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Away from the Cameras, a Different View of Mission's Shoe Giveaway

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, October 02, 2009, at 05:05PM
Trash outside the Fred Jordan Mission Eric Richardson [Flickr]

One day after the Fred Jordan Mission's shoe giveaway, an overflowing dumpster stands on the corner of 5th and Towne.

On Thursday, the Fred Jordan Mission partnered with Foot Locker to give away thousands of pairs of shoes to needy children. It was a story that got heavy media attention, with news crews talking to families who spent the night on the streets to ensure their children got new shoes.

Just a block away on Friday, the attendees of a hastily-called meeting had a very different view of what had gone on. The scene outside the event was "pure chaos," said LAPD Captain Blake Chow. It was a "complete and utter disaster from many different perspectives," according to Central City East Association Executive Director Estela Lopez. Business owners expressed their anger at revenue lost when trucks and customers couldn't reach their front doors.

The line for the giveaway first appeared on Monday afternoon, nearly 72 hours before the event. Families were told to line up on Crocker street, south of 5th. They slept on cardboard boxes and a couple of mattresses brought out by the mission and dropped on the sidewalk. There were no restroom facilities, and children were seen urinating and defecating against buildings and in the gutter.

By Wednesday midday, that line had grown to 500 people. One port-a-john had been brought out, but Business Improvement District (BID) representatives say that it was quickly overrun by drug dealers and prostitutes. Children were playing in the street amongst trucks making deliveries.

That afternoon, those waiting were moved to the other side of 5th street. Afterward, BID staff removed two and a half trucks of garbage from Crocker street, including four mattresses.

The crowd continued to grow on Wednesday night. Chow was growing increasingly worried that a riot would ensue if there weren't enough giveaway goods to go around. He had been asking the mission to provide wristbands to those in line, but the bands didn't show up until Thursday morning.

By Thursday morning, LAPD had deployed 20 officers to the event. A mobile command post was set up at 4th and Crocker. The line had swelled to 6,000 - 7,000 individuals, most from East and South L.A., and the last of 3,000 wristbands were given away by 11am.

The street closures and packed sidewalks created a severe disruption for surrounding businesses. One business owner spoke of having a container from the port turned back after it was unable to reach his location. Another told of a neighboring business who had two customers from San Francisco turn around and leave without making it to the store, costing the company a sizable order. Mutual Trading Company, located on Crocker across from the Mission, said that it took its 30 delivery trucks twice their normal time to unload on Thursday morning.

For Lopez, the most troubling sight of the event was that of small children playing in Skid Row gutters known to harbor diseases including a potentially fatal methicillin-resistant strain of staph.

LAPD and Council District 9 will be meeting with the Mission next week to share their concerns about the event. Next year, this is going to have to be done differently," said Chow.

On Friday, the BID held a noon meeting for business owners to share their experiences. LAPD and Council District 9 attended. The Fred Jordan Mission was invited to attend, but did not.

The business owners present stressed that they weren't against helping those in need, but that the way the giveaway was handled was unacceptable. They shared ideas for alternate locations such as the Convention Center parking lots and offered suggestions for how to use the wristbands to allow people to show up only when they Mission is ready for them.

In the end, though, they took a cynical view toward how the Mission -- which many at the meeting said had long been a poor neighbor -- might take those ideas. "If they don't have 5,000 people," said one business owner, "they're not going to have those news cameras."


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