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Our Response to a Community Tragedy


(Image from original cellphone video. Los Angeles Police Department)

The Downtown Women’s Center was shocked and saddened to learn of the shooting death of Africa (Charley Saturmin Robinet) on Sunday.

We view this tragedy – and the larger conversations it has sparked – through the lens of 37 years working with the homeless in Skid Row. For decades, Los Angeles has held the unfortunate title of “homeless capital of the US,” with Skid Row being the most concentrated area of poverty in the United States. And in recent years, we have seen the trauma of homelessness faced by the women we serve exacerbated through policies that often criminalize their situation.

We have laws prohibiting sleeping or sitting on our local sidewalks, we do not have adequate public bathroom facilities to address a basic human need, and we are in the midst of a public debate to determine the appropriate timeline for the seizure of homeless individuals’ property.

At DWC, we believe that housing is a human right.

But there is not enough affordable housing in Los Angeles – and an even greater shortage of permanent supportive housing for our chronically homeless who are often also facing mental illness, substance abuse, a serious medical condition, or a criminal past that prevents them from accessing many housing resources. Services to address these needs are essential to public safety.

Until there is housing for all, we cannot continue to criminalize those who are homeless.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s 2014 report on the criminalization of homelessness found a correlation between communities that criminalize homelessness and high rates of violence against the homeless.

We also feel this is an important opportunity to reflect on the issues extreme poverty and racism. Black individuals make up 9.2% of the total population of the County of Los Angeles, but constitute 38% of County’s homeless population. Homelessness and racism reinforce each other, and we feel it’s important to be honest and intentional about addressing the inherent biases that propagate the many forms of systemic injustice we face as a society.

We expect that the LAPD’s investigation of this incident be thorough and transparent. It is important to our staff, our supporters, and – most meaningfully – to the community we serve and their healing.

Homelessness is not an intractable problem, and it is not an individual failing; it is a societal issue – poverty in its most extreme form – that bears especially hard on people of color. At DWC, we believe homelessness can be ended. We will continue to provide a safe and supportive community for the women of Skid Row.

If you would like to join us in helping to address the trauma of homelessness and bringing an end to it altogether, find out how to get involved here.

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