Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Washington Post runs photo by Street Sense intern

So our trusty intern reporter Melanie Lidman was out covering Mayor Fenty's announcement of the closing of DC Village, a family emergency shelter, yesterday. The Washington Post reporter next to her had forgotten her camera. So Melanie, generous soul that she is, agreed to have her photographs used by the Post for its own story.

The Post, however? Not so generous. There was no money in the budget to pay Melanie for the photo, she was told. So Melanie made the best call she could. As she put it, "Not getting paid for your freelance work: negative $50. Seeing your grandmother's face when she opens the newspaper: priceless :)."

Check out Melanie's photo for the story "District Closing 'Inhumane' D.C. Village" in the Metro section of today's Post. It's on page B2 of the District edition -- in full color and nearly six inches by six inches!

Watch for Melanie's own story on the DC Village closure, and her coverage of the Dalai Lama's visit to N Street Village, the women's shelter, in our Nov. 1 issue.

-- Koki Smith

Friday, October 19, 2007

Street Sense puts pdfs of past issues online!

Street Sense has a new and improved archives page!

Thanks to the HTML skills (and infinite patience) of our intern Desiree Perez, you can download entire past issues of Street Sense in PDF form on our Web site streetsense.org. Just click the archives link on our homepage, then choose the year, month and issue you want to read.

It's an easy way to get a little more Street Sense from the comfort of your own home.

P.S. Some pdfs from 2004 and 2005 are not online yet. We're working on it!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Trendy" Skid Row

By Desiree Perez

I was reading an article in the Washington Post the other morning. It caught my attention because it mentioned Skid Row in Los Angeles, and that’s close to where I live.

The article said Skid Row was becoming, well, trendy. L.A. is infamous for its trends and celebrity, but that’s near Hollywood, Beverly Hills or Rodeo Drive – not Skid Row.

What Skid Row is famous – or infamous – for is homelessness, poverty, drugs and crime. That neighborhood, contained by 3rd Street and 7th Street from north to south, and Main Street and Alameda Street from west to east, is tough.

And apparently, it’s exactly that edginess that’s drawing the new influx of trendsetters. Hipsters, art dealers and the rest of the pseudo–counterculture are migrating to the seedy streets of Skid Row in droves, searching for that sketchy bohemian lifestyle.

When I read this, I thought, "Sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll go check it out when I get home." But then a short paragraph caught my eye: it dealt with the displacement of the homeless population in Skid Row. That’s when my experience at Street Sense kicked in.

There are a lot of homeless people in Skid Row. Within its borders, there are roughly half a dozen homeless shelters and transitional housing buildings. Churches do outreach ministry, and even run clean needle distribution centers.

However, as more of the industrialized neighborhood is converted into warehouse lofts for the 20– to 30–somethings with a couple million dollars to burn, the homeless population will be forced to look for aid elsewhere.

What’s even more outrageous is the city’s assessment of the situation. They’ve upped the police force in Skid Row by 50 officers over the last year. The cops, though, seem to have more incentive to hassle the homeless than anything else.

The mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is drawing attention to the opening of big chain supermarkets in the neighborhood rather than to the fact that more money is spent harassing a vulnerable population than helping them.

It would make a lot more sense to use the funds to expand housing and care programs for the homeless. Instead, that money is used to beef up the police force to kick the homeless out.

What’s more, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton acknowledges the displacement, but brushes it off as a necessary – and minor – problem. "Is there some displacement? Certainly," Bratton said. "But what’s wrong with that in some respects? Why should one square mile of the city be impacted by something that’s effectively a countywide problem?" He continued, "So if there is displacement, all well and good."

Mayor Villaraigosa takes a more compassionate approach, stating that the Safer City Initiative will maintain affordable housing in the places where it is most needed. It’s clear, however, that the burgeoning city renaissance does not include taking care of homelessness. Rather, it sweeps it under the rug and out of Skid Row.

Before working at Street Sense, I would have probably overlooked the bigger picture. The development of Skid Row and the increased police force would have seemed like positive and welcome initiatives. Since becoming familiar with the people and the issues here, though, I’m able to see the real problems at stake.

Desiree Perez is from Corona, Calif., and is a fall intern with Street Sense through the Fund for American Studies.

Monday, October 15, 2007

August Mallory's letter from Oregon

By August Mallory

I began this story in Eugene, Ore. After I arrived in town, I checked into the Best Western hotel before I went out on the town to talk to the area's local homeless community. As the day grew later, I focused on where I would make my first trip. I jotted down some notes and a few questions to ask the people I’d interview.

The next day, I went out into the city. As I left my hotel room, I happened to spot a homeless man near West 1st Avenue. I wanted to talk to him. I went inside a local corner store to buy two sodas and offered this gentleman one. He gladly accepted.

We struck up a pretty good conversation. He said his name was Luther and that he was from Alabama. I could certainly tell from that southern drawl. He told me he came to the west coast to see something different. He said that he had been homeless for eight years. A bad marriage and a lost job caused him to lose his home because he was unable keep up on the mortgage payments.

I told him I was stranded and asked about the local shelters. I didn't tell him I was with a street paper for fear of him running away. I really wanted to talk to him. Luther pointed me in the direction of the Eugene Mission, but it didn't open until 7 p.m. to take in new clients. So it was Luther and me all day. We went all over Eugene and Lane County.

Luther showed me all of the soup kitchens and other homeless hangouts. I actually had a very good time with Luther. He said he was about 60 years old. He has stayed at the Eugene Mission from time to time. While Luther and I were hanging out, I saw an all too familiar scene: the homeless carrying around sleeping bags and blanket rolls. Overall, however, the homeless situation didn't seem as bad as it was in D.C., Seattle, or Los Angeles. The numbers did not seem as high in Eugene.

As it grows later, Luther and I make our way back to the Mission. I decide to check in for dinner and have a nice evening meal, and what a meal it was. Even breakfast the next day was delicious. There was bacon, eggs, ham, milk, pastries, doughnuts, juices and all sorts of cereals and fruits. For a minute, I thought I was eating at Miriam’s Kitchen in D.C.

Then we were sent on our way to do what ever. I met up with Luther again and we hung out some more.

The weather was chilly, but not viciously cold. To get out of the elements, Luther and I went to the public library downtown to read newspapers and keep warm until the shelter opened up again. This is exactly what I used to do when I was living on the streets. The public library was the place to go when the weather got too cold.

We roamed around the library looking at books and reading papers from other cities for a while. Then we just sat and talked. Luther was very hurt by losing his wife and family. His wife left him and he had no idea where she went. He really poured his heart out.

As we talked we saw the local police roust homeless people for sitting in one place too long.

I wanted to make a call to Mayor Kitty Piercy's office. Harassment of the homeless is in every city and needs to stop.

I understand private property, but a city park bench should not be taken away just because a person is homeless. I see dividers on park benches to keep the homeless from sleeping on them, but the homeless will sleep on them anyway.

As I continue my story from Eugene the drama carries on. Tempers flare at the American Red Cross shelter—living in close quarters just isn’t for everybody.

Coming up next month: I attempt to talk to More Betterman from Eugene, Oregon. Please tune in on WOL-AM1450 the More Betterman Show.

August Mallory was the first vendor for Street Sense. He now lives in Seattle and is on the board of directors for Real Change, the Seattle street paper.