Los Angeles is referred to by many elements of note. It is of its own self-acknowledging genius, the most socially and economically diverse city on the west coast. Purveyor of the arts, the primordial den of the silver screen, host to dank and brandy stained hotel rooms that walled some of the finest writers of our time, and home to an entire third world of forgotten souls that fill the cracks between the cafes and the freeways. “When I first got here, it broke my heart,” said Michael Ryan Berg, a Whittier born resident who found himself on Skid Row after an adolescent life in Lake Ellsinore.”It’s a totally different world here. People can just walk by someone on the street, crying, broken and suffering, and just ignore them,” reconciled Berg as he admits that the same contempt and fear that breaks his heart follows his shadow now and then.
“I have to catch myself, I just got to do it,” finishes Berg as he looks over a entire portrait of shapes flowing to the pace of a street that moves in uproars and spurs of desperation.
These are the people he has chosen to live for out of Set Free Church on San Julian and 7th street in downtown Los Angeles, otherwise known as Skid Row.
East of downtown, a wall of gentrified and renewed property encloses the inhabitants that fill the 50 square block area that is Skid Row from the rest of the city.
“There’s a system here to keep people on drugs, to keep them comfortable on the street,” says Nick, a 28-year-old man (who wished not to disclose his full name) living on his own on Skid Row after being displaced by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Sitting on top a make shift stool, the young and calm-eyed man from New Orleans hides his head behind a Yankee cap but little to muddle his frustrated yet reluctantly compliant words for the people whom he feels may never see reprieve from the glass and fecal stained streets off San Julian.
“[The City] offers shelter, money, dental, health, food, everything but real help,” said Nick as he continued, “most all of these people have some type of addiction, either to drugs or to just being sick (referring to mental health pandemics that are a scourges Skid Row).
Mid-interview, the piercing sound of siren stopped an elderly homeless man as he made his way from sidewalk to sidewalk. “That’s just part of the new task force, harassing the people down here,” said Nick as he got up and walked off towards less cop occupied corners.
The charge for the man in tattered clothes and brambly beard with no identification was jaywalking. He got a ticket. That taskforce is part of a movement now at its tail end that aimed to clean up skid row by removing any criminal element from the legitimate residents on skid row. Skid row has since been emptied of its tent city image.
Within 15 minutes from seeing Nick and Berg, a young girl has sought warmth from the chilled air of the evening huddled with her pet rabbitin Pershing Square.
“Living in Los Angeles is good, sometimes,” said Michelle Angulo, an 18-year-old runaway who left to get away from her mother and sister. “I don’t blame people for ignoring me, but it does hurt once in a while,” said Angulo as she heads towards North Hollywood.
It was a cold night.According to the Institute for the Study of Homeless and Poverty at the Weingart Center, there are an estimated 254,000 homeless of all race, gender, and age living Los Angeles County at all times.
Skid Row is home to 10,000 alone, and in Hollywood, an estimated 4,800 to 10,000 flock to the streets without shelter at some time during the year according to the study.
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