As officers are getting ready to head out Monday morning and patrol the Downtown area in Los Angeles, there is a homeless woman inconspicuously placing a glass pipe to her lips at the steps of the Central Community Police Station, right in front of Skid Row.
It is normal for this to be seen in here, where every first week of the month majority of the homeless people here can be seen taking some sort of drug that they just bought with their recent welfare check. She, along with thousands of other homeless individuals, makeup the 17,000 plus population of Skid Row, where it serves as a breeding ground for the highest crime rate, drug use, and homelessness in the city alone.
Although the conditions in Skid Row have improved in the past six years according to LAPD, conditions are still far from perfect in the area that has centralized over 17,000 of Los Angeles’ homeless population.
“Since then, things have gotten better,” says Detective Joseph Smith, who works at the Detective Bureau at the Central Community Police Station. “A lot more enforcement has been put on, such as sanitary regulations, when the people can put up their tents, and now about 100 officers patrol Skid Row. “
However, Smith believes that without eliminating welfare for the homeless, there will not be any change in the crime/drug rate in the area at all.
“There’s only so much we can do if they’re used to being out on the streets, being put in jail, and being put out on the streets again. The money we give them as taxpayers for drugs needs to be taken away to prevent this losing battle,” says Smith.
Others disagree with common misconceptions about homeless people and have taken action and put matter into their own hands to help improve the situation on Skid Row and spread awareness about the actual stories of the people there.
“By writing off most of the people on Skid Row as drug addicts and anything less than human, we’re not doing anything to improve the situation,” says Mel Tillekeratne, coordinator of Monday Night Mission, an event that feeds the homeless every Monday through Friday right outside of the Midnight Mission Building on Skid Row. Tillekeratne has been feeding the homeless for almost two years now, and since then he has had a better understanding of people’s situation in Skid Row.
“Many of the people out there are mentally ill and are even born with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, which enable them to self medicate on the streets,” says Tillekeratne.
Tillekeratne believes that there are other alternatives to alleviate the problems on Skid Row.
“Police has done a better job here, but there needs to be more surveillance to prevent drugs dealers from bringing drugs to Skid Row. Many of the people here don’t know any better because of their mental illnesses and they are lured in by drug dealers to use drugs,” says Tillekeratne. “There also needs better training on behalf of the department for their officers on how to deal with mentally ill people. It’s not an easy crowd to deal with,” says Tillekeratne.
Carlos Martinez, Director of Community Service for the CSULB chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA), agrees with Tillekeratne.
“One cannot just simply stop helping others and let them starve to death just because a few people use that help for other purposes,” says Martinez, who has worked with Tillekeratne’s Monday Night Mission.
“You can only understand the situation of people at Skid Row if you look at it from a different perspective and take the time to go there,” says Martinez.
Although there are many efforts made on behalf of whom Smith calls “do-gooders”, who are people who dedicate their time to give back to the homeless, he believes that they should leave the charity work to the missions, such as Midnight Mission, on Skid Row, where programs that intend on giving the homeless jobs, money, and apartments within two years.
“We are doing something. It’s just a matter if they take the offer or decide to stay on the streets,” says Smith.
Tillekeratne still believes there needs more to be done.
“People make mistakes, such as myself and everyone on this earth, but everyone has to help each other. The people there have nobody but themselves, and we have to work together to give them hope.“