Cleaning up mean streets for Olympics

By LEON DANIEL, UPI National Reporter

LOS ANGELES -- The City of Angels is having little success in its campaign to hide its homeless from the view of its Olympic guests.

City fathers have deployed a posse of 30 police officers mounted on horses into the downtown area and Skid Row to reinforce other lawmen there but hundreds of street people still roam central Los Angeles.


'We're trying to sanitize the area,' Police Capt. Billy Wedgeworth told the Los Angeles Times.

Despite intensified law enforcement, the usual hundreds of homeless were lined up Sunday for lunch outside the Union Rescue Mission on Main Street.

The mission, one of the nation's oldest shelters for homeless men, is only one block from City Hall, a posh shopping center and the New Otani Hotel, which already is filled with Olympic guests and media representatives here to cover the games.

Many of the street people -- alcoholics, the mentally ill and others just down on their luck -- sleep at the mission. Hundreds of others bed down on the sidewalks and in city parks.

The Rev. Murray McDougall, chaplain at the mission, takes a dim view of the intensified police activity, which he said means that street people can be 'cited for jaywalking or just about anything.'


'The policy abuses people who are already abused,' said McDougall, who added that some city fathers believe the mission should move out of the central city.

'We're a thorn in their sides,' McDougall said. 'There's a feeling that if you moved the mission, the transients would leave. Personally, I think it's all these liquor stores around here that draw them.'

'My problem is not alcoholism,' said Cyril Lukas, 32, who left economically depressed Pittsburgh nine months ago in search of work. 'My problem is unemployment.'

Lukas slept in a cardboard box before the mission took him in and gave him a 'helping hand job' at $5 a week as a night guard on the premises.

Police say one of the main roles of the mounted unit is to awaken drunks sleeping on sidewalks and in alleys and to keep as many of them as possible off streets trod by visitors.

Social workers say stepped-up police activity has dispersed transients, pushing some of them south of downtown. But no one really believes all of them will be out of sight by the time the Games start Saturday.

Attorneys who represent transients say the street people have felt threatened by rumors that massive arrests are planned to clear the area. They say they are prepared to seek court injunctions against the police if such raids occur.


McDougall, citing the first book of Corinthians in the Bible, figures there were street people around when the Greeks started the Olympics. The poor, he believes, will always be around.

'These people are not looking for trouble,' he said. 'They're looking for food and a place to sleep.'

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