The above photo was shot by me this weekend when I walked out of my loft building. A huge crowd had gathered, lined up and continued to snake from Winston St. east, all the way to San Pedro St. south to 5th. There were hundreds of mothers with their young school age children on San Pedro St. for most of the day.
Trash was everywhere and there were no garbage cans in place to take care of the copious amounts of litter that were generated by this huge crowd who were eating wrapped food items from street vendors. Kids were wandering in and out of the street with no police barricades or event staff to control things. It looked dangerous for the children and it was most definitely disrespectful to the neighborhood. That said, the LA Mission did decent job of cleaning up after the event was over, towards the end of the day. And, I certainly applaud the charitable act of passing out much-needed school supplies to needy children. On the Los Angeles Mission website, the children they say they are serving are “Inner City” children.
But, these children are not Skid Row children.
I subscribe to a “Google Alerts” for “Skid Row, Los Angeles”. Mainly, because this is my neighborhood and I want to be as informed as possible. There are usually daily stories about Skid Row in the news. You can imagine, it is bizarre to see the place you call home through the lens of so many different cameras. People from all over the world connect to this place, care about it, study it and are fascinated by it. I grab these stores and put them on my Trees on San Pedro Street Facebook page to keep a running history of what is going on here, also to share with others the different narratives that co-exist in Skid Row. Many times, I read what I know are misrepresentations. One of the therapeutic aspects to keeping this personal blog is the belief that just maybe I am correcting or maybe balancing is a better word- my personal experiences against so many other distorted ones that I read- all the while knowing that the truth here is often difficult to get at for a variety of reasons. Perspectives aside, some things are just out and out inaccurate and not only false, but damaging to this community.
There is a reason I am writing about the Los Angeles Mission’s “End of Summer Block Party Event” and a larger picture that needs to be painted for those that don’t know- and it involves children.
A press release came out today and filtered through my “Google Alerts” about this event on the website, Look to the Stars, which is a site devoted to celebrity giving. From this website, the below information was taken (the emphasis is mine):
Based on US Census figures, the study shows that one in eight Los Angeles Children live in “extreme poverty” (meaning the family’s household income is less than half the national poverty threshold. The poverty threshold is just over $22-thousand dollars a year for a family of four). Many of those thousands of children are homeless – about 1,000 homeless children live in the Skid Row area.
That’s the reasoning behind the distribution of backpacks full of school supplies. “Any family in such extreme poverty as we see here on Skid Row probably doesn’t have the money to buy the school supplies required for classes,” said Smith. “Our volunteers and donors help a bit to ease that burden.”
To be clear, there is currently no low-income permanent supportive housing for families in Skid Row. No building owned by SRO Housing Corp. or Skid Row Housing Trust allow children under 18 to spend the night, but they are allowed to visit during 9-5 everyday. There is currently no childcare in Skid Row for the few parents that do live here- mostly now sheltered at the Union Rescue Mission. Many Skid Row buildings do not allow children inside at all. The families that used to be more prevalent in the Skid Row area stayed in the old Ford Hotel on 7th St. or in what used to be called the Frontier Hotel (keep in mind neither of these hotels are technically IN Skid Row boundaries- but across the street). For more info about the children who used to live here, click here. The Ford Hotel converted to an SRO Housing Corp. building (no kids overnight) and the Old Frontier (Rossyln Hotel) has been purchased by SRO now too. Yes, there are a very small number of independent hotels where kids might stay at in downtown, but I am not aware of any in Skid Row currently. Union Rescue Mission has as their goal, getting kids and families far away from Skid Row and into a place called Hope Gardens. Also, the Midnight Mission places families outside of Skid Row.
Meanwhile, several friends I have made who do have permanent supportive housing here in Skid Row suffer greatly because they cannot live here in the community they love, united with their extended family. I would never have know this fact, had I not become friends with several people who live here in SROs. They often speak to me about how unfair it is that people like me, who live in a “Skid Row loft” are able to live with their children and families together as a unit, yet they are not allowed to live with family members in the very same community. I agree, it is unfair!
“There is no community anywhere in the world”, my friends suggest, “that exists without children. Why should Skid Row exist without allowing families to live together?” they go on to explain to me. This is deeply dysfunctional at best. My research tells me there are approximately 9,500 people living here in Skid Row now- this many people, with no dedicated family housing for low-income individuals (which is who lives here overwhelmingly) is obscene and needs to be changed sooner rather than later.
I also came upon a Mother Jones article by Russ Rymer from 2001 called The Rules of the Row, and this quote from Alice Callaghan, who is an important figure in Skid Row history (the emphasis is mine):
“When I came down here in the ’70s, the missions were these hole-in-the-wall places,” Callaghan says. “Now some of them are big corporations with headquarters off by the beach and movie stars on their boards, and they’re invested in institutional survival.” The forms that investment takes can look ludicrous close-up: Callaghan and Hayes both point to the perennial fundraising gimmick — mediagenic holiday meals or toy giveaways for families that, since there are so few women and children on the Row, have to be bused in. The ruse highlights a problem for Skid Row service providers: drawing money for their clients’ condition without admitting exactly who their clients are and what their true condition is. “Today you can’t get dollars for homelessness, per se,” Bonar laments. “But there’s great sympathy for the mentally ill, or for people with HIV, as there should be, and for other groups. The legislature will give them money.”
In closing, let me express that I have no problem with the Los Angles Mission or any other entity in Skid Row holding large give-away events for children- charitable giving is praiseworthy. What I do not like, is the implication that these events somehow help “Skid Row children”- because they do not.
People who live in Skid Row suffer because they cannot live here with their family members. My friends and neighbors suffer here. The health of this community suffers because of the anti-family housing infrastructure Skid Row has in place.
If you are reading this, now you know. A big question for me is, what can I do to change things? What can you do? To start, get to know someone who lives here and ask them about their family. Listen to them. Learn their truth.