On August 20, 2016, Rotary Club of Downtown Los Angeles members were given the rare opportunity to tour Skid Row with Los Angeles Police Department Officer Deon Joseph, also known as the “angel cop.” 
Officer Joseph has been with the LAPD for nineteen years, with seventeen of those years in the Skid Row community.  His approach goes beyond the typical image of policing and focuses on the development of personal relationships with those he serves.  He has sponsored outreach programs such as mentoring for children, education safety and self-defense seminars for women, and providing hygiene kits along with drug, housing, and job program information.  On a typical day, he is on foot beat, talking to people, providing them with basic needs such as toothpaste, soap, lotion, and information on how to apply for housing vouchers.   
Some of the surprising things members learned on the tour were Officer Joseph’s observations on well-meaning donations by the public directly to those living on the streets such as tents, food, and clothes as actually being counterproductive.  He said that tents promote illegal activity as the space becomes “hidden.”  Regarding food, he mentioned that the missions provide enough free meals to serve the population and providing food on the street creates difficulties with drug dealers prevalent all over the area.  Free clothes he warned would end up being sold for drugs.
What he sees as the greatest needs in Skid Row are for additional housing, decentralizing homeless services to other parts of the city so Skid Row becomes less concentrated with those who prey on the homeless, and adjustments to some of the laws that most affect the homeless population.
All were reminded of the dire situation in the neighborhood when Officer Joseph was unable to conduct the full tour as there had been an outbreak of the synthetic drug “spice” in the neighborhood the day before where 50 people were hospitalized and the air was still contaminated a day later.  Member Brenda McCabe, a recent transplant to Los Angeles commented: “I learned that homelessness is a result of a complex relation between drugs and crime and victims.  I was appalled that this is happening literally in our backyard.”  President-elect Louise Oliver, who has for many years served on the board of the Shelter Partnership, offered her reflections on how to combat the homelessness issue: “....no simple solutions, but we need to keep the focus and pressure on.” 
To learn more about Officer Joseph and his work, visit his website: http://www.deonjoseph.org/  


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