No Easy Answers for Highland Park's Homeless

A week after being evicted from Veterans Square Memorial, some of Highland Park's homeless are committed to returning to a place they consider home.

One week after the Los Angeles Police Department cleared a homeless encampment at Highland Park's Veterans Square Memorial, occupants of the camp are stilling trying to figure out where to go next.

Among those residents are brother and sister Jacqueline and Gary Sheffield, who were among the camp's longest standing residents.

Like many of Los Angeles' homeless, the Sheffield siblings said they have found themselves facing the undesirable option of sleeping in emergency shelters on Skid Row.

Veterans Square sits at the border of Council Districts 1 and 14, and in recent months had become a steady source of complaints for constituents in both districts.

Neighbors complained that the square had become of hotspot for drug use and drug deals, and that the occupants would harass people while they waited at the nearby bus stop.

Sheffield--a Vietnam veteran who claims to have two honorable discharges--admitted that drug deals were prevalent at the square, but he stressed that the homeless were not responsible.

Instead, Sheffield said that the problems at the square were caused by "outsiders": gang members and drug dealers who came to the area to cause trouble.

, when he was one of the square's only residents. At that time, he appeared to have struck an amicable deal with both the Los Angeles Police Department and American Legion Post 206--which oversees the square.

Members of the credited him for warding off drug dealers from the memorial. He also keeps the area clean, they said. For his efforts, he was even given a key to a storage compartment inside the walls of the square's fountain.

“We have no problem with him being there, and we try to support him any way we can,” said Post 206 member Tony Howard in June.

Last week, Howard maintained that he still had no problem with Sheffield. In fact, he said that members of Post 206 had worked to secure him a bed in a homeless shelter for Veterans in Inglewood. 

"He didn't want it," Howard said.

Rebecca Prine, who runs Recycle Resources, an outreach program that delivers basic essentials and informational packets to many of Highland Park's homeless, said the lack of shelters in Northeast Los Angeles makes getting the local population off the street particular difficult.

Many of them have ties to the area, she explained. Jacqueline Sheffield has lived in Highland Park since 1984. She considers the neighborhood home and would prefer to stay. Her brother is committed to staying nearby, as well.

"Many of the people living in encampments in Highland Park were born and raised in the area. They went to school here. It doesn't make any sense to kick them out," Prine said.

Prine said that, following the eviction, most of the square's occupants would likely make their way to Highland Park's two other homeless camps, either behind in Sycamore Grove or on Marmion Way near the Gold Line stop.

Sheffield, however, asserted that he would be going back to the square--the place he considers home.

"I'm a Vietnam veteran, and I'm not afraid of consequences," he said. "I'm going back."

David Bloom January 14, 2012 at 12:42 AM
The Highland Park Veterans Memorial Square was designed to be a place where the community or individual persons could gather in remembrance of Northeast residents who gave the ultimate sacrifice in our nation's wars. What has developed there over the past year is disgusting. Drug deals and drinking goes on constantly, and people's clothes and other belongings get stored under the benches and actually on the memorial itself. That's not to mention the unsanitary personal business happening behing the wall to the parking lot. 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. The American Legion is committed to finding a solution to this problem. Our facility may be able to sponsor a soup kitchen. Rebecca Prine and the other volunteers and Recycled Resources are doing some good work and we want to help. Send me another email Rebecca; I think I accidentally deleted your last invitation to a forum on the homelessness problem.
Rob Schraff January 14, 2012 at 03:08 PM
So the real estate is sacred, and the actual veterans are trash? How very American. I will be dropping by the square, and the York traffic island, I mean "pocket park," and distributing $10 and food in both locations for my neighbors on at least a weekly basis. (Actually, the York folks already get the bucks from me at 7-11, so this will involve minimal extra effort.) If anyone wants to make a direct contribution, but not have to deal with harassment from the American Legion or Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, I will be happy to take care of it. Just e-mail me though Patch. Sounds like they could also use blankets and sleeping bags, maybe some tarps or tents?
Rebecca Prine January 14, 2012 at 05:04 PM
piratebec@aol.com Look so forward to coming up with a community coordinated solution.
Rebecca Prine January 14, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Rob, email me and lets work together. I have sleeping bags, jackets, blankets, and warm clothing. We will be at Vets Square today for our outreach, around 10:30AM. WE NEED TO FIND A PERMANENT SAFE PLACE FOR PEOPLE TO STAY. piratebec@aol.com
Rob Schraff January 14, 2012 at 05:29 PM
I will be there. There should, of course, be a more permanent solution for at least housing and treating - not institutionalizing - our mentally ill and addicted neighbors, but people won't vote or pay for it. In the meantime, the way these people are being treated is simply wrong.
Rebecca Prine January 15, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Hey Rob, wanted to again say thank you for your support! Just to let you know we gave your donation to the woman featured above Jacqueline. She is going to use it to smog her truck and get the tags so lapd stops harassing her and threaten to impound her truck when she parks to sleep at night. She said thank you as her SSI delivers a whopping $854 a month therefore she couldn't afford the smog and tags. Cheers brother!
Molly Rysman January 17, 2012 at 07:43 PM
I live in Highland Park and work in Skid Row and am very disheartened to see so many people without homes in Highland Park. There are many effective solutions to homelessness - most begin with connecting people to rental assistance to help them pay rent and get a home. The most well organized group promoting solutions across the country is Community Solutions' 100,000 Homes Campaign (http://cmtysolutions.org/projects/100000-homes-campaign). I'd be happy to work with anyone interested in trying to help homeless individuals in Highland Park.
Rebecca Prine January 18, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Molly, email me piratebec@aol.com. thanks!


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