People Living in Trash?

The recent spotlight on Skid Row in Los Angeles fuels my fire for justice. Residents, non-profit organizations, and advocates have pressed the city to acknowledge the complete system meltdown downtown for years. Last year at this time, US Federal Judge Philip S. Gutierrez agreed with Attorney Carol Sobel, ruling against Skid Row clean-ups and in favor of homeless individuals right to maintain property on sidewalks, regardless if it is trash or hazardous to the community.

The return on this “investment” into the Skid Row community includes a 47% increase in theft, 14% increase in homelessness and LA County public health inspection just last week revealed that within an eight block radius, several thousand human beings sleep next to 13 hypodermic needles, 90 rats nests, 90 piles of human waste, and storm drains filled with buckets of urine, vomit and human feces. And that’s just the stuff they found.

Have you ever watched a human being change clothes behind a tarp draped over a shopping cart? How about a single mom pushing a stroller, dragging a suitcase behind her? Ever accidentally interrupted a drug deal by offering to meet an immediate need?

I have. Big oops on the last one, which I’ve done more than once – OK, a lot more than once – but it’s much harder to spot drug dealers on Skid Row than you might think. Sometimes they’re really old. Sometimes they look like pimps. Sometimes they don’t look old enough to shave. And the folks with the habits look strange too. They look like somebody’s grandma, somebody’s sister, somebody’s son.

I loathe the conditions on Skid Row. I loathe the poverty, the entitlement, the devastation of rape, addiction, corruption and disease. Most of all, I loathe that inside of my humanity is a contribution to the problem.

Poverty doesn’t really change until I do… until we do.

The reason I respectfully disagree with the Judge’s ruling (and Attorney Sobel’s desire to continue this effort in Venice, CA with an injunction which will most likely yield similar bad fruit) is because, while I am in favor of an individual’s right to keep their possessions, regardless of where they live; I am also against individuals maintaining the right to keep shopping carts or tarps or tents full of empty paint buckets, shopping bags, old paper cups and discarded, hazardous junk.

It’s an issue of value.

How can we agree with someone who has resigned their value to living in, among, and with the trash? How can we agree that this is acceptable? How can we bear to pass laws that rule humans are the same as trash? If our children were listed as residents of Skid Row, would we pass laws to let them keep their trash or pass laws that required a serious renovation immediately for the entire community?

My friends who are residents on Skid Row desire the city to act, to clean, to help get the junk off the street. I understand the very real, very appropriate desire in every person to have something that’s our own, to have belongings, possessions, items that point to a life we’ve lived, to memories we’ve made; still, I find it unacceptable. Devastating.

I don’t have the answer and I pray God gives us solutions. I don’t think the two extremes we’ve tried are effective, but what I do know, for certain is people do not belong with the trash. God’s creation is not fit to live with rats and feces, rubble and rubbish.

This is your city, your neighbor – what do you think about the matter?

 

 

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