LOS ANGELES – A homeless advocate who lost his leg to the streets has returned to Skid Row in a wheelchair.
The Rev. Andy Bales rolled through the area nine weeks after his lower right leg was amputated.
He has diabetes and developed a leg blister that made him more prone to infections. His leg became infected with E. coli, streptococcus and staphylococcus that doctors say he probably picked up from Skid Row, the Daily News of Los Angeles reported (http://bit.ly/2gpeUvP).
Bales, 58, is CEO of Union Rescue Mission, the city's oldest and largest homeless shelter.
He had been making daily walks around the downtown area where the homeless, drug-addicted and mentally ill congregate. On Friday, Bales rolled through an area strewn with trash, lined with tents and running with urine.
He came up to another wheelchair occupied by Donovan Figgers and gave him a high-five.
"He's cool," said Figgers, 48, who is missing a right leg and has been living on the streets for nearly a dozen years.
"I resemble Job," Bales said, referring to the biblical figure. "I've had some heart attacks. A kidney transplant. Spent two years in a wheelchair before the amputation. I know the Redeemer lives. I'd give my other leg and more if we could get a roof over everyone's head."
Bales noted the soaring number of homeless people in Los Angeles, which is suffering a severe housing shortage and has an estimated 28,000 people living in cars or on the street. The Union Rescue Mission alone is housing around 1,300 people daily, including many women — about double what it handled last year.
Last month, Los Angeles voters approved a $1.2 billion bond measure to pay for long-term housing and services for the homeless. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County supervisors voted to put a measure on the March ballot that asks voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to help fund supportive services for the homeless. There are an estimated 47,000 homeless people in the county.
However, Bales said the city and county aid will help only a percentage of homeless and could take years to complete. He called on officials to issue a state of emergency to free up immediate resources, especially with cold weather coming.
Bales wants the city to permit regulated tent cities, allow churches to open up parking lots to people living in vehicles, and convert unused buildings into emergency shelters.
"New York puts a roof immediately over 90 percent of people experiencing homelessness, and is embarrassed about the 10 percent on the streets," said Bales. "We, in turn, put a roof over 25 percent and are not embarrassed about the 75 percent on the street."
"The answer is immediate shelter," he said. "You can't leave a precious human being on the streets."