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Letter to the Editor: Park Efforts Criminalize Homelessness

The move of Veterans Square Memorial to the jurisdiction of the Department Recreation and Parks doesn't address problem of homelessness, argues Mount Washington Resident Rob Schraff.

The following letter was submitted by Mount Washington resident Rob Schraff. The views within are not necessarily those of Highland Park-Mount Washington Patch? Want to sound off about something? E-mail editor David Fonseca at david.fonseca@patch.com.

Above is a picture of the traffic island at Figueroa and York, and what follows is the story of the fence that now surrounds this public space. It is a story of the struggle over who gets to use this public space, who controls this public space, and even what kind of public space this is. Is it a park? A memorial? A sidewalk and a few benches on a traffic island?

This is also a story about the conflict over not only this very small, very local public space, but also something like 400 more public spaces, big and small, all over Los Angeles. Including the park around City Hall used by Occupy L.A. protesters as well as hundreds of other city parks used by the most powerless and vilified among the poor--the homeless--to sleep.

The traffic island at York and Figueroa has for some decades been a place where homeless and other transient or precariously employed people congregate. There are also a number of fast-food options, a liquor store and a bar nearby. The traffic island is also reputed to be a drug market, and cases of using a nearby city parking lot as a toilet have been reported. The traffic island also provides a convenient L.A. location for nearby city police agencies, most notably South Pasadena, to dump or push their most problematic homeless. Perhaps by definition, these are the most chronically homeless, the most addicted, the most intractably mentally ill.

As a result of both Iraq Wars and the war in Afghanistan, and the all-volunteer U.S. military that relies heavily on working class enlistment, Highland Park has lost perhaps more than its fair share of sons and daughters to military service over the last few decades. A local veteran’s group, , has successfully lobbied politicians and sought other funding to add a flag pole and memorial plaques to the already publicly-provided benches and planters in the traffic island.

And so, even prior to Memorial Day 2012, the use of the traffic island had become contested, particularly around the figure of , himself a veteran. Sheffield had a local reputation as someone who kept some measure of order on the traffic island. However, Sheffield, a Los Angeles native with family who lives in Highland Park, refused the offer of relocation to a center for homeless veterans in Inglewood.

He also had the choice of Sylmar, the nearest county facility offering walk-in homeless services, or Skid Row, which many Highland Park homeless fear because they often cannot secure beds and the environs are more dangerous than where they have lived. This seemed, according to , to place Sheffield beyond all help.

According to David Bloom, Commander of American Legion Post 206, in the comments section of a related

“I and the members of American Legion Post 206 care for all in need, veteran or not, but we will not allow the drug deals and overnight camping to continue. If the homeless situation there continues we will return also to keep the Veterans Memorial Square sacred.”

Thus it became so: the traffic square was claimed by veterans as a sacred space, the “Veteran’s Square Memorial” with clear limits of acceptable public behavior set by the American Legion and targeting, among others, veteran Gary Sheffield. Despite claims of wanting to work for a solution, this group also advocated the restriction of public restroom use and prevented local homeless advocates from setting up a regularly-serviced pit toilet nearby, arguing that basic sanitation would somehow “enable” the homeless.

On Memorial Day, 2012 the the fence went up.  The fence was originally erected, according to council offices, to allow for the cleanup of the traffic island/memorial a few days before a public Memorial Day celebration sponsored by local officials and the American Legion.

However, at the Memorial Day celebration, Councilmember Ed Reyes announced that he and Councilmem José Jose Huizar, in whose district the traffic island would soon be located thanks to redistricting, were asking to transfer the  “Memorial Square” from the authority of the . This would allow enforcement of the new anti-homeless, anti-Occupy, written by Huizar. It was also announced the fence will remain up until this bureaucratic transfer to a new authority with more police powers was complete.

Not by coincidence, this deception and ensuing backroom paper shuffle allows new anti-occupy, anti-sleeping-in-park regulations, and harsher enforcement of existing rules, sought by Huizar to limit Occupy’s presence around City Hall.

In the public comments to the Patch.com article announcing the square cleanup, Commander David Bloom wrote:

“We just need to band together and support the efforts to keep the Square clean because there will be a conflict once that temporary fence is taken down. I will be there.”

After the fence went up, further disposed homeless people appealed to the only person they trusted in the community – Rebecca Prine. Prine is a licensed psychiatric social worker who founded, on her own time, Recycled Resources. Recycled Resources provides local homeless people food, blankets, clothing, personal hygiene items and bus tokens to locations where drop-in services are provided. Relationships have also been built helping two people in the last year to get psychiatric disability benefits and Section 8 housing. (Full disclosure – I have made very small contributions of money and time to Recycled Resources.)

One homeless woman, a resident of Highland Park since 1977, was particularly distressed and Ms. Prine recounted her story in her Patch blog The commentary became not only vitriolic, but threatening. American Legion Post Commander David Bloom made several comments critical of not only the homeless, but the efforts of Recycled Resources:

‘…bringing a bunch of socks and underwear and food once a month under the title of "outreach" is not improving anything. It is just prolonging peoples' stay in a place they should not be staying...I have seen Gary expose himself in public… I am not going to sit by for one extra minute as our Memorial falls deeper and deeper into the worst corner in Highland Park.”

And further:

“When the fence comes down and the partyers return, the veterans in HP will be there to move them out. Please know that also.”

One commenter, with the moniker Nimby Pimp, advocated action to be taken against Ms. Prine and Recycled Resources’ attempts to provide the homeless sanitary supplies, a few necessities, and information about basic services:

“This self-appointed savior has clearly decided that she, not neighbors, not the community at large, not elected officials and not other organizations who have offered aid, knows what is best. It would be in the community's interest to communicate our concerns about Ms. Prine to any and all sponsors of Recycled Resources and to our elected officials.”

Councilmember Huizar has made the people’s use of parks increasingly criminal and, through bureaucratic sleight-of-hand, has turned a traffic island into a park. As a result, both Occupy and the homeless in parks across Los Angeles will be subject to increased police harassment and violence--and threats against the homeless in Highland Park can be freely made by Commander Bloom.

So what happens when the fence comes down? Will the homeless re-occupy the traffic square-memorial-park? Will Commander Bloom follow through on his threats? Most importantly, will the City of Los Angeles and Councilman Huizar make any effort to address the real problems of addiction, mental illness and housing, or continue pursuing policies designed to demean, dehumanize and criminalize Highland Park’s homeless?

Rob Schraff August 22, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Well, with all the credibility of Art Snyder and a flagpole behind you, there you are. (And a wing from a nuclear bomber would have been really ironically cool, too. Could we still get one, do you think?) Other than that, as I have described in my letter and you describe above, the addition of a fountain and plaques later in the '90s have turned the traffic island into what you call "sacred" space. And what Mr. Huizar is now calling a "park." Perhaps both of you should actually be embarrassed? Also, I appreciate your courage and integrity in replying under your real name and rank here. In that context, are you also Mr. Cerro Gordo, or "Fat Hill" here on Patch, as well as NE Veteran on theeastsider.com? Finally, I live in a house I bought twenty years ago and restored, doing much of the work myself, literally and perhaps figuratively halfway up the hill between Highland Park and Mt. Washington. Drop by and enjoy the view and a beer sometime. Perhaps sometime I could do the same and see where "right across the street" from the traffic square might be.
Rob Schraff August 22, 2012 at 12:46 AM
@Mr. Bloom I should have further noted comment that "our duty chartered by Congress to promote Americanism in the community." I find it truly tragic that you promote your version of "Americanism" at the expense of American veterans like Charles Sheffield
Margarito Martinez August 22, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Damn Rob, you have about as much skills of persuation as a bull in a China Shop. You are suppose to represent your home association, yet your appearance is one of an unkept, long haired beat-nick! It matches your HIGHLY offensive, thoughtless, silly position on this issue here. BTW, the vet you're making poster boy for your radical anti-social views name is Gary, NOT Charles. You have absolutely no respect whatsoever, to be INTENTIONALLY insulting to the American Legion, during a time of war, where are troops are still fighting and dying! Really sir, have you no shame at all? INTENTIONALLY refering to a site inscribed with the names of our nation's war dead as a "traffic island" is beyond provocative. It's a direct insult to basic, civic decency. Your kind is what gives Liberalim a bad name. You are just a subversive. You don't give 2 cents about that lunatic at the flag pole. It's just your way of sticking it in the eye of institutions you detest. Like our military. You have also expressed the same distain for the police. What else don't you like? Religion? Bet you think God is oppressive too. Your kind always does.
Margarito Martinez August 22, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Oh My God! You are delusional. I have already emailed David Fonseca my personal cell ph. no. for purposes of verifying my identity, and confirm that I am not using anything but my true name. You have made some pretty bad accusations about me, Rob. Even sinking so low as to intimate I am a sexual predator, ex-felon, etc. Time and again I have patiently asked you to cease and decist from your bizzarre behaviour, members of my family find threatening. There is basic Internet Ettiquitte, and you crossed the line long ago. Just remember everyone, if Mr. Schraff's arguments had any merit at all he wouldn't find the need to slander those who disagree with him. Especially in the ugly way he's done here.
Rob Schraff August 22, 2012 at 04:12 AM
All true, as you well know Fred. So sue me already, or just keep following me around online with your vacuous prattle. Makes no difference to me. You see, Fred, this really isn't about you, hard as you work to try and make it so. For those new to Highland Park and interested in the self-created legend of native Fred Brito, simply google his name. Goodnight Fred.
Nimby pimp August 22, 2012 at 04:16 AM
As much as I appreciate Mr. Shraff's passionate lip-synced performance of K-Tel's Collection of Greatest Hits of 1970 White liberalism, I got to agree with Margarito/Fred/Alice B. Toklas on this one. C'mon Shraff, not even Billy Jack hit below the belt as often in defense of the defenseless.
Rob Schraff August 22, 2012 at 04:36 AM
Yeah, it really is hard to separate the "real" discourse from the anonymous avatar folk with an axe to grind. But, I do appreciate your humor, and perhaps we could drag ourselves out from under the troll-bridge and focus on my original point, which is that this really is about both the homeless and occupy, and the effort to stigmatize and criminalize both because it's the easiest way out for local politicians. Maybe more like "Rage Against the Machine" than K-tel, to drop some Highland Park culture in the spirit of your suggestion?
Margarito Martinez August 22, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Rob Schraff is a dirty, filthy liar. He has engaged in on-line bullying as if it was a game. I have emailed Mr. Fonseca about this unacceptable situation occurring on his pages, and expect for him to set the record straight. Make no mistake. What Rob has done is not funny, IT'S NOT COOL. It is reprehensible!
El Cid August 22, 2012 at 05:13 AM
My two cents - so please do not take offense! HP has been my home for over 50 years and I love it! In my opinion, I believe the Veteran's Square is for all to ENJOY! For a few individuals, the Veteran's Square is home. For others, it is a place of illegal narcotics behavior etc... Yet, I avoid it like the plague. Our HP homeless population would probably best be served if they sought out services, charitable organizations (churches), and programs to help them overcome their personal struggles and hopefully find the support they desperately need. The Veteran's Square is a public place where everyone has a RIGHT to enjoy! If I can respect others right to a safe, clean space, then please reciprocate the same to me and others in our community. PEACE!
Nimby pimp August 22, 2012 at 12:33 PM
I agree with you Panza. The notion that anti-social elements of the society be they cholos, homeless or trust fund white kids with dreadlocks and drum circles have a right to usurp public monuments from the general and hard-working is dumb. Make this place safe for families or bulldoze it.
Rob Schraff August 22, 2012 at 02:28 PM
@ Nimby - Now you have induced s '70s flashback - "And these children that you spit on As they try to change their worlds Are immune to your consultations They're quite aware of what they're going through" David Bowie And keep up the flip denigration and dehumanization of others, you again help make the point of the letter.
Cerro Gordo August 22, 2012 at 04:10 PM
No, I'm me. Cerro Gordo is the name of the street I grew up on in Echo Park. It's on a pretty big or fat hill, hence the name. I've always thought it sounded cool. I live roughly 175 yards from the traffic island/memorial/whatever. I've never posted anything on the eastsider, but I do read it sometimes. There is NO WAY I'm posting my name or any other personal information on a blog comment section. It's just...irresponsable. Maybe it's a generational thing. You'll notice that I'm not making any personal attacks (I think that's pretty weak to do anonymously), and nothing important is ever going to be decided on the Highland Park Patch website, so posting my name is just pointless in my opinion.
Rob Schraff August 22, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Thank you for the clarification, and I agree with you about your postings not being attacks, and the courage of those who post such anonymous attacks. I even would say we may agree more than disagree - It's not like I think a traffic island/whatever on a busy intersection is a good place for people to live. I hope that some of the steps you have suggested above come to pass.
David Fonseca (Editor) August 22, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Thanks everyone for commenting--Rob and Margarito please review our terms of use, particularly the section about not posting material that is "defamatory, abusive, obscene, profane or offensive."
Margarito Martinez August 22, 2012 at 06:51 PM
I am not in violation of your terms of use, but Rob clearly is. I emailed you my cell no., but you haven't used it. That's too bad. I would have thought you'd at least take the oppertunity to set the record straight. If not in the interest of decency, then certainly in the interest ot truthful, editorial integrity. I will not be commenting again in the future.
David Fonseca (Editor) August 22, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Margarito, if you can abide by the terms of use, you are welcome to stay. Your personal dispute with Rob is not of a concern of mine, or of Patch's readership. Therefore, I won't be calling you to settle it.
Margarito Martinez August 22, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Sir, one last thing, it's up to your readership to decide for them selves the editorial integrity of a blog that allows the type of on-line cyber bullying egaged in by Rob Schraff on your pages, with nothing more than an admonition to re-read the terms of use. I could have ask for an apology, I derserve one. I could have asked for a public denounciation. He deserves it. Instead, I asked that you have the common professional courtesy to fact check what one of your published authors was accusing a member of your readership of, on your editorial pages. You could have easily chosen to verify I am who I say I am, and that Rob's crazy charges are false. Instead you let them stand. Forever marginalising my future comments in the eyes of your readership. In short, you allowed Rob to slander me. I reiterate once more, I am not in violation of the terms of use, he is. I won't be part of a publication with that type of dangerous, unfair, editorial policy. Others can decide for themselves. I will say, Reader Beware. Next time it could be you.
Nimby pimp August 23, 2012 at 04:09 PM
@ Rob - Hey, I had that record. Even sang it in my HS Rick band. Ch-ch-ch-changes. I was 16 years old then. Isn't it time you freshened up your playlist and dismounted the unicorn? Try the library, Rob.
Rob Schraff August 23, 2012 at 04:35 PM
@NIMBY - Hey, we're exactly the same age! So, in the spirit of middle-aged solidarity and since I am also a student of history I'd happily share my personal books - including dozens on recent American and Californian history, crime and drug policy, and politics - with you. I also have a card for the UC system library, and will also get books out for you if you wish. In short, I agree with you that some reading would help raise the level of discourse above "unicorns," "cholos" "white kids with dreadlocks and trust-funds." And, of course, easy characterizations, slurs and threats against the most "anti-social." of all - the homeless.
The MOG August 23, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Hey Rob, buddy, what's your problem? I've been following your lame arguments, I've read your utterly disrespectful insults toward our nation's war dead, I've seen how you denigrate those honorable individuals, charged with caring for thier memory; chartered to promote the ideals for which they gave thier lives, while you use the homeless to promote ideals of anarchists, law breakers, America Haters, Occupiers...one thing, please. Stop talking for the homeless. You don't know us, and we want nothing from your kind. Also, PLEASE, stop lumping in that malcontent at York & Fig., Gary, Charles, or whatever, with the rest of us on the streets. He doesn't represent us. We are all, not by a long shot, the majority being crazy, drunk, or high. Left-over wannabe hippy frustrated eunics like yourself promote that negative stigmatization of the homeless. There are 90,000 homeless Americans in L.A. County by last count. Can you just imagine if they were all like Shieffield? You don't know anything about homeless people. You don't speak for us. Please? Also, why is it you always have negative interactions with other Patch readers? It seems you never learned how to get along with other peoples. That's truly pathetic. Here's one from the early '70s," You can't hide when you're cripple inside."-John Lennon
Rob Schraff August 23, 2012 at 06:09 PM
You need more than a new alias, MOGster. It's too easy to pick up your style and themes from another online stalker above. And nice picture - who is it? Anyway, This thread seems about over - why don't you wait for the next time I post something under my own name, then jump out from under the troll bridge?
The MOG August 23, 2012 at 06:12 PM
WTF????? Buddy, you want to see my real face up close. Name the time & place! We'll have a soda...or something. How 'bout it?
Rob Schraff August 23, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Anytime. How soon can you fly in from Phoenix?
The MOG August 23, 2012 at 06:20 PM
I've got lunch in an hour. About the flag pole on York & Fig.? We can buy a soda at Penny's?
Rob Schraff August 23, 2012 at 06:24 PM
There's been a fence around the traffic island and flag for a couple of months. Maybe you read the article? Maybe you've been in the neighborhood and have seen this every day? Maybe not.
The MOG August 23, 2012 at 06:42 PM
C'mon, man. I have lunch at Penny's on a weekly basis. Do you want to do this, or not? I'm not afraid to meet you. You're just a bully. And, I assure you, I mean you no harm. So, what's the problem? Hurry up, because it's almost time to leave for lunch. We'll say hi to your pal, Gary. He knows me, anyway. Don't worry. I'll recognise you, Mt. Washington dude. A friend of mine, Native American fellow by the name of Cowboy, use to do your lawn for you. I know who you are. You say you know "my face". So, what's the problem? You coming, or not?
Rob Schraff August 23, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Then you know where I live. So walk over to my house after lunch, homeless MOGster guy, and I'll give you a beer and a few bucks and publish a retraction here.
The MOG August 23, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Where on earth did you grow up? Not from around here. I practically call you out, and you hem and haw like you just don't know. A true Highland Parker would have been at York & Fig. before I got there! From your previous comments I could see it was no use appealing to your sense of honor. You have none. So, I gave you an oppertunity to conduct yourself as a gentleman, or least a man, and you were even unable to do that! Instead you invite me over for a beer, and a few bucks, so YOU can print a retraction. Sir, I don't need your money, and don't drink. Perhaps, I will take up your invitation to visit, however. Of course, I would like to bring a friend...no telling what an unstable person such as yourself is capable of. Besides, it's always advisable to meet an online contact in a public place. Let me just say again, the last thing Homeless People need is a self appointed saviour, like you, who thinks "a beer, and a couple of bucks"...will assuage the grievances that harbor in our hearts, and the injustices of an attitudes such as the one you have..
Rob Schraff August 23, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Yes, I'm sure I'll see you soon. You and Margarito Martinez and all your other imaginary friends.
The MOG August 23, 2012 at 07:46 PM
WTF???? You're not going to see anyone soon hiding behind your computer screen except the hand, and you know it! Time to blow this taco stand...until next time...

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