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L.A. officials crack down on street distributions on skid row

September 12, 2010 | 11:11 am

Official plea

Dozens of groups from across the Southland converge on downtown Los Angeles every week to hand out food and clothing in skid row, which has been called the homeless capital of the nation. Most draw a crowd, but not everyone is happy to see them.

Residents and business owners complain about the trash they leave behind. City officials question the wisdom and safety of street distributions in an area with numerous organizations that help the homeless.

"These folks don't know what happens when they leave," said Los Angeles police Officer Deon Joseph, who as senior lead officer is a liaison to the community. "We've had people get stabbed after fighting over clothes. We've had people get sick after eating their food. It's just dangerous and irresponsible."

Some community activists allege that the opposition to street distributions has more to do with gentrification than with protecting homeless people. The city's vision for a revitalized downtown, they suggest, does not include soup lines.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the area, dismisses the accusation, saying thousands of low-income housing units have been built alongside luxury loft developments.

"Nobody has been moved out of the area," she said. "Feeding people on the street is not hygienic, it's not sanitary, it's not good for their health."

She has asked the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for stricter enforcement of food safety regulations. This summer, environmental health inspectors stopped at least two groups from distributing food in skid row because they did not have permits.

Members of the Los Angeles Community Action Network are planning a skid row picnic for Sept. 30 to protest the actions. They say it is unfair to expect those who are giving away food to meet the same standards as commercial vendors, which include serving from a location with facilities to wash both hands and utensils.

"It would be literally impossible to meet all their requirements," said activist Michael Hubman, who argues that people have a right to share food.

Read the full story here.

-- Alexandra Zavis

Photo: Los Angeles Police Officer Deon Joseph tries to persuade a church group from South Los Angeles not to distribute food to the homeless on skid row. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times