Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Last week someone asked, “Walter, where do you believe the fight for the people of Skid Row- the homeless, HIV/AIDS patients, and otherwise forgotten, ignored and disenfranchised in Los Angeles- is being waged the strongest. Is it in the traditional media, print and broadcasting? Is it in City Hall?”. “No, none of the above!!!” I responded without hesitation. “The battle for the people of Skid Row, the homeless and other similar social causes is being waged fiercely on the internet!!”
From Facebook to the Huffington Post, the new electronic media is an effective megaphone, its advancing the causes that hunger for attention and assistance. An army of advocates, social workers, lawyers and individual citizens engage each other in conversation, debate and recruitment for their cause of choice. Community advocates dispatch mass emails to promote their causes as well as update their constituency with breaking news of ongoing issues. Benito Compito, founder of the Skid Row 3on3 Streetball League, and General Jeff, the DLANC (Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council have been very adroit at utilizing this vehicle.
A Skid Row fraternity is flourishing on the internet and Facebook. Former workers who have transferred out of the neighborhood and current workers, along with past and present denizens, use the most popular and far reaching social network on the internet to stay connected and dialogue about Skid Row issues. . Through this interaction, a viral process increasingly widens its audience as it engages the community and furthers its awareness of various social issues connected to homelessness and mental health. In addition to educating the network community, the phenomena also serves to increase active participation in the form of volunteers and donations.
A deputy city attorney associated with the initial phase of the Safe City Initiative believes the proliferation of the Skid Row community on the internet began out of frustration. “Many of us who worked in Skid Row wanted to make a difference…to get things done… to help people. At times it was frustrating. I used to go to meeting after meeting. It felt like people just wanted to have meetings just to have meetings. Nothing ever got done. Sometimes approved action plans of important matters like removing numerous homeless off the streets and placing them into housing were stalled until a county supervisor received top marquee billing for the plan. It was as if people wanted to sabotage progress. The internet takes ideas straight to the public. We receive immediate feedback and can mobilize support when we post messages.”
Several executive directors of nonprofit organizations active in the Skid Row Community are firm believes in the power of the internet. Andy Bales, CEO, Union Rescue Mission states “Yes, Walter, although Direct mail donations are down, internet giving and Facebook/Twitter/Social Media is gaining momentum for advancing the cause. It is gradually taking the place of Direct Mail for fundraising, and is far superior for connecting with volunteers and stirring up a cause. Grace Dyrness, former CEO, LACEH&H(Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness)adds “It is so important to communicate on the internet because that is becoming the best way of communication. Our electronic newsletter definitely gets a response (although not in money) and we are finding that as the most effective way to get information out to people. Email has definitely been the best way to work with others when you need a rapid response on issues. Joel John Roberts, CEO, PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) Partners, continues, “I think the partnership between social media and nonprofits is still young. Larger nonprofits are just getting into online media. The power in social media to mobilize communities, empower people who are disenfranchised and for soliciting donations is significant. I think in the next five years it will take off.”
The internet also serves well those journalists with a penchant toward advocacy as an alternative vehicle for their stories. If done well, Celeste Fremon, publisher of Witness LA.com and writer for the Huffington Post says, “When I want to do a story or focus reader attention on someone who would traditionally be voiceless, their problems ignored by the conventional media, I no longer have to persuade an editor to let me do the story. With the advent of blogs and Internet news sites, I can just write the story. And if I'm smart about it, I can get others to pick up my story, so that it migrates to an arena beyond my own readers. At times, this means it migrates to mainstream media, as well.”
If you want to know what is happening in the world of social entrepreneurship, stay on line. Pick a news site, or social network. It is where the action is.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
This extremely mentally ill woman, who does not comprehend anything, was receiving a ticket for jay walking. Was this really necessary. She will not be able to pay the ticket. It is excess work for those who already are snowed under. Does it help the woman? The officers approached her from behind, tight to her so she was not aware of their presence. They could have approached her from a wider angle instead of making her jump ten feet in the air when she realized the huge horses were in her presence.
Did this event help her or the city?
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
This morning I read the article the LA Times published about the murders at the Lamp residential building in the Skid Row community. It is now twelve hours later and I am still wondering what the purpose of the article was. I found out about the article when a former counselor in one of the many Skid Row programs called me to inform me about it. Yes, the article created a stir but not much more. The only thing it did was continue to associate Skid Row with drugs and crime. And yet there is so much more to the community.
The Los Angeles Times and the Skid Row community are neighbors. Skid Row is known as the homeless capital of the United States. There is no other member of the press in the country which is in a better position than the Los Angeles Times to examine the complex forces which culminate in the ever increasing homeless population in a community two blocks away from its headquarters. It can serve as the lightning rod for the Los Angeles community, as well as others, to end this problem. I have said many times, "if you solve the problems of Skid Row, you solve the problems of this country." The LA Times is at ground zero of many of the issues which plague America. It neither examines the negative forces within it, nor reports on the various grassroots movements sprouting within its borders to bring about positive change. Instead, it lowers itself to tabloid journalism and sensationalizes a double murder in community about which it knows nothing.
When was the last time the LA Times talked about Skid Row? Oh yes, I believe it was during the premiere of 'The Soloist' when every mainstream media outlet joined the 'hoopla bandwagon' surrounding the movie. It was not going to be left out of course. But it fails to take the lead in doing an in debt series on a community which is a mirror of many threads which comprise the fabric of America. There is enough about Skid Row, positive and negative to earn its own section in the Los Angeles Times.
The writer singles out the Lamp organization for failing to protect its residents. Let me presume to educate this writer. Drugs are sold and done in practically every building in Skid Row. I am in a position to comment on it. I lived in three Skid Row buildings. In each of them there was a constant battle to keep drugs out. Drug dealers, as well as users are ingenious at devising ways to smuggle drugs into the residential buildings. Every night I hear security guards chatter on the walkie-talkies. They vigilantly report to their supervisors that doors and windows are secured. I currently work in a residential hotel in Skid Row. Among other things, it is my job to monitor the conduct of visitors which enter the facility. I never know if a guest is upset at a person residing in the building. I never know if a guest has a secret agenda of taking revenge for an insult, real or imagined. I never know if a tenant, lucid yesterday, forgot to take his meds today and believes that the world is out to kill him. When that happens, violent behavior can occur at any time. Every manager of a Skid Row building knows who is selling and/or using drugs in it. There is little anyone can do about it unless it is done openly. We cannot search people even when it is obvious they are bringing drugs into a building.
When was the last time a member of the Los Angeles Times staff talked to residents or workers other than during a high profile issue? I talked to General Jeff, Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council board member representing Skid Row, in the beginning of his second year in office. Few people know the various components of Skid Row and how they intersect like he does. I asked him if the writer of the Lamp article has talked to him. "I have never talked to anyone from the LA Times since I was elected as a DLANC board member." Why do they not talk about the many things that are happening in Skid Row? "Walter, they do not want to talk about anything good that goes on in Skid Row!!!" he added.
Skid Row is not a static environment. The nature of the neighborhood is in constant motion as are many of the residents which come and go on a daily basis. I have been a part of the community for a long time. I struggle to understand it and the many challenges it faces. I am here every day and must update myself on the minute changes. And yet, a writer who spends no time in the community-who has no investment in it- publishes a skewed snapshot of it(as if the snapshot of this Lamp facility is an aberration in the community), and, in its wake, Skid Row residents, unnerved, hustle for answers about their safety and the genuine dedication of social service providers to ensure it. When the dust settles, the writer knows no more about the community than he did before the murders took place.
If The Los Angeles Times spent any time gardening in its backyard, it would learn that many beautiful things are growing in Skid Row; the Skid Row Photography Club, Film Club, 3on3 Streetball League and the newly formed Skid Row Bureau of Journalism. These grassroots organizations serve to uplift the self esteem of the residents. Stories about those organizations may encourage people in the city, starving to find ways to help, to contribute their talent and or results to further progress. Instead, articles like the one published this morning, have the residents feeling bitter; their community is only featured when the stories can give an "Oh My God" reaction from the readership. Moreover, people are scared to become involved.
People who live in Skid Row have so little but give so much to each other. America needs to learn more about the quality of this community. The spirit of giving and caring blankets the environment. Thr, e LA Times, which has so much, gives so little attention and help to its neighbor. It reminds me of the 1960's character Mrs Kravitz in the sitcom Bewitched. Mrs. Kravitz would either visit the Stevens house only when she wanted to dig up some dirt or sneak across the street and peer through the Stevens' blinds until she saw something. Then she would run back across the street screaming and yelling until she could find anyone to whom she could gossip about her latest discovery. ,
The LA Times, not taking the lead in shedding light on the myriad of complex forces that plague Skid Row, and thus, America, should just run back across the street to its big building and draw down the blinds and hide in fear of its neighbor until it has the guts to come out and discover the people of Skid Row are like the bear, Gentle Ben. Until it does and begins to report about Skid Row in an active effort to bring change, it will only sound like the gossipy Mrs. Kravitz.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Many of those cuts are services for the elderly,children, mentally ill and low income families. The cuts are coming at a time when people need them the most. It is an analysis of the opportunity cost incurred in bailing out the banks at the expense of the well being of the United States citizen.
Please read it.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless perfomed a study of 273 cities and placed Los Angeles at the top of the list. In 2006, Los Angeles was number 18 on the 'mean cities' list.
Read the Yahoo article published yesterday.