Sunday, October 28, 2007

A visit to Central Division and the residents afterwards

Yesterday I received a call from Sergeant Kevin Royce. He wanted me to speak to his officers at this morning's roll call. I surprised that he wanted me to speak to them so quickly. He wanted me there at 6:45AM. I believe that is 0645 military time. I was up at three in the morning. I thought about what I was going to say. I laid on my bed the whole night. At six o'clock I thought I should get up and polish my shoes. I wanted to be sharp.

I laid down again and started thinking about the last year. This time last year I was sitting in a dormitory of 100 men. It was crowded and I had the worse bunk in the place. Oh god, I forgot about that. Three months later, when I moved to the best bunk in the dormitory, every one said,"Melton, I do not know how you made it in that bunk. " It goes to show you what the human spirit can do when it is determined to survive. That bunk was good for one thing. I could write at night while everyone was sleeping. It was the only time I could think. I started writing the very first night I was a Wayside North, Dorm 3D. I have not stopped. Now I am writing about my experiences on the net.

It was almost seven before I walked into the building. Obviously, it is the building at the top of the page. I kept thinking about the last year and the time went by so fast.

Roll call was beginning when I took my seat in the back. At least forty men and women were sitting in front of me, waiting for the morning update. The first thing I noticed were all of the shiny badges and shoes. It reminded me of my military school days at Harvard School.

An officer looked over at me and introduced himself, a gesture, welcoming me into their house.

Another officer, stood at the podium and winked at me, signaling a respect for my progress and what I have survived the last year. It was clear that officer Royce told him my story.

Officer Royce introduced me as his separated twin. I would elaborate but the public may not get the joke and that is the last thing we need. It was another gesture welcoming me into the fold.

I told them my history. I was nervous. They gave me one hundred fifty percent attention. Their eyes never left me. I did not think I was interesting. I felt they were being polite. I stuttered and stammered. They did not know that I stuttered so bad as a kid that I could not speak a sentence.

Finally I arrived at the point were I could tell them the reason I was there. I was there to tell them that alot of people on Skid Row support them. Many residents of Skid Row are tired of groups speaking for them. They desire open communication. They want to speak for themselves.

I do not know if I was effective in conveying that point. I was overwhelmed by their attentiveness. I wanted to say so much and cram it in because of the time constraints.

Afterwards, officers walked up to me and thanked me for coming to speak to them. It reminded me of soldiers in combat zones that thanked dignitaries and government officials for coming to visit them during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was stunned. They were so humble and thankful. Some congradulated me on my perserverence and new clean life, a life away from drugs. Some wanted to know if I was able to make progress with my sister. You could see that they felt my pain and hoped for the best in my having success in that aspect of my life.

Officer Aguirre and I talked alot. He was a good teacher and it was clear that he has given the problems of Skid Row alot of thought. He believes in the Pyramid of Success. Immediately, I thought of John Wooden and his model. How could you not lose with the Pyramid of Success.

According to him, the Pyramid of Success consists of three things; the police, the social services and the clergy. He felt that those three groups were essential in solving the problems of Skid Row. He believes that the efforts of all three should be integrated and there is no progress in service integration or integrated communication.

Many residents of Skid Row feel the same way. I landed on Skid Row on February 7th of this year. The one thing I hear all of the time from the residents is that the non-profit organizations and the missions do not work together. They say they work together but, in reality, they do not,
according to the residents with whom I talked after my talk with the officers. They feel the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. They feel that, on the surface, they are cooperating, but in reality, they are competing for funds. They feel it is sad that they look at the huge structures, every day, and wonder what they really do.
There has been much talk about the Los Angeles Police Department's handling of the homeless. There has been much talk of the way they treat black men on Skid Row. I walked to a CA meeting after my talk with the officers and talked to people who were at the meeting. Here are a few comments. These comments were written by the people themselves. They wanted to make sure they were quoted correctly and they made sure their names were on the paper and that they were not quoted anonymously:
Michael Johnson,Four times in prison and over twenty times in the Los Angeles County Jail system---- "They need to get rid of all of the drug dealers around here. They are the only ones complaining. I have been here since 1992, and I know for a fact that they have caused distruction in many lives. The police do alot of things for kids around here. they give them toys around the holidays. THE DRUG DEALERS ARE THE
BLOODLINE of the CHAOS AROUND HERE. The police put on their clothes just like we do. They have a job to do and I am glad they do it.
You are the first person who ever asked me anything about anything down here. Everybody thinks they speak for us. They do not speak for s--"
Cynthia Nelson, Case Manager Strive Program. -----The police have a job to do and we are glad they do it. Skid Row is unlike anything else in the world. It is a hard job dealing with these people out here. This LA Can, they do not speak for the residents down here, homeless or non homeless.
God must have sent you to ask us because no one else ever does. It took a lot of courage for you to go in there and speak. You must care alot about us. I am proud of you. Keep it up and tell the police to keep doing what they have to do to rid the streets of these drugs and pimps. I was a crackhead. I am telling it straight and simple. Tell them to do what they have to do. I am tired of young ladies leaving the program because they get tempted by these dealers to trap men. They get lured out, then they smoke and they are worse off than they were before they quit the last time."
Patrick Agorsah, five years on Skid Row------" Walter, it is like this.
the only people who are complainin are the ones who are doing wrong. Look, I was arrested by mistake the other night. I said it was a mistake but they had to go by what was on the computer. Plus, so many people lie to them down here. They have no idea who they are talking to. If you are doing wrong you are going to be rebellious. Those who are not walking with God are doing wrong out here and there is a lot of wrong being done out here. It would not matter who was telling them they were doing wrong. If someone was telling them to do the right thing they would rebel. They would rebel against their own mother if she told them somthing. Police are God's children and alot of us are happy that they are out here protecting and serving us. We are trying to build are lives back and these drug dealers are trying to tear us down. Some of us are not strong enough to resist. Thanks for talking to them and talking to me. I wish I had the opportunity to speak to them. "
George, twenty two years on Skid Row, former drug dealer and drug addict." There was a time when I was on the other side of the law. I am not on the other side anymore. I am on their side now[police]. The only ones who are making a fuzz are the ones who are doing the dirt out here.
They ones who are doing nothing are not saying a thing because they are not having any problem with the police. Dam, Dog, you really talked to them?"
Mark-------"You are a better man than I. I could not talk to them. They caused me alot of problems. I got beat up alot but it was not down here. It was somewhere else. I was doing wrong though,. They dont bother me now. I just couldnt talk to them. "
Sandra-----addict for twenty years-"I am glad you told them not everyone is against them. The only people who break their neck whenever they see them are the ones who are holding pipes and drugs. Nobody else cares. I am glad to see them. There are some mean characters out here. I see some of my girlfriends relapse and the only time they come back is when they have a split lip or black eye because they do not want to do tricks."
RaShon-----------" I have daughters out here on Skid Row. I do not want them to do drugs. I made that mistake for them. I hope the police run all of them in. I am sick of them. I better not see any of them sell my daughters no drugs. Rights, rights? What about our rights? Don't we count? People in these programs are trying so hard and you have these blood suckers standing outside trying to lure them back into misery and hell. No men around her complain about them. I have lived here all year long. They speak to me politely. Hell, who told them we are against them. They need to stop. Everybody always tells us what we need or want but nobody asks us. When are you going to get that chat room started.?"
I must have talked to at least ten more people. They all wonder why people butt into business that is not theirs. "That is how bad feelings start. People who have nothing to do with anything, talk the most. The people removed from the scene, that think they know the most, know the least", a lady shouted to me as she walked away.
They all want to be a part of the chat room because they would like to share ideas. They would feel uncomfortable to speak at a police station but they are used to being there in hand cuffs. They felt they should start waving at officers to let them know that they are not alone.
"Walter, there alot of people out here that do not want help. If you offer them help, they refuse. They are not ready yet. They think that white rock is there friend. They think the one who is selling them that poison is their friend. If the police were to say that they would be accused of saying that to justify their tactics. I am out here every day. The ones who want no help sleep out here. We have beds available. They want to be out here so they can smoke dope. To be honest, I never knew I would be here this long. I signed up for the year program and I like it. I am happy. I never understood the police. I understand them now. I wear this vest. I am the police in this courtyard. People smart talk me all of the time. I know what the police deal with now", a Midnight Mission resident said.
Officer Royce feels that the name Skid Row should be changed. We talked about that for a while and he feels that every time some one says Skid Row, it has a negative reinforcement to it. People feel bad about themselves when they are identified with Skid Row. I agreed. Something new would change how they felt about themselves. At first he suggested something like Central City East, but, after thinking about it, we agreed that that would be identified too much with development and marketing and may be resented. We both agreed that it should be positive and should make people feel that they have hope.
That would be a good thing for everyone to think about, a new name for Skid Row. I do know people have been kicking it around a bit. It would be nice to get the chat room going and have everyone from resident of a program, to a homeless person on the street at night, from a grocer to a counselor, from a police officer to council woman sit and work together to figure out a new name for our community, a community in which we all live and work that represents a new beginning instead of a dead end.
Thanks Officer Royce for the idea. As you can see, you guys are not alone. People in Skid Row support you. Keep doing your job, protecting and serving.
Good Afternoon world, I love ya.

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