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Skid Row cleanup a success, but more work is needed say residents and workers

By Omar Shamout
Published: Thursday, August 16, 2012, at 04:14PM

LaToya Davis, right, makes her home on 6th Street and says the area was so dirty before the cleanup that it forced her to see a doctor.

Skid Row residents and Los Angeles Mission staff both agree that the city’s new cleanup plan, which began its second phase on Monday, is literally a breath of fresh air. Questions remain though about how to create lasting change in the area.

Latoya Davis has been living on Skid Rown for seven years. The Atlanta native is one of many who have set up camp along 6th Street just past San Julian Street, and she says the rat-infested location was a health hazard before five tons of waste were removed in July.

“Dirt was getting in everyone’s eyes. I got infected … and had to go to the doctor,” Davis said.

She praised the city’s efforts and said it lifted her spirits to come back after it was completed and see the newly cleaned sidewalks.

“I’m very, very happy that they’re going to clean the place up better and have it be a better city,” Davis said. “There won’t be a mess.”

The staff at the nearby Los Angeles Mission also said the cleanup was badly needed. Ivan Klassen, director of community partnerships, said he thinks the city is on the right track.

“It’s a good thing. I think the city’s doing the best that they can. You don’t want things to be causing health hazards,” Klassen said.

But Klassen said he worries that more frequent upkeep is needed to keep Skid Row a safe and healthy environment.

“One of my colleagues … on Monday, he walked over fecal matter to get here. You clean up, but then there’s more that comes back,” Klassen said.

Robert Simmons, the evening coordinator of the men’s ’s ministry, also called the cleanup a “very good thing,” and applauded Mayor Villaraigosa for “doing his part to clean up Downtown.”

Simmons said requests for one of the mission’s 150 available beds were up about 10 percent after the cleanups earlier this summer and expects the same this time around. He added that many residents were attracted to the Los Angeles Mission because their beds are free of charge. Unfortunately, they don’t always have room for everyone that shows up, especially since women are provided housing off-site in nearby single-room-occupancy hotels.

Guests at the mission are welcome to stay up to 15 days, but must enter one of its rehabilitation programs if they wish to stay longer. The mission’s three recovery programs last from one month up to two years long.

“People want to stay longer with us, but … we have to make room for new people," Simmons said. "People are coming from all over, especially in the summertime.”

Simmons said he makes an effort to change people’s hygiene habits when they enter the mission. He tells them they should shower twice daily and try to shave regularly.

“One of the things I instill is trying to get the people to quit looking homeless –– bringing plastic bags everywhere they go,” Simmons said. “I’m trying to educate them to get shaving kits to put their toiletries in.”

Klassen said it will take more than just city workers to affect real change on Skid Row.

“Overall, I think people like it when it’s cleaner down here, but there are still issues,” Klassen said. “Let’s all work together to clean things up.”

Davis, who lives mere blocks from the mission, struck a similar note, saying it will take a group effort to create more “love” in the neighborhood.

“It’s not that bad when you keep the place clean,” Davis said. “Everyone can work together as a team ... so no one will get sick.”


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