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LAPD Officer Calls Skid Row An 'Outdoor Asylum Without Walls'

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Skid Row (Photo by shabdro photo via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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A downtown police officer says that society has failed the mentally ill, and that it's created a "mental health state of emergency" and an "outdoor asylum without walls" in Skid Row that isn't getting any better. In an op-ed in LA Downtown News, Officer Deon Joseph talks about his experience working in Skid Row, something he's been doing for 16 years.

Joseph says that many people who are mentally ill come to Skid Row to access the free services available there. And while many of them help each other (and the police) out, others fall prey to the illegal drugs pushed on the streets, or are unable to properly manage their condition. This leaves them prone to be both the victims and perpetrators of violence.

Joseph says that he can frequently pick out a person who needs help, but is legally unable to do anything until they threaten someone, say they want to harm themselves or in the worst cases, commit a crime. Oftentimes, he feels like he's doing the wrong thing by arresting a person who's become violent because there were numerous warning signs, but no system in place to intervene.

"I have had to arrest many mentally ill men and women who I knew and cared about after their illness drove them to harm someone. Though it was legal and in good faith, it was wrong. I put people in prison and jail who had needed help long before they committed their crimes."
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He also writes that many Skid Row residents who are picked up by the police are released in a matter of days, only to return to Skid Row and continue the pattern.

Joseph is imploring mental health professionals to reach out and help, because the system in place now is definitely not working and the police are limited in how they can help.

"It is our society that has failed them. A society that has closed down hospitals. A system that is slow to create more housing-plus-care locations that would respect their autonomy and civil rights. A system that will not engage in proactive outreach."

For some good news, it was recently announced that downtown's Rosslyn Hotel would be converted into 264 single apartments for the homeless with consideration for the mentally ill and veterans. This was after the company that bought the Rosslyn, SRO Housing Corporation, was blocked from doing the same thing to the Cecil Hotel after neighbors complained that a concentration of services would only make the area worse.