The downside of skid row charity

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Los Angeles police officer Deon Joseph followed a trail of discarded paper plates and half-eaten macaroni down 6th Street and around the corner into San Pedro Street.

There he found his targets: members of a church group, heads bowed in prayer after serving lunch to a long line of homeless people.

Dozens of groups from across the Southland converge on downtown Los Angeles every week to hand out food and clothing in skid row, which has been called the homeless capital of the nation.

Most draw a crowd, but not everyone is happy to see them. Residents and business owners complain about the trash they leave behind. City officials question the wisdom and safety of street distributions in an area with numerous organizations that help the homeless.

“These folks don’t know what happens when they leave,” said Joseph, who as senior lead officer is a liaison to the community. “We’ve had people get stabbed after fighting over clothes. We’ve had people get sick after eating their food. It’s just dangerous and irresponsible.”

Some community activists allege that the opposition to street distributions has more to do with gentrification than with protecting homeless people. The city's vision for a revitalized downtown, they suggest, does not include soup lines.

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