No longer homeless, chef brings pastries to Skid Row

From left to right: LaToya Alvarez, Latrina Wilcher, and Zachary Greenblott volunteer their fine cooking skills for a unique audience. |Anna-Cat Brigida

From left to right: LaToya Alvarez, Latrina Wilcher, and Zachary Greenblott volunteer their fine cooking skills for a unique audience. | Anna-Cat Brigida

Once a month Latrina Wilcher goes to Skid Row to hand out slices of cake and pie in heart-shaped boxes. Her goal is to help the homeless people in Los Angeles “one pastry at a time.”

“These treats are not the healthiest in the world, but it costs money to get a cupcake or cookie,” said Wilcher, a South L.A. native. “So I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to give them something that would take them a lot to get somewhere else.” [Read more…]

Formerly homeless treasure affordable, dignified housing in South LA

Video by McKenna Keil

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Irvin Dixon spent the last seven years living on the streets of Los Angeles. He slept on public benches and waited in long lines to receive a meal. This week, by virtue of a collaboration of several local organizations, he has a home.

On Monday, the South L.A. Supportive Housing Program celebrated the grand opening of 56 units of permanent housing, which will give safe living for nearly 100 homeless people. For Dixon, this difference will create an immense change in his lifestyle.

“There’s nothing better to provide anybody than a sense of dignity,” Dixon said.

The units, which were formerly dilapidated but have since been renovated, are availabe to men, women, and children. The residents pay 30% of their monthly income in rent. For Dixon, that is about fifty dollars a month.

The new housing is for people who frequently use county health resources, a requirement that helps create a more efficient delivery of care and resources. Officials say it is more effective to provide people with a living arrangement instead of covering medical bills.

This article was originally published on Annenberg TV News.

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Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles: The Stages of Change

By Laura J. Nelson

The first of a two-part series on the services provided by Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles.

imageThe clients who walk through the doors of Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles share many of the same stories: homeless, jobless, struggling with addictions, estranged from family or friends who could support them through addictions and medical crises.

They’ve come on court orders or hospital referrals or their own will power, hoping one of the city’s most unique homeless support programs can give them what they need.

That raw need is what empowers the employees of HHCLA. They hope that instead of shoehorning their clients into a certain plan or program, they can help them with whatever they need. HHCLA dreams of getting rid of homelessness someday, but in a city where one in 100 residents is a transient, that won’t happen soon.

So instead, HHCLA attacks the problem of homelessness with a uniquely holistic approach called “harm reduction” — addressing the immediate needs of the homeless, whether that means medical care, education or drug treatment.

Read more…

Para Los Ninos goes green with help from new solar panels

Students at Para Los Ninos Charter Elementary School near Skid Row get pumped up when they talk about sustainable energy. For weeks, lessons about solar energy and other ways of generating green power have been incorporated into their math and science curriculums.

This week, students saw their studies come alive. California Solar Electric installed solar panels on the roof of the school that will generate enough energy to power eight of the downtown school’s classrooms.

The solar panels were a part of a $1.2 million Walmart Foundation grant to the National Energy Education Development Project. As a part of the Solar Schools Grant Initiative, Para Los Ninos and three other LA-area schools (Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale, Amino Inglewood Charter High School, and Amino South Los Angeles High School) were outfitted with solar panels.

Between the four schools, the solar panels are expected to save more than $4,700 in energy costs and prevent more than 127 tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.

In addition to studying the science behind solar power, students seem to grasp some of the economic benefits as well.

Daniel, a fifth grade student at Para Los Ninos wanted other kids his age to know about the benefits of green energy. “If they start saving energy today, they can save money so they can have it as a grown up,” he said.

Read more on this topic:

Basketball players teach healthy living at local elementary school

DWP reaches its renewable energy goal, but some just call it luck

Small citations add up to big problems in Skid Row and South LA

It’s rare to catch Becky Dennison alone at her desk. Co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, Dennison spends many of her working hours with community leaders, committee heads, and the homeless and low income people her nonprofit seeks to help.

In the past month, she’s been to housing protests, court cases, and police commissioner meetings. But recently, more and more of her group’s time and energy have been devoted to helping people deal with one thing: crosswalk violations.

In between bites of instant noodles, Dennison spoke from her funky, loft-like office in the Community Action Network’s headquarters downtown about the transformation of the group over time.

Since the organization was founded over 12 years ago, Dennison has seen changes in the size and scope of the group’s membership, but also in the primary issues they’re addressing. What started as a nonprofit hoping to fix civil rights violations in Skid Row morphed into a housing and tenants’ rights group and now, more recently, they’ve added a legal clinic to help people deal with the massive amount of citations that are handed out downtown.

The emphasis shifted in 2006 with the start of LAPD’s Safer Cities Initiative, which put 50 extra officers in Skid Row and embraced the “broken windows” theory of policing. The thought was that if the increased police presence could help control quality of life issues like vandalism, bigger issues like violent crimes and robberies would also drop.

The success of the initiative depends on whom you ask. Police say crime is down, and even though it was supposed to be an intensive, nine-month project, the initiative is still going on almost five years later.

Dennison thinks the project is directly related to the gentrification of downtown. “It’s our position, so it’s an unfounded opinion, but it is based in reality, is that the point of Safer Cities was to clear folks out of the area. The original name for it was the Homeless Reduction Strategy.”

Whatever the name, the operation has seen increased levels of tickets and citations throughout Skid Row. “In the first year alone they gave 12,000 citations out in a community that’s home to 15,000 people,” Dennison said.

“And so, for people who don’t break the law, the tickets are a way to get folks into the system, and get them a warrant, and then when you do the sweep, you find the warrant and you put people in jail,” she continued. “And the idea is, if you put folks in jail enough times, they’ll just give up and leave the neighborhood.”

As it turns out, people have not left the neighborhood—Dennison said they’re grounded in Skid Row because all their services are there.

And a 2008 study by UCLA concluded that the Safer Cities Initiative did not reduce crime in Skid Row except in the case of robberies, where there was a reduction in one robbery per year for each officer assigned to the area.

But the people seeking help at Community Action Network’s legal clinic are not worried about robberies, Dennison said. They’re working about citations.
“The reason we took on the citations in the clinic is because for simple crosswalk violations, you’ve got a $160 fine to begin with, you can’t pay it within a couple months and it’s $666 dollars, and then you have a warrant, and then you’re in jail.”

And Dennison is careful to point out that these crosswalk violations are different from jaywalking or “or actual things that could put people at risk.”

“Something like 80 percent of our tickets are for walking on the flashing don’t walk sign, which just means you basically didn’t walk fast enough,” Dennison said.

While there are some other options for legal aid in Skid Row, Community Action Network is the only one that directly addresses these citations and helps to get the tickets dismissed.

“And then for those that we can’t get outright dismissed, we can get a much more reasonable community service,” Dennison said. She explained for community services sentences through the court, there’s still a fee involved. Through Community Action Network people are able to perform those same service options for free.

At a Board of Police Commissioners meeting about the Safer Cities Initiative in early March, Central Division Captain Todd Chamberlain told Annenberg Radio News that the officers in the initiative go above and beyond their duties. “These people are not assigned there,” said Chamberlain. “They make a choice to come and work in the SCI area. That’s an extremely difficult and unique adventure to go out into every single day, and yet they do it with a passion and they do it because they really got a calling in their heart of hearts to be there supporting that community.”

Dennison still thinks the endless tickets and citations are less about support and more about trying to move undesirable people out of an area that’s otherwise just waiting to be gentrified.

“You walk around the city, do you get jaywalking tickets?” she asked. “I’ve never gotten one anywhere, including here. It’s a very targeted effort.”

Wordle based on transcript of Becky Dennison’s interview

Food Not Bombs takes alternative approach to feeding homeless

imageOn the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the temperatures downtown dipped into low 40′s. In Pershing Square, Angelinos glided around a skating rink which is ringed by trees decorated with Christmas lights. Nearby, a small line of L.A.’s down-and-out population formed up for a free dinner. The smell of greens and beans was in the air along with holiday music as a band of volunteers dished out the food. The volunteers brought with them large vats of food, along with hot sauce, plates and water, but one thing they didn’t bring with them is bombs.

The group serving dinner that night is the L.A. chapter of Food Not Bombs, an organization that cooks up vegetarian cuisine free of charge to create social change.

“We consider it a form of political protest, as our name implies, Food Not Bombs, against military spending, wasteful spending,” said long-time member Josh Haglund. “But what we actually do is collect food that would go to waste all across the world.”

The organization also takes an alternative view of what should be on the menu for the estimated 48,000 homeless in Los Angeles County. Their meals consist of vegan dishes with a variety of vegetables gathered from local farmers markets which they say are the antithesis to most charity meals.

“There’s a lot of people out there who are on medications and things like that and who have addiction issues and just trying to have them have a choice an option for a free, healthy meal is really important, I think, to people’s survival,” said member Alexandra Hong.

The L.A. chapter, which formed in 1996, is made up of a core group of six to eight people and additional volunteers who meet on Sundays to help cook. The overall organization (though they probably wouldn’t like to use that term) was created in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts during anti-nuclear protests there, after demonstrators chanted, “Money for food, not bombs.”

The group soon began distributing free food for the protests and the idea spread across the country as new chapters formed. Though there are no official rules for each group, the principles of Food Not Bombs state that each chapter should be independent, without a “headquarters,” should always serve vegetarian food, and be dedicated to nonviolent action for change.

“There are different varieties of Food Not Bombs, but one thing they have in common is food and not bombs,” said volunteer Woodsin Joseph.

imageSome chapters actually do end up serving meat which is not encouraged because of health and food safety reasons. Aaron Linas, another volunteer, added that some chapters are more overtly political than others. He said some chapters will bring literature when they hand out food, but the L.A. chapter is not as political as those ones.

Joseph said that a few people balk at eating their food or cooking with them because of their campaign against military spending.

“I don’t understand why how could someone not be willing to cook with us simply because they think we’re too leftist,” added Linas. “And if too leftist means I don’t want more weapons made in this world, then that’s fine because you’re stupid because who the hell would want any more bombs made. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

That same Sunday, down on San Julian Street on Skid Row, people bundled up the best they could outside the Union Rescue Mission as Food Not Bombs set up their tables.

Steve Baratta is a customer and friend of the group who lives off of Franklin Avenue in East Hollywood. He said he has learned what the group is all about and has had some good discussions with them about their stance on the dangers of capitalism. But he said he’s not sure of the number of people lining up for food who know about the group’s philosophy.

“It’s a good question, actually. I don’t know how many people do know about the political aspect of it,” said Baratta. “I don’t know how many really know about the political value of it.”

In addition to giving food to the homeless, the L.A. chapter brings food to local protest events and social change organization meetings. Haglund said the food is valuable as a common denominator that everyone holds.

“If you’re sitting there with a plate of food and somebody else is sitting over there with a plate of food, you have something to talk about at least,” said Haglund. “And if you’re at an event when you don’t know people, it’s a way to bring people together.”

The meaning of Christmas, from Skid Row

imageKiera was easily singled out for stardom during her two months living at the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row. After stunning staff during a public speaking workshop, Kiera was chosen to tell the story of Christmas on behalf of the mission.

“The goal is to put a face to homelessness,” said Marketing Assistant Erin Hennings. “And to remind people of the meaning of Christmas.”

Kiera’s family had re-located from the Bay Area and found their way to the Union Rescue Mission while struggling to get back on their feet. A few weeks ago, Kiera and her family found a new home and moved away from Skid Row. According to Hennings, the family still returns for guidance and assistance, and to take part in community events such as the Thanksgiving feast.

From Union Rescue Mission:
Each night, an average of 145 kids call Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens Family Center home. And thanks to help from friends like you, we have rescued over 1,800 precious children from living on the streets of Skid Row in the last 2 years. Kiera is one of these adorable children. We hope you will take a moment to watch her tell the Christmas Story in her own words!

Union Rescue Mission serves thousands at Thanksgiving feast

The Rev. Andy Bales speaks about the Thanksgiving Celebration at the Union Rescue Mission.

When asked what brought him to the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row, the Rev. Andy Bales recalled a sermon he gave 24 years ago.

“I preached a sermon about how important it is to feed people who are hungry and not turn your back on people who are hungry,” said Bales. “If you turn your back on people who are hungry, it’s like turning your back on God himself.

“And I preached that six times, and then on a weekend, I had a man ask me for my lunch and I turned him down. I realized that I was not practicing what I preached.”

So, in the spirit of “practicing what he preached,” Bales went to work at a downtown rescue mission, ultimately ending up at the Union Rescue Mission on San Pedro Street.

imageAnd on Saturday afternoon, Bales joined 300 volunteers in providing a Thanksgiving meal to an estimated 3,500 of Skid Row’s hungry.

The mission’s Thanksgiving Celebration, co-sponsored by the daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful, is its largest food event of the year.

Among event volunteers were cast members from The Bold and the Beautiful, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry and Paris Hilton, who Public Relations Specialist Kitty Davis-Walker said often volunteers at the Union Rescue Mission.

Donald Morris, who attended the event, said that the lines weaving up San Pedro Street were so long that he left and came back.

Gobbling down a piece of pumpkin pie next to Morris, Daljit Singh added, “I’ve enjoyed the food, enjoyed the lunch.”

While dishes ranged from stuffing to greens to macaroni and cheese, the highlight of the meal were 160 turkeys, cooked in 15 turkey fryers between the hours of 1 and 11 a.m.

“We’re trying to welcome everyone who’s on Skid Row, who’s experiencing homelessness and welcome them to our house. We welcome them to our house and welcome them to sit down and have a nice Thanksgiving Dinner,” said Bales.

imageThis year’s celebration differed from past ones in its location. Bales said it is usually held on San Pedro Street, but due to inclement weather, the celebration was moved inside.

“Having to do it inside made us live a little close and see each other a little closer, and so hopefully it built some community today,” he said.

Bales also hopes that the Thanksgiving Celebration will spread awareness about the programs at the Union Rescue Mission. The mission houses men, women and children and offers long-term rehabilitation programs.

The number of people on the streets of Skid Row has decreased from 2,000 to 750, said Bales. But he believes reaching out to the remaining 750 will be a greater challenge.

“They are reluctant to come into a mission. They are suffering physically and mentally and often battling addiction. And so, they need a special way to reach out to them,” said Bales.

For that reason, the mission offers cold water on hot days and extra beds during the winter. It has also partnered with the Chamber of Commerce and the United Way in advocating for the creation of more supportive permanent housing.

And at the Thanksgiving Celebration, it gave the residents of Skid Row a place to escape the rain, grab a meal and maybe more.

“Sometimes, it becomes more than a meal,” said Bales. “They may decide to make a change, come in and enroll in one of our programs and give life one more try.”

Los Angeles Police Department argues nonprofits are better than handouts on Skid Row

Listen to the audio story:


Los Angeles City Councilmember Jan Perry and members of the Los Angeles Police Department met Thursday at the Midnight Mission Homeless Shelter to raise awareness about how to channel efforts and resources to better help the homeless community. Perry recommended that people who want to give should donate through reputable organizations, like the Midnight Mission, the Union Rescue Mission and the Los Angeles Mission, rather than dropping off supplies directly onto Skid Row.

“We’re encouraging people and groups who want to help the homeless to partner with local non-profits in Central City East to ensure that donations are distributed in a manner that is safe, healthy and that will have the greatest impact,” Perry sad.

Orlando Ward, the program director at the Midnight Mission, said essential supplies in homeless shelters like his are distributed to hundreds of people in the community. Ward said this helps more people than just the few that might receive food and clothing on the street in the form of a handout.

“Tossing commodities out of the back of a truck is okay for cattle but not for people,” Ward said. “This is not to say the community isn’t welcome, absolutely not. There is a better way to do it…without the unintended consequences that happen when you treat people with less than the dignity they deserve.”

LAPD Captain Todd Chamberlain said that some of those unintended consequences can lead to desperate community members fighting over the resources handed out to them or dropped off on the streets.

“When people come and open the back of their truck up and throw out some clothing and pass out some sandwiches, that’s good for the short term,” Chamberlain said. “But over the long term we find that there is a lot of trash and garbage…there’s crime from the people from in and around the area who want certain things, and once those people leave, there’s a kind of plight left behind in that.”

Chamberlain said those who volunteer their time or resources with non-profits like the Midnight Mission not only help those who are homeless in the short term, but they can help the homeless begin to live more fulfilling lives in supporting organizations that provide rehabilitation, medical and job training services.

Apartments offer studios for homeless and low-income people

Listen to the audio story:


A series of unfortunate events left Robert Smith without money or a place to live. For years, he struggled with homelessness and economic instability. But now, he has his very own studio apartment.

“You ought to see my apartment,” Smith said. “I have my own bathroom. This is a big deal.”

Single Room Occupancy Housing Corporation celebrated the grand opening of its latest housing project. Renato Apartments offers 96 studio apartments on San Julian Street for homeless and low-income individuals.

Councilwoman Jan Perry was among local and congressional representatives attending the opening.

“This community has demonstrated that we believe in mixed income communities, and that they can and do do work,” Perry said.

There are still thousands of homeless across Los Angeles. But with Smith and others moving in to these new apartments, a small bite is taken out of homelessness in the city.