Its all a person has left, you know, said the 68-year-old, who asked that her real name not be used. The Bible tries to teach you that personal propertys not much, but thats not true. You just see the look on somebodys face after theyve started over two or three timesthey just want to die.
Onean Hamptons possessions are limited to what he can fit into his black knapsacktwo sleeping bags, a few items of clothing, a winter coat, cigarettes, instant coffee and packets of sugar (I like my coffee sweet, he said). The 69-year-old never lets the knapsack out of his sight.
Ive got a strong back, strong legs, strong hands, he said. I have to have that to tote my stuff, because Im not going to leave it nowhere.
To be homeless means cramming your life into a knapsack, suitcase or shopping cartsometimes all three, depending on how good you are at whittling down to basics.
I wonder how much some people would have if they had to carry around everything they really needed, Ann said.
To be homeless also means minding those items. Its difficult for [people] to put it somewhere while they go out for the day. They have to stay around and protect it, said Raoul, a homeless vet. Sometimes they come back and its gone. Sometimes people take it; sometimes police come around and they make a clean-up sweep.
Down there at the Bottoms, youve got to watch your items, he said, referring to the area east of Park Boulevard, Downtown. It doesnt matter what you have because other homeless people pick up another persons backpack and take it if theyre asleep. Theyll pick it up and walk away with it, and you wont know it until you wake up.
Raoul uses a walker to get around. He sleeps in the same place each night and relies on his friend Julie, who lives in a nearby apartment, to bring him his bedding. Then, at around 6 a.m., Julie said, I come down and pick up his bag and take it upstairs. If it wasnt for me, hed have no place to put it.
The Central City East Association, a business-improvement district in downtown Los Angeles, operates the Personal Property Storage Facility for the Homelessthe warehouse, as its more commonly known, said CCEA Executive Director Estela Lopez. Donated in 2002 by a CCEA board member, the 20,000 square-foot building holds 500 binswheeled trashcans donated by Waste Management. Homeless people rent the bins, for free, to store their possessions, which they can retrieve through a system akin to how a bank handles safety-deposit boxes.
Its first-come, first-served, Lopez said. We could double the size of the warehouse and still not have enough for everybody who needs it, she added.
L.A.s program costs roughly $100,000 annually and is paid for by fees from CCEA-member businesses and a grant from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
San Diegos set to have a similar program, the result of a legal settlement stemming from a Sept. 22, 2009, incident in which employees with the citys Environmental Services Department threw away peoples possessions without, the lawsuit argues, providing sufficient notice or following city law.
According to several witnesses CityBeat spoke with at the time, at around 11 a.m., police cars and a city trash truck pulled up near Gods Extended Hand, a homeless-services mission located at 16th and Island avenues in East Village. A group of homeless people who normally camped on the sidewalk along Island, near an empty lot, had left their stuff behindshopping carts, bedrolls, backpacksto have lunch at the mission. City workers started throwing the items into the truck, witnesses said, where they were then compacted. When people tried to retrieve their stuff, they were told it was too late.
While the citys municipal code says its illegal for personal items to obstruct the public right-of-way and unattended items whose owner cannot be readily identified are presumed to be abandoned, the law also says: Wherever possible, Enforcement Officials shall make a reasonable effort to ascertain whether the unattended personal property or possessions have been abandoned, and unattended personal property or possessions that are sanitary and saleable or useable and of a value greater than one hundred dollars ($100) shall be transferred as soon as is practicable to the Chief of Police.
Police confirmed that no items were turned over.
Scott Dreher, one of the attorneys for nine plaintiffs who say they lost medication, clothing and bedding, cash and personal documents, among other items, said initial settlement discussions with the City attorneys office focused on developing a better notification system, as well as a place to store items confiscated in future abatements.
We talked about creating a lost and found with those metal shipping containers, stuff like that, he said.
Then they heard about CCEAs storage warehouse and made a trip to L.A. to check it out.
We all agreed that a storage facility was a much better idea, Dreher said, especially using the L.A. model.
Dreher said the city has identified a possible locationa property currently owned by the Centre City Development Corp., which oversees Downtown redevelopment. The facility, Dreher said, will be run by the Isaiah Project, a nonprofit whose born Again Basketsrepurposed shopping carts donated to homeless peoplewere among the items destroyed in last years abatement. Though a report by KGTV 10News said the facilitys $100,000 operating cost would be at taxpayers expense, the money will come from fees paid to dispose of large amounts of waste at the Miramar Landfill.
Its technically not taxpayer funds, Dreher said. Like the CCEA facility, San Diegos will maintain a strict no-loitering policy.
People arent allowed to go there and hang out, Dreher said. Theyre allowed to go, get stuff, deliver stuff and then theyve got to leave. Its not a day shelter.
Though the propertys available for only a year, according to the settlement, which the San Diego City Council is expected to vote on in January, the city will use its best efforts to find another suitable location.
Theoretically, this will be run well and itll be a shining example of what a thing can be, Dreher said. And the city will say, Yeah, we want this to continue because it keeps 500 piles of stuff of the sidewalks. CCEAs Lopez said shes elated that San Diego might open such a facility.
The amount of personal possessions on the street now versus 2002 when we opened the centertheres no comparison, she said. Its an important element to the homeless population and the business community. Hopefully its something that helps get people back on the road to reintegrating into society.