L.A.'s Occupy Protest Attracts Homeless, Drugs

Occupy L.A. is camped out on the front lawn of City Hall in Los Angeles. A large number of homeless people are also camped there, causing the group to divide into sections on the lawn. The homeless are in an area referred to as Skid Row. The part-time protesters are in an area called Westwood, after a nice part of town.

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The Occupy camp in Los Angeles has become something of a microcosm of the city. Some differences are showing among people who call themselves the 99 Percent, homeless people clustered in an area called Skid Row. You find protesters with jobs in an area dubbed Westwood, an affluent community near UCLA. Gloria Hillard reports.

GLORIA HILLARD, BYLINE: Rain the night before has given way to a crisp and clear Los Angeles morning. Shelly Moss pulls a crocheted maroon sweater over her blond hair and adjusts her glasses.

SHELLY MOSS: We're a quiet neighborhood right here. We go to sleep between 8:00 and 10:00.

HILLARD: In what looks like an overcrowded campground, community boundaries are being drawn.

MOSS: A lot of us on this side are not permanently homeless. A lot of us on this side, you know, maintain our tents and our lives as if we were still in a home.

HILLARD: Moss, an unemployed sous chef who recently became homeless, keeps her tent meticulous. She has an air mattress and a small, foam bed for her dog Rose. Her neighbors have pitched their tents of various colors in neat lines. Some have potted flowers in the front, or a chair, a yoga mat. But recently, Moss says, life here has become more strained.

MOSS: It's not occupiers. It's people who are taking advantage of the occupiers and using this as their new business ground.

BILL FISHER: I ran 'em out. They're gone. They're up on the other end. They're still here, gut I ran 'em out of here. Gotta go.

HILLARD: That's Moss's neighbor, 60-year-old Bill Fisher, referring to what he calls the bad elements selling heroin and crack. Fisher, an iron worker in construction his entire life, has become a one-man neighborhood watch program on this small patch of muddy lawn. He's a burly guy in a straw hat and dirty jeans.

FISHER: I owned three houses in Oakland.

HILLARD: Three houses?

FISHER: Yeah. Had a 48-foot sailboat. Had a good life.

HILLARD: He says he's had many losses in recent years, but one of the hardest was when his wife died of cancer.

FISHER: Amber Marie, if she were here, whoo...

HILLARD: He looks away, and then continues his story. He was passing through L.A. looking for work on what happened to be the first day of the protest. He wasn't planning on staying, but the movement spoke to him, he says. He's still trying to hold onto that feeling, but admits he's come to loathe weekends.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What do we want? (unintelligible) When do we want it? Now.

HILLARD: That's when the population of Occupy L.A swells, attracting the curious, the supporters and those with other causes.

LOREANA JAMARILLO: Well the hippies, the bunch of hippies, they're happy with the marijuana, you know?

HILLARD: Loreana Jamarillo says she's tired of the marijuana people taking over the microphones.

JAMARILLO: The marijuana isn't only the issue, here. This is their cause. My cause is the, you know, the economy.

HILLARD: There's also a large number of young people here, backpacks, skateboards and guitars slung over their shoulders, as well as the long-term homeless who have migrated from Skid Row a little over a mile away.

Cleaning up leaves from the storm the night before is Sarah Mason. The tall, 25-year-old could be a GAP model.

SARAH MASON: I am here because I feel a moral obligation to speak out against injustice.

HILLARD: Mason has been camping out here a few weeks, but leaves each day for her full-time job at an art gallery in Santa Monica. She admits to getting weary, and lately has been thinking...

MASON: What are we doing here? You know, what is - what is the point of this? You know, can't we be doing this at home? Can't we be doing this somewhere else?

HILLARD: Back in what she calls her neighborhood, Shelly Moss puts a leash on her dog Rose to go for a walk. Her two children are living with relatives. The memory she carries is when they all lived together.

MOSS: I like hot showers, you know. I like cooking in my kitchen, and I like laying in my bed, watching movies with my children. You know, I just want my life back.

HILLARD: For now, Moss's life is anchored by a lime green tent some 40 feet from the steps of Los Angeles City Hall.

For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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