Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion

COMMUNITY REPORT: Finding second chances for people on Skid Row

All Cornelius Bolden ever wanted was a second chance.

Bolden has always been a caretaker, a person who looks out for friends and strangers alike. Growing up in a military family, he moved around every few years — which took him across the country and around the world. He would often return from his travels with fresh clothes, which he would hand out to those who were less fortunate and could use a helping hand.

At times mixed up in the criminal justice system, Bolden has mostly lived on Skid Row since he moved to Los Angeles about 20 years ago. He has held odd jobs which have helped to support his four children, who live with their grandmother, and he is the first to admit he hasn’t always made the right choices.

Bolden’s story, and those of far too many homeless Angelenos, is marked by obstacles and not opportunities — and we’re working nonstop to deliver meaningful change.

By providing housing, healing and hope, Angelenos are coming together to confront our city’s homelessness and housing crisis. Thanks to voters who passed Proposition HHH, we are on pace to meet our goal of 10,000 new units of permanent supportive housing across Los Angeles with 150 supportive housing projects in the pipeline — representing more than 10,600 units.

And while that long-lasting, high-quality supportive housing is being built, we’re getting more people off the streets and under a roof through my A Bridge Home initiative, with a total of 26 bridge housing sites expected to be open by this time next year.  

Housing alone will not solve this crisis — the most vulnerable Angelenos are also counting on the healing and hope they urgently need. That’s why I recently launched a new initiative to improve public health and sanitation at the epicenter of this crisis.

The Skid Row Clean Team is comprised of homeless Angelenos working to clean their neighborhood, along with additional city cleanup services already provided in the area.

When I visited their employee orientation, I was inspired by what I saw. Whether they were homeless or recently housed, all of the Clean Team workers I met shared a drive to make the best of a chance to rebuild their lives — and to improve their community through a program that’s just as much about cleaning the streets as it is about lifting up the people who live on them.

These women and men are receiving more than training in hazardous waste management and litter abatement — they’re getting lessons in conflict de-escalation and resolution, and community engagement skills that will serve them well beyond the working hours.

Bolden is one of those Skid Row Clean Team workers. Just like in his youth, he’s still the guy who knows everybody, and he appreciates that folks on Skid Row simply want to be treated with dignity and compassion. As Bolden likes to say, it’s not about picking up trash but, more importantly, “getting out here, talking to some people, seeing what I can help with.”

After all this time, he’s stayed focused on picking himself up, turning his life around, and inspiring those living in tents to do the same. In his words: “I don’t want to be a dying legacy. I want to be a living legacy. I want to make a difference.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs the first Thursday of every month in The Wave.