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A Fresh Perspective on Skid Row

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The leftovers from one of the many food-drop offs that occur on Skid Row. Photo by Emily Lerman/LAist

December's Skid Row Neighborhood Watch Walk was lightly attended, likely due to the tree lighting events happening at LA Live. As always, the walk went on, and as always, the walk was unlike any prior walks. While feelings of sadness, confusion and hopelessness had ensued after previous walks, this one offered a new, fresh and somewhat hopeful perspective. One of the most intriguing aspects of the walk is having the chance to meet, talk to and walk with the individuals that have a true passion and dedication to Skid Row and those who make up the community.

General Jeff, community activist and neighborhood council member, attends every walk, welcoming and engaging new faces. Tired of of the old perspective people take on Skid Row, that is heavily reliant on Mission-based statistics and focused solely on the drug abuse and violence, General Jeff seeks to get away from this by encouraging people to recognize the positive things happening on Skid Row. He understands, first hand, that helping the people and solving the problems on Skid Row calls for more than just charity; it requires opportunities that build community and forge a new sense of hope. While the problem remains "unsolved" (General Jeff asks why the Missions boast how long they have been around, it seems ironic almost), he tackles Skid Row's issues and sees through the development of viable and community-based solutions. Fittingly enough, he started an organization called "Issues and Solutions".

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Throughout the walk he shared stories about the Skid Row Photography Club, the Chess Club and most proudly, the Skid Row 3-on-3 Street Ball League, continuing to remain a positive and hopeful attitude. When General Jeff moved to Skid Row two years ago, he, like many people, took a few looks around and was disappointed by the neglect of the area; the "parks", the dirty streets and sidewalks and the lack of trash cans. But instead of pointing fingers and looking where to place the blame, he became a community activist for the people on Skid Row. He still makes a point of shying away from explaining Skid Row's problems in the context of who is to blame and instead focuses on what measures he can undertake, such as the implementation of an improved street cleaning project.

His first project under Issues and Solutions began last April at 6th and Gladys, the site of the Skid Row 3-on-3 Street Ball League. The run-down park was in need of renovation and the half-courts they played on could use an upgrade. He approached the Department of Recreation and Parks and through a joint effort between Issues and Solutions and LA84, the Department of Recreation and Parks secured a sponsorship from Nike. Last week Nike installed a brand new regulation sized court, the first phase of the Gladys Park renovation project. (The first game, also likely to be the biggest of the season, takes place this Saturday, when the Skid Row League will face the Central Division LAPD in a rematch, but apparently last time Skid Row crushed the LAPD.) As General Jeff shows off the new court and explains what other projects are to come, people walking by to wave and exchange words with General Jeff about the upcoming game. It's clear that he maintains an ongoing presence in his community, both on the streets and in City Hall. As member of neighborhood council, General Jeff pays close attention to when the agenda includes issues involving Skid Row, taking what he sees, hears and experiences as a Skid Row resident and echoing these issues and concerns inside of City Hall. As a voice for the people on Skid Row, he's helping to build much needed hope.

We continue to hear the word "hope", the mantra of the Obama-generation. It's important to consider how this carries over to Skid Row. How do we create hope for these people in a sustainable and functioning way? While sitting in Gladys Park, we watch as a few different cars drive by, prompting some people to bolt up and start running after them. General Jeff explains, "They will do this all day; anytime truck drives down the street. It's like they are conditioned to do it. They know that it might be a chance for a ride or free food or clothing hand-outs. With some of these food drop-offs, it is like clockwork. For instance, you know every morning at the same place, at the same time, there is a lady with donuts. Just giving them out for free. There's a lot of cases like this, and people quickly learn which places to hit up when." This brings up the broader issue of people coming down to Skid Row, with undoubtedly good intentions, and dropping of food and clothing. The problem is that there is no order or structure to any of this, and at the end of the day, much of this ends up on the street. In an email to city officials, aid workers, journalists and friends regarding these photos from our meeting this past weekend, General Jeff vents:

The blame for all this mess is then passed on to the Skid Row residents. For one, we did not bring these clothes and drop them on the sidewalk and there aren't enough trash cans for the homeless to properly dispose of trash...During the holidays, there are so many 'drop-offs', that Skid Row always looks its filthiest. This happens every year about this time. Question: After the donors leave, who is responsible for all this trash?

So how does these day-in-day-out free hand-outs help build hope? When it's the same thing everyday, all one can hope for is that, the lady with donuts will be back. But what about being hopeful for an opportunity? It simply goes back to the proverb "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." It is nothing revelatory, but crucial to consider when trying to help the homeless. Dropping off a box of clothing, as seen here, and driving away, can not hardly make one feel like they matter. Working with people, playing basketball, taking photographs, singing karaoke - anything that helps to provide them a means for expression and engagement - is key.

General Jeff raises his voice and focuses on informing and engaging people in the positive things happening on Skid Row. That is how to begin creating the hope needed to help improve and change the lives of those on Skid Row.

Check out their first game, this Saturday, December 27th at 11am.
Gladys Park: 6th and Gladys, Downtown.

Photos by Emily Lerman//LAist