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PhiLAnthropist: Four Years Later at The Skid Row Neighborhood Watch Walk

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Councilwoman Perry and Lopez walk each month with community members, the LAPD, the Central City East Association and many others. Photo by edfuentes/blogdowntown, used with permission
Exactly one year ago, LAist read Ed Fuentes' blogdowntown article about Estela Lopez and the third anniversary of the Skid Row Neighborhood Watch Walk .

He described it as a gathering that brought together "neighbors from surrounding neighborhoods, college documentary filmmakers, social workers, teachers, and city officials, and residents" all part of an effort to "put the spot light on Skid Row" as Lopez, one of the walk's founders, explains at the beginning of each walk.

LAist walked the following month, in August, and has continued walking since then, including last week, at the walk's fourth anniversary.

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Wednesday's walk brought out many members of the community as well as the driving forces behind the improvements seen on Skid Row, including Lopez (LAist interview), Fuentes, walk co-founder Councilwoman Jan Perry, LAPD Commander Andrew Smith and Captain Jodi Wakefield (both former Central Area captains) current Captain Blake Chow, Senior Lead Officer Deon Joseph, community activist General Jeff (LAist interview), Midnight Mission's Orlando Ward and 'town crier' Don Garza.

Lopez and Perry stop to offer individuals a place to stay for the night. Not everyone accepts, but this man did. Photo by edfuentes/blogdowntown, used with permission.
Given the fact that no walk is ever the same, it is fair to say the walk proceeded as 'usual', with Councilwoman Perry and Lopez stopping to talk to individuals and ask if they would like a place to go for the night. LAHSA follows on each walk and they have made arrangements so that anyone who is willing to accept this offer can be taken to the New Image shelter. This time, two individuals readily accepted, an occurrence that does not happen on every walk. Returning each month has afforded the opportunity to meet the individuals committed to improving the area and listen to them share their thoughts and ideas on both the progress being made while pointing out areas in need of help.

General Jeff, a key player behind the new 3-on-3 street ball court in Gladys Park, praised Councilwoman Perry for her work on repaving San Julian street. He described this as historic, as San Julian has come to be known as one of Skid Row's worst streets and is typically serves as a backdrop to display the downtrodden Skid Row. General Jeff likes to focus on the positive things happening on Skid Row and is always thinking of new ways to make small changes that will bring large improvements. He is currently working with resident and carpenter Ross Wright to bring more of the downtown construction jobs back to skilled members of the downtown community.

Another individual critical to improvements on Skid Row is LAPD's Senior Lead Officer Deon Joseph. The muscular and tough looking officer has a gentle smile and can't walk a block without people approaching him to give him a hug or shake his hand, and he knows many of them by name. It's clear he has a genuine care for the well-being of these individuals. Officer Joseph began a program called 'Ladies Night', primarily focused on educating women about how to stay safe on the streets, but he'll cover whatever he feels will be most helpful or necessary. He also creates a newsletter that he hands out to Skid Row residents, offering information about recent incidents, available services and upcoming events. He ends each newsletter with his own personal words of encouragement. During the walk, a lady walking down the street with a handful of bright yellow flowers and a faint smile hugged him. "Thank you so much" she said. "Thank you. I'm clean now, I'm off drugs. I feel good. So thank you."

Walkers also had the chance to listen as Commander Andy Smith, formal Central Area Captain, reflected on the progress that has been made in the last four years. To those unfamiliar with the area, such improvements may seem less apparent as there are still many people on the street. However, as the walk turned onto the now quiet Gladys Street, Smith pointed out the site of a murder and told of the encampments that used to line the sidewalks as well as the drugs and needles that were thrown into the yard of the nearby day care center.

The walk is not a 'tour' of Skid Row, but rather a way for concerned individuals to connect with the community members working to improve the area, and become part of this change.

The Skid Row Neighborhood Watch Walks take place on the first Wednesday of each month at 6pm and meet in front of the Midnight Mission. New walkers are always welcomed.

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