‘Los Angeles’ is nothing more than a misnomer.Blocks away from Pershing Square are the Toy and Fashion Districts of Los Angeles, some of the pioneering industries that helped propel L.A. into economic stability. It is also home to L.A.’s infamous Skid Row, the pioneering frontier of forgotten wastelands and memories. Hundreds of the homeless line the streets of San Julian, San Pedro, 7th, 6th and 5th streets like an army of lost angels unbeknownst of their fall from grace.
Men, women and children stand, walk, sit and/or sleep along the streets.
The streets that line the warehouses of old reek with urine and feces. Cardboard boxes make up for the thousand-dollar lofts nearby, and even the SROs (Single Room Occupancy buildings) have limitations for their potential residents.
These gripping images of Skid Row may be on the verge of elimination, due in part to various programs, either municipally or voluntarily, aiming to clean up the streets. Yet it’s very evident, however, that a lot of work still needs to be done.
“Change takes time,” said Sidney Prescott, security officer at the Volunteer of America Veteran’s shelter on Wall Street.”People want the politician [to do the work], but people need to do some as well. Change comes from you and me.”
Crime is an unspoken language with even harder codes to decipher and police patrol the area frequently.
“This is the only place [in L.A.] they give jaywalking tickets,” said Charles Nelson, 61, who has called Skid Row home for eight years.”How are we gonna pay for our tickets?”
With fixed incomes, some without any at all, living in Skid Row, much less L.A., is a struggle for survival every day.”I’d rather go to jail,” added Nelson.
“Most of these people don’t want to go to [SROs]. That’s why people are on the streets. They don’t have to worry about anything; they’re happy.”
People come from all over the country hoping to find opportunity in a city designed to provide exactly that. Unfortunately not all stories have picturesque, movie-script endings.
“Sixty percent [of the people on Skid Row] are not from here. When they come here, they get involved with drugs,” said Earnest Freebanks, 64, who has been living on Skid Row for 10 years.
“Everybody comes here to buy crack,” added Nelson. Dealers stalk the corners and people readily shoot up, smoke or drink.
“It’s like a carnival here,” said Nelson. “People act like a fool.”
The saddest part isn’t necessarily the crime, drug addiction or large number of people that populate the area. Rather, it’s the close proximityof that within which it operates.
L.A.’s financial district is literally a few blocks northwest. A crystal-clad, lettered billboard that reads
“The Million Dollar Rosslyn Hotel” mocks the impoverished residents below it. Hollywood, likewise, is only one town over.
“A whole lot of people have money [here in LA], but won’t give a place to stay,” said Freebanks. “[People] are creating conditions.”
It’s only a 30-minute trip by metro rail, which translates to a five-minute car ride sans traffic, but the sharp contrasts between the edge of Silver Lake’s posh cafes and Skid Row’s trash-laden gutters are strikingly vast.
Mod shops morph to thrift stores, Fred 62 dishes shift to meals served via the Midnight Mission and fancy sidewalks decorated with umbrella-covered nooks digress to men and women sleeping, sitting and sometimes crawling on scrap-infested streets.
All this in a place adored by the world. The ‘City of Angels,’ a phrase connoting palm trees, the sun setting amidst a red-orange backdrop, top-down-convertibles whizzing through Sunset Boulevard alongside blonde bombshells and celebrities, perfect weather, heaven.
Who’d have thought hell was but a block away, quite literally almost, and that the angels designed to rescue it leave it abandoned and ignored.
“We were put here [on Earth] to create and cultivate beauty,” said Prescott. “Not corrupt it.
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