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Industrial District warehouse stores personal property for homeless

By Hayley Fox
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012, at 10:46AM
Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

An employee makes his way through the bins at the 7th Street storage center. Only employees are allowed beyond the fences to prevent theft and to help keep bins organized.

Blue and green plastic trash bins stretch as far as the eye can see at the 7th Street storage facility in DTLA, which has been housing homeless people's belongings for the past ten years. What began as a single room with 300 trash bins, has developed into an expansive warehouse with 1,100 bins, additional room for storage and a methodical system of providing access to personal property.

The warehouse is run by the Central City East Association (CCEA) and staffed with employees from the non-profit organization Chrysalis, which helps homeless people develop job skills and find employment.

Peggy Washington, who manages the space, has worked there for six years. She began as a sweeper, cleaning up on the street outside the warehouse.

"Everyday I'm grateful for these people I have to deal with -- I'm very grateful -- because they remind me I could be right here again," she said.

The warehouse is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Each person must renew their bin every seven days, or their belongings are cycled into storage where they are held for 90 days. This helps maintain enough bin space for everyone who needs it.

Washington, who now oversees eight employees each day, says Mondays are their busiest days.

"We get pretty busy in the morning with people putting back their stuff, getting a change of clothes, stuff like that," said Washington.

She added that while employees do keep an eye out for valuables or weapons that may be brought into the storage facility, they don't look through anyone's personal bin.

"Because that's invading their privacy and that's something I won't do," said Washington.

The industrial building that houses the storage facility is owned by a board member of the CCEA, said Estela Lopez, executive director of the organization. She added that without the donated space, they probably couldn't afford to operate.

"If we had to pay rent, we wouldn't be here," said Lopez.

She said operational costs including staffing, utilities and more, cost upwards of $120,000 a year -- and emphasized that the warehouse was not run by social services.

"This is here because of the business community," she said.

Lopez said over the years the CCEA has learned how to better operate the facility, and said much of the system is based on a "sense of respect"; for the people who use the facility, and those who run it.

Raymond Hoskins, 54, has been working at the storage center for a little less than three months. He sits at a folding table in one of the two entrances to the site, and is in charge of pulling bins for people who want access to their things.

Everyone has a bin number and when requested, Hoskins heads back into the large warehouse, finds the bin, and wheels it back out into the entryway so the people may look through it.

"You get pretty good exercise up in here," he said, of the constant back-and-forth.

On a Monday afternoon, there is a cycle of 10 to 15 people who come in and out requesting access to their bins. Jose Vargas is one of these people; he's been using the facility's services for more than three years, and visits the warehouse anywhere between three times a day to only a few times a week.

"It is convenient, safe and like my closet," said Vargas.

What now appears to be a fairly well-oiled system has developed over the past decade with an influx of facility use. The number-coded bins help streamline access and protect people's privacy, while Thumbs the cat and the rest of the feline pest control team are used to keep the warehouse vermin-free.

While recent Skid Row clean-ups and revamped policing in the area has led to increased use of the storage facility, Washington says the poor economy is also to blame. As of now, the only other storage facility of its kind is owned by the City and located on Temple and Alameda. It's a temporary space though, said Lopez, and they will have to relocate to a more permanent location.

The 7th Street warehouse doesn't turn anyone away, said Lopez, and although most of the people who use it are from Skid Row, some have come from has far as Long Beach to make use of the storage.

"It's like with the social services -- you can't keep funneling everything into Skid Row," she said. "Other communities need to play a part in dealing with and addressing the needs of people who are unsheltered. This cant be the only one."

KPCC's Anibal Ortiz contributed to this post


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