members and supporters:

Ms. Banks-

As someone who has worked with Skid Row residents for the past ten years, and who sits on the board of a Skid Row community based organization (and as someone who has enjoyed your column in the past), I was utterly appalled at your one dimensional characterization of Skid Row in today’s paper. It seems that you simply parroted the world view of Officer Joseph. The problem with viewing the world through the eyes of a police officer is you’re going to see a skewed world- considering by the very nature of the job they tend to see only the bad.

I wish you had looked through the eyes of community members who are trying to make Skid Row a better place for the people who live there and maybe you would have seen the community that I work with. Maybe you would have seen actual human beings rather than “the stew of addictions, mental illness and criminal intent that keeps bubbling up in a no-man’s land.”  That “no-man’s land” is home to thousands of people who are living their lives– sometimes doing good stuff and sometimes doing bad stuff– just like those of us who live elsewhere. Have you talked to the Los Angeles Community Action Network (on whose board I have proudly sat for ten years) about community? About empowering and educating residents instead of criminalizing them?

As for the missions charging fees- I’m somewhat speechless. Andy Bales wonders how people “fritter away” $211 a month from GR? Seriously? I spent $250 on cleaning supplies at Costco last night. Many people I know spend $3.50 regularly on lattes. That’s frittering. Can you even imagine trying to live on $211 (or $600) a month? A $7 nightly fee will swallow up the entire GR check. So, in case you needed any other food, or soap, or a present for your kid you’re out of luck because the mission has decided to try tough love.  We are now to a point in LA where the homeless can’t even afford to go to a mission. A mission!

As for the idea that a person with a substance abuse problem could just elect to say “ok, I’m going to be sober now so I can come get a bed in your mission” is absolutely ludicrous and unbelievably ignorant.  If you look at any studies, you would find that supportive housing has proven to be the best model to deal with homelessness and addiction. Have you talked to Skid Row Housing Trust, SRO housing, LAMP community about this model?

And SCI- have you looked at any studies that show that criminalization of homelessness does nothing to solve the problem? Have you read UCLA professor Gary  Blasi’s report on the “effectiveness” of that policy? How is giving $300 jaywalking tickets to extremely low income individuals going to solve homelessness, addiction, or any other problem? I run a legal clinic at LA CAN which offers residents a chance to talk to pro bono attorneys about housing, government benefits , family law and other legal issues, but we also represent clients in traffic court for these jaywalking tickets. We’ve kept statistics on the thousands of tickets we’ve taken in and learned that it has a disparate impact based on race and disability– over 60% of those receiving tickets are African-American and 75% are disabled. As a result of the ticket 30% report losing services. As for the public cost- we have to pay for the extra police officers writing the citations, and then going to court to testify, the city attorney’s time prosecuting the case, and of course the costs to the courts having to deal with thousands of extra cases. Then we also have to pay for the city attorney’s HALO program- which forces jaywalkers to go only to the missions if they want to avoid a fine– even if they are housed (as most of our clients are) and are receiving services elsewhere, thus using up valuable resources needlessly.

I really hope that you look a bit deeper into Skid Row if you choose to write about it again. Like your community, it is multi-faceted and cannot be reduced to one characterization. If you’d like to learn more, I’d be happy to provide references.

Barbara Schultz | Attorney at Law

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3 Responses to “Sandy Banks: Could you please check your baggage at the door?”

  1. Barbara thanks for your letter. Great letter. Here article just struck a nerve….Here is the comment I added to her article. Mrs. Banks, this must be one of your most biased articles. This is coming from someone who has enjoyed your articles in the past. Are you really going to believe everything that Officer Joseph tells you? Those EMDR that are filled with drug paraphernalia are not used for that. It was obvious that the one he showed you would have the condoms, drugs, etc. because that is Joseph’s way to getting his point across. And to quote Andy Bales, that is just silly.I used to work in Skid Row as a case manager and you know what the homeless people and majority of the people who live in Skill call Andy Bales and the other CEO’s from the Missions: Poverty Pimps. That is exactly what they are. Trying to get rich from the expense of poor people. Ask Andy what is his salary? If he thinks people just throw away their$221 or$600, challenge him to see if he can spend one month living under$221.After all, he is a “reverend” so voluntarity poverty should not be an issue. And that “no-man’s land” is very offensive. Skid Row is by far one of the most organized communities in L.A. This type of journalism only adds insult to injury to a population that is trying to regain their dignity in the media outlets. The concept of paying to stay in mission to hire case managers is a joke. Homeless people would rather boycott the missions rather than pay to live in them. Missions are not a place of dignity.

  2. Sorry for the typos..meant to say EDAR rather than EMDR…

  3. Yeah but you forgot to mention that the mission doesn’t just charge to stay there, but takes a portion and creates a savings account for the person. That’s a crucial part of the the self sufficiency they are trying to encourage! Also drug dealing is a major issue and people do sell and hide drugs on the street, in tents etc..wake up. Go after the drug dealers and not the users. Drug dealers are ruining the fragile community and need to be dealt with more seriously. The police are encouraging drug dealers to prey on skid row. How come on every block you can see a drug dealer?

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