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Improving Skid Row: Mayoral candidates and activists weigh in

By Rachel Garcia
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012, at 04:41PM
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L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti said he wants to form a coalition of businesses, faith institutions, government, everyday residents and nonprofit organizations in order to solve the problems in Skid Row.

Operation Healthy Streets, the city's latest effort to clean up Skid Row after it violated several health codes, consists of routine scrub-downs and trash removal in order to maintain the area. In light of clean-up efforts and the 2013 race for mayor of Los Angeles, Blogdowntown spoke to mayoral candidates as well as activists about their efforts, plans and hopes for the Skid Row.

Eric Garcetti, L.A. City Councilman and 2013 Mayoral Candidate:
"Skid Row has been a local problem. It has been a national embarrassment," Garcetti said.

As mayor, Garcetti said he would focus on three S's when dealing with Skid Row: Services, structures and stories. He said he would focus on providing services for people in Skid Row because services turn peoples' lives around. In terms of structures and stories, he said that you need to learn people's stories to find out who is the most vulnerable or close to death in order to prioritize housing placement.

"Individual case management is a model to end homelessness," he said about the imperative of getting to know the people who live on Skid Row.

Garcetti said he wants to form a coalition of businesses, faith institutions, government, everyday residents and nonprofit organizations in order to solve the problems in Skid Row.

Wendy Greuel, L.A. City Controller and 2013 Mayoral Candidate:
Greuel says she has a unique perspective on Skid Row after working with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homeless to help conduct some of the first counts of homeless populations.

She said her focus will be creating permanent housing with attached social services in order to ensure health and safety for homeless in Skid Row.

Greuel said she will also focus on providing services to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

"This will take financial resources fro the federal, state and local governments as well as excitement from the business community," she said.

Kevin James, 2013 Mayoral Candidate:
James has two main action points for dealing with Skid Row - auditing the money that is directed towards Skid Row and converting city facilities into housing for area residents.

He wants to audit money that is designated for Skid Row in order to expose corruption.

"We need honest answers about where taxpayer money is going," he said. He added that public money that could be going to Skid Row is being lost and, as mayor, he would work to reconcile the money he claims is being squandered.

James also wants to create more housing for the area's residents.

"We have city facilities that could be retrofitted to shelters for the homeless," he said. He suggests, for example, transforming closed hospital facilities into affordable housing.

When deciding who to provide with housing, James suggests separating people by priority level. The first priority, he said, should be families with children. Then he describes those who seem to be easiest to re-acclimate to society - those who want jobs and can be trained. The final priority, he said, should be drug users, those who are mentally ill, as well as the chronically homeless.

"Some people will never take well to assistance," he said. "We have to separate those who want housing and jobs from those who do not."

General Jeff Page, Skid Row resident, activist and self-proclaimed "Mayor of Skid Row":
"Skid Row is the dirtiest, nastiest, filthiest place in the whole world," Page said.

Page suggests paying Skid Row residents to do the work performed by Operation Healthy Streets.

He also said that the area has a large pedophile problem. Combined with a growing number of children in the area, he said that housing families with children should be a major priority.

"I'd like to see the buildings transform into having offices and retail on the ground with the floors above it used as housing for Skid Row residents. The roofs could be used as outdoor play areas so kids can run around outside with less concern about predators.

Page also said that the area needs to implement more "positive programs."

"The easiest way to get rid of negative energy is to create positive energy," he said, applying his college physics education to the situation in Skid Row.

He recommended exercise programs for the area's residents including low-impact exercise equipment for senior citizens.

"The proper way to rehabilitate people is through health and nutrition," he said. He explained that while the missions do an invaluable service in feeding people, he would like to see them try to serve healthier meals instead of focusing on just filling people up.

Katherine McNenny, Skid Row loft resident and activist:
"A lot of people in the Skid Row community know me as the Tree Lady," McNenny said.

McNenny's main goals are adding more trees and greenery, benches and art to Skid Row.

"Our streets are so hot," she said. "People are burning up."

McNenny said that Skid Row needs to have more safe places open at night, after the parks and missions have closed. She wants people to start talking about making public spaces safer for Skid Row's mentally ill population and suggested the implementation of outreach teams who can attend to them

"People in Skid Row need places to go to at night that they can afford," she said. She suggested opening 24-hour coffee shops as a safe place for Skid Row's homeless population.

Jan Perry, L.A. City Councilwoman and 2013 Mayoral Candidate:
As councilwoman, Perry oversaw Downtown, including Skid Row, for 11 years until redistricting took effect in July.

Perry said that, as mayor, she would continue the work she did as councilwoman in the area by continuing to create public housing. Also, she said she would work with the city as well as L.A. County to improve the resources given to the homeless.

"The next mayor needs to make sure the community gets the respect it deserves," she said.

She added that she would collaborate between businesses, homeless and community interests in order to make sure Skid Row is respected.

"It will be difficult if you make it difficult but not if you set it out as a priority," Perry said.


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