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Skid Row storage helps put order in lives of homeless

Jeff Tyler Jun 26, 2015
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As the number of people living on the streets has risen and homeless encampments have spread across Southern California, the Los Angeles City Council has worked to speed the process by which officials can collect homeless people’s possessions from sidewalks and parks.

The council approved a measure on Tuesday that would reduce the warning time the homeless are given when confiscating certain items from 72 hours to 24. 

When city workers impound homeless people’s stuff, it ends up at a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. It’s kept on shelves in a corner behind a locked gate.   

“We store the property. We keep it safe and clean,” says Alex Conedy, the facility’s project manager. “For whatever it is and whoever it belongs to, it’s important to them. So we treat it as such.” 

He’s sympathetic to the transient nature of life on the streets and the impact it has on people’s possessions. 

“If a person has to go and take care of some business — they’re homeless — they have a doctor’s appointment, they have a job interview. They have to leave periodically from time to time. And they have nowhere to store their property,” Conedy says. “So, when they come back, that property is sometimes not there, for whatever reason.”

It may have been stolen. But, if city workers confiscate property, they leave a notice informing owners that their belongings are being stored here and giving them 90 days to reclaim it.

A lot of the impounded stuff is not what you’d expect to see abandoned. There is an edger for cutting the lawn, there are 20 to 30 bicycles, some of them pretty good looking bikes. There’s a wheelchair.

Few people ever claim their belongings. Since the beginning of the year, Conedy says around 20 people have come here to get their stuff.

Most of the warehouse is taken up by a different kind of storage. In one neat row after another, there are 1,462 60-gallon plastic garbage bins.

“They are actually sanitized,” Conedy says. “We call them ‘bins’ because they’re not utilized as trash cans. They’re utilized as safe storage bins.”

A program called The Bin allows homeless people like Chris Rodriguez, 43, to use the storage bins for free. “Anywhere else, you have to pay 60, 70 dollars for storage,” says Rodriguez.

His wife Monica says they keep clean clothes in their bin, but they also use it as a kind of safe-deposit box. “Because our stuff isn’t just junk. It’s our important papers. Like Social Security papers. Or legal documents.”

Many of the people are dropping off belongings before going to work. Storage is important in relation to finding or keeping  a job.

“Many of the clients have to use the service to keep their job. They have somewhere to store their property so they can go to work every day,” says Emily Chin, the operations manager at a nonprofit called Chrysalis, which runs The Bin.

Juliano, who only gives his first name, is close to being able to move off the streets.  

“I have a job. I’m a team member at Jack in the Box. I just don’t get enough hours to afford my own place,” says Juliano. “They’re talking about a promotion. That would give me more time. And if I get the promotion, then I can afford a place. So I do have a plan.”

Conedy sees some clients every day. Like Silas Loveless, 57, a big man who laughs easily. He’s studying to get his commercial license to drive a big rig.  

For the better part of a year, Loveless has been taking truck driving classes, which cost $150 a month. He only collects $221 a month in government assistance.  So Loveless has had to rely on food stamps and he sleeps at a homeless shelter.

He has three more classes before his test with the Department of Motor Vehicles.  

“Each time, if you fail, it’s thirty bucks a pop to re-test. And I don’t have thirty bucks, so that’s not an option,” says Loveless.

He says truck drivers make around $700 a week. Loveless considers that enough money to live like a king. At the very least, he’d be able to afford his own place, where he could store his stuff in something other than a sanitized garbage bin.

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