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Patch Blog: Unethical Treatment of Area's Homeless

A commentary on the unfair & unethical treatment of homeless in Northeast L.A.

This post was written by Recycled Resources founder Rebecca Prine. Recycled Resources is a Highland Park based organization that attempts to provide acess to services to the area's homeless through monthly outreach events.

On Tuesday night there was a knock at our door and behind the door was a woman in tears. It was Jacqueline Sheffield, one of the many folks I frequently visit and check in with during our homeless outreach and engagement events. She had asked if I had seen that Veterans Square had been fenced off, I responded that I had. What could I say? Nothing. I just listened. She told me that she felt betrayed by her community, that she didn’t understand why people don’t like the homeless--a group of which she is one--and pulled out a slip of paper from her pocket.

This paper was a certificate of appreciation issued to one Jacqueline Sheffield.  It was a certificate issued from Paralyzed Veterans of America. Jackie told me that every time she has an extra dollar or more she sends it to this group in order to give back to the men and women who were injured while defending our country. I wanted to cry. How ironic, I thought, that this woman had been sending in money on her limited monthly Supplemental Security Income of $854,  and now had been banned from one of the few places she called home, and further more by veterans themselves. 

Jackie has been living in Highland Park since 1977, however when her mother died both she and her brother had no safety net and became homeless. Since that time she has been living out of her truck at the Square. I listened to her frustrations and again felt sorry that I had no answers. She told me that when they erected the fence last week to prepare the area for the Memorial Day celebration she was there. She offered to help, but she was turned away. Not only was she turned away she was informed that "the homeless need to relocate to a park by Home Depot." She said "they were even kind enough to give me the address and told me how much nicer this place would be. But this doesn’t help us and it’s in a much more dangerous area." I said to her, 'you spend one night there.'

The area being referred to is located in Cypress Park and also in District 1. Sadly, like Veterans Square, District 1 has given little attention to assisting homeless individuals in Northeast Los Angeles. I was frustrated but not surprised. Skid Row stands today as a result of communities shipping off their homeless for someone else to deal with. What did surprise me was that this new location given to the homeless to gather had come from someone who once supported assisting the homeless--not relocating them.  I listened to Jackie, but I started to fade out with frustration and sadness.

Jackie ended our conversation by informing me the last thing said during this Memorial Day celebration was directed at the homeless, "We don’t want you here, don’t come back."  I gave her hug and told her I’d be in touch as we continue to work on finding a location for a homeless access center. I then sat down to think about everything. I understand there are drug activities and interactions that take place at the Square and I don’t care for them either. But not everyone living in this location is using drugs and alcohol.  So shall we banish all homeless from our happy clean bubble of urban bliss?  

I say now to the people who believe, comment, and blog about homeless people not wanting services--you could not be more wrong and I am inviting you to actually have a conversation with those you so seemingly despise. Those homeless in our community want services, but much like you and I they want to stay in Highland Park.  This is their hometown too. I ask again the same question posed in a , how is relocating those who are homeless to someone else’s neighborhood a humane kind or ethical solution? Shame on you Mr. Ed Reyes for the lack of attention you pay to those less privileged living within your district lines and I shall be happy to see your term come to an end. I find it absurd that you have a background in urban planning yet only plan for those who have means.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Nimby pimp June 03, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Who really needs the help here? Gary and His sis or St. Rebecca?
Harvey June 03, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Jesus, atheism, praying, and all that other stuff has nothing to do with it. This is just a discussion among community stakeholders who care about people and the neighborhood. Many of us are just a mortgage payment away from homelessness, so please refrain from making us out to be a bunch of "Jesus hugging homeowner elitists with no compassion". And, Rebecca, since you run a public service organization and undoubtedly count on public support to run your service, I have some PR advise for you: don't get defensive and personally insult complete strangers on web discussion forums just because they present points of view that are different than yours.
Nimby pimp June 03, 2012 at 09:51 PM
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.
Trixie Baumgartner June 04, 2012 at 02:37 AM
Wow, the human condition matters. If one is sitting there in the rain, we all are sitting there. Jesus, no Jesus moving these people does not improve anything. And as for a lunch and a bunch of socks being not helpful, until you all can say you deal with voices in your head, PTSD or any other issue I think it behooves everyone to work for a solution. Cutting people down online is childish and pointless. This is everyone's problem! Everyone. We are meant to live in community... We are not meant to exclude. Life is so much bigger than what's left at your own front door. I am saddened that so many negative comments came from this. It certainly makes one wonder if empathy exists anymore. But your reading this, in front of your computer tucked in your safe home that you worked so hard for so why care, right?
David Fonseca (Editor) June 04, 2012 at 07:28 AM
Give the histrionics a rest, Nimby.
Nimby pimp June 04, 2012 at 08:04 AM
@ David - You don't like my opinions?
Lisa V June 04, 2012 at 05:02 PM
"pick your self up from your boot straps, and do it your self" wow! All these comments have deeply saddend me. On one hand you have someone here busting their butt to come up with a solution, validating everyones point of view but constantly being hit with stones rather than support, and on the other hand you have an angry community who wants to live in a clean "safe" place. One solution is to work towards getting more resources available in HP the other is to use a fence and move people to a different part of town for another area to "deal" with. My guess is now that this area clean and fenced off, many of you have not given much thought to developing a solution and creating more services. Not that you don't care, but in reality you all probably don't have time to care with raising families, living paycheck to paycheck, now that it's not in your back yard you can forget about the "problem."
Lisa V June 04, 2012 at 05:03 PM
I totally get it! But instead of being negative and casting judgments onto someone why not look at the bigger picture and the bottom line. Set all anger aside. 1. Ms. Prine has never said that she wants VS to provide permanent placement for people 2. She is in complete support of many of your concerns and thoughts and is trying to get a solution. Listen Ive worked with the homeless drug/ and mental health population for years. If HP had more resources I know that you would see less. I hear what many of you have said and agree with many of your concerns however I don't feel that we should forget about the bottom line, I don't feel that we should forget just because people have been moved to another place and I don't believe in commenting negatively towards someone who is actually making a diffenece one person at a time. If you can't say something nice and supportive then don't say anything at all unless you have another idea or solution. Ms. Prone I am sorry for the negative comments you have received, HP is lucky to have you thank you for trying to develop a solution, working towards a cause and trying to get your community involved.
David Fonseca (Editor) June 04, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Nimby, I'm ambivalent toward your opinions. However, I'd prefer you express them without resorting to sarcastic name-calling. I ask that of everyone participating in this conversation.
Charles Miller June 04, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Margarito, I apologize for the error, and Nimby, thank you for the correction. Either way, his insight into living on the street is valid to consider for this discussion.
Nimby pimp June 04, 2012 at 05:51 PM
@ David. Thanks for your opinion. I'll try to watch the sarcasm, as tempting as it is to employ on some of these comments.
Charles Miller June 04, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Regardless of any of our concerns, offers of help or comments here, as of 8AM this morning, Gary Sheffield was only 20 yards from Veteran's Memorial, puffing on a cigarette, playing his tunes on his stereo and leaning against the wall in the parking lot across the street - so before any of us get more upset, he has not been displaced out of site or out of town as some have feared and has not accepted or received the help needed or offered and advocated by others. So clearing the decks and ill will above this comment - we are 20 yards away from being back at Veteran's "Square one" One thing we can all agree on. Everyone posting here wants things to be different than it is today. This is rare opportunity for community members of all stripes to focus on CD1 to rally their authority to get the various services needed to get these folks off the street with the right support. It will take us all or no one to demand this -- otherwise we are all back to BYOB as BAU in CD1.
Nimby pimp June 04, 2012 at 06:46 PM
@ Charles. What action do you recommend that we, concerned citizens, take?
Charles Miller June 04, 2012 at 07:40 PM
It's time for CD1 reps to get a meeting together to put togteher a plan of action with the agencies capable of sustaining support for them. Some of this is already happening with some of us on this comment thread - adding additional voices will get more priority with staff and to contact those running to replace Reyes if we cannot.
Rebecca Prine June 04, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Councilmember Huizar’s staff has been very good at hosting discussions at his office and we are moving toward a solution however as of present these meetings were not open to the community due to what happened in this blog- we want to be solution focused not opinionated and casting stones. If anyone is interested in seriously working toward a solution, has an interest in developing homeless services in North East, and can put their opinions aside email me about the next meeting and I'll see if I can bring you. As I began my original replies to the comments, I want to work together, however one can only take so much negativity. These meetings are attended by Huizar’s office staff, Board of Supervisors Staff, LAPD lead officers, myself, and some key supporters/ homeless advocates. Thus far I have not been able to get Ed Reyes to raise a finger or even acknowledge working toward a solution of homelessness in our neighborhood, hence my comments in the editorial; anyone who could would be a hero as where there is power there are resources. I too feel it is time and also have began reaching out to the new candidates as Reyes is past his prime.
David Bloom June 04, 2012 at 10:45 PM
There can be no solution that includes allowing the all-hours party to continue at Veterans Memorial Square, please know that. When the fence comes down and the partyers return, the veterans in HP will be there to move them out. Please know that also. The servicemembers who gave thier lives for us to even have the right to argue about this topic openly deserve better than this.
Nimby pimp June 04, 2012 at 11:05 PM
@ David Bloom. Please advise when and where. Thank you.
Cerro Gordo June 05, 2012 at 06:25 PM
The behavior of addicts is not hard for me to understand. Like I said, it's in my own family. Addicts are manipulative and are not to be trusted, ever. There's always some sad story and some kind of "bad break". Don't you think I get horror stories from relatives? Do you think my Mom is heartless because she doesn't want her own brother to know where she lives or how to contact her? My own personal experiences are why I don't want to have coffee with Gary. I don't want him to know who I am or where I live. It would be totally irresponsible. I'm sure that normally he's a nice guy, but addicts do crazy things. You're right though. Addiction is a disease and not a choice. Whether or not to treat that disease is a choice though. AA and the VA will always be there for Gary. He has to choose to use them. That's not judging. It's common sense. More importantly, it's a step toward the solution we both want. There are TONS of illegal immigrants in this city that didn't grow up white, male, American, with a free education and access to government benefits. Every day you see them out there busting their asses. They have every excuse in the world to give up, but they don't want to be homeless. I know you don't agree with me, and I don't expect you too. I would just hope you can understand where my skepticism comes from.
Cerro Gordo June 05, 2012 at 06:39 PM
What do you mean when you say "homeless services in the North East"? Seriously asking. What and where?
xoxo June 06, 2012 at 02:03 AM
What about addressing the buisnesses that sell them alcohol....ALL THE LOCAL LIQUOR STORES.....they are part of the problem/solution..
Rebecca Prine June 06, 2012 at 02:42 AM
I certainly do not think your mom is heartless. I had to cut ties with my best friend one year ago because of the same reason and it killed me, why couldn't he stay here, we have an extra room? I struggled with that decision and could not imagine having to cut off my own brother. I actually do agree with much of what you wrote and again would like to discuss over coffee, even without Gary. Much is lost in translation within this blog. If you're interested please email me, piratebec@aol.com
Rebecca Prine June 06, 2012 at 02:55 AM
As of right now, there are zero homeless services in North East. Sure there are a handful of churches that distribute lunches, some food banks, and Recycled Resources that performs outreaches however there is no actual solid building that offers showers, laundry, storage, meals, intensive case management, transitional shelter, and supportive services. The closest of these building lay in skid row or Pasadena at Union Station, which is known for only selecting certain high functioning homeless. Hence how can I get angry at people for not accepting services that don't exist. I feel, this is their neighborhood too and as a community they should have a place within it. We are eyeing some properties and tossing out some ideas. This is what I mean by homeless services.
Cerro Gordo June 06, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Well, yeah. I guess I agree with you about that. I suppose we have different ideas on why certain people stay homeless (I realize that schizophrenics and other SERIOUSLY mentally ill people with no families to help them are basically stuck being homeless and that is inexcusable in this country.), but yeah. I hope something like what you describe gets set up and I for one would be happy with it being set up in Highland Park. Beats the hell out of just hanging out on York and Fig.
Neighbor June 07, 2012 at 06:03 AM
Ethical and moral considerations do not only apply to the homeless and to their unfortunate situations. I love to take my boys for a walk down Figueroa to all the shops, movies and parks. I often think Highland Park offers the best of both worlds, trendy and hip, yet classic and old fashioned. Many of the neighbors have traditional Christian values, while others are more universally compassionate. I am often conflicted when I see - my homeless lady - on Avenue 60 or down by the freeway. I remind myself not to be put off at the sight of her, I wish there was something I could do. But more than that I wish there was something she could do to help herself. I truly believe that as much as we would like to be responsible for the well-being of others. Each of the homeless must take some responsibility for his or herself. It's not enough that we want to see it change. We deserve to live in a safe, clean environment in a uniquely creative neighborhood. The challenges of homelessness, drug use, alcohol addiction and crime present serious challenges to our community. Humanity belongs to all of us, not only those who find themselves out in the rain and without a proper toilet. I support a strong community of socially conscious individuals, but not an infestation of transient members that solicit drugs, abuse alcohol and expose us all to street violence. It seriously concerns me and I do not need the added worry over this matter.
Nimby pimp June 07, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Gary was blasting his portable stereo at the Memorial Square bus stop yesterday evening. When I saw him, he was singing loudly along to a Billy Joel tune. A young immigrant also at the bus stop, was doing his best to ignore Gary's behavior. Gary, oblivious to the discomfort of those around him, appeared to be as high as a kite.
Margarito Martinez June 09, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Come on Nimby, " a young immigrant"? How do tell that just by looking? Oh Gary can sing alright, and how! Especially when he's on one. A couple years back I chatted with him and he was okay, but I wouldn't want to talk to him when he's under the influence. He obviously has a substance abuse problem. Still, you can't tell an immigrant just by looking. What was he? Romanian?
Nimby pimp June 09, 2012 at 04:48 PM
I admit that I did not ask for papers of the youngster in question. But as a veteran observer of social behavior and occasional employer of day laborers at Home Depot, I based my observation that the young man was an immigrant based on the following tell-signs. A) he was wearing a vintage campaign t shirt whose meaning he did not likely understand. It read, "Gore - Lieberman." B) he did not appear know any lyrics to Billy Joel's "Just The The Way You Are;" C) he did not exhibit any aggressive behavior toward Gary who is clearly is in need of a good ol' American ass whipping. The young fellow is evidently out of step with cultural codes and behavior of the native born American.
Matt June 27, 2012 at 04:29 AM
If anyone would be interested in hearing Gary Sheffield's story from his own mouth, he was kind enough to share it with us. His story can be heard in a sound file or can be viewed in a text version at http://homelessnotvoiceless.tumblr.com/post/25138435104/i-fell-on-my-face-no-well-i-had-a-family.
Nimby pimp June 27, 2012 at 04:41 AM
Allow me summarize this moving narrative: "I smoked two joints before I smoked two joints - and then I smoked two more."
Matt June 27, 2012 at 04:44 AM
Where in his story does Gary even mention drug use?

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