Introduction to Housed: Life on Skid Row

KCRW_Streetscape_0476
Tents line the streets in Skid Row. Photo: Aaron Fallon

The most recent census of Los Angeles county’s homeless population found the largest number of unhoused people in the smallest geographic area: 11, 681 in Metro LA. For this series, we focused on the most densely populated neighborhood: the .4 square mile region known as Skid Row. The main thoroughfare is S. San Pedro Street.

Market rate rental units and pricey condos dot the neighborhood and continue to encroach on it. Meanwhile, the numbers of people on the streets continues to swell.

Los Angeles’ Skid Row has long been a place that’s magnetized the less fortunate. The arrival of the railroad in the 1870’s brought an influx of migrant workers who stayed at cheap, single room occupancy hotels and availed themselves of the abundance of local saloons and brothels. Over time, this subsection of downtown continued to serve as a place where hopeful arrivals to Los Angeles landed and could live cheaply on the margins of society.

As buildings fell into disrepair amid the frenzied redevelopment of downtown in the sixties, many of the affordable residences were knocked down in the name of revitalization. Older poor people had nowhere to go. Returning veterans from Vietnam flooded the area and added to the population, which now had to resort to living in the streets. Drug addiction replaced alcoholism as the prevailing social ill.

Skid Row is today a centralized place for social services like free health, dental and psychiatric services, warm meals and temporary beds for the needy and unhoused. It’s also the location of hundreds of units of low-income housing for people looking to get back on their feet. As real estate downtown booms, developers are constructing market-rate apartments closer to the edges of Skid Row. It’s also a place where drugs flow freely. For some, the area can be a way station to a better place. For others, it’s a place where survival means community, drugs, and a regular spot on the street.

“You got one population that needs all this,” said Los Angeles Mission outreach coordinator John Kelly, who helps people find housing and navigate the maze of services available on Skid Row. However, Kelly also says that because of the easy availability of all manner of drugs on the streets, there’s another population “that sees this as Disneyland.”

Housed: Life on Skid Row tells the stories of some of the people living in the heart of Skid Row.

Housed: Life on Skid Row follows five people living different lives in the heart of Skid Row. Map designed by Mike Royer.

*This post has been updated to accurately reflect the number of homeless people living near Skid Row.

Comments

  1. giordan
    Dec 01, 2015, 1:58 pm

    Skid Row is a haven for people that psychically cannot function in day to day society.. Usually followed by hardship of some sort, they feel that they fit in with the people that live on the streets and so therefore they flock there themselves. A large majority of people living on Skid Row suffer from a mental illness and heavy drug abuse (as drugs are so readily available on Skid Row) contributes to mental behaviors and crime that are showcased in this 54 block region. As downtown LA develops further the issue of cleaning up the streets becomes more prevalent and it is something that the California Government is taking into serious consideration by doing things like putting more police officers onto Skid Row. Since the majority of the population is mentally ill what most of the homeless need is proper medical care so they can eventually get back on there feet. The people that simply stick around Skid Row for the drugs and community crime aspect should be criminalized for their illegal behavior.

  2. www.jeffreydavidmorris.com
    Sep 23, 2015, 12:44 pm

    http://graphics.latimes.com/homeless-los-angeles-2015

  • Stacey-Tony Ascaso

    In other words they built a magnet that attracted these folks and now they wonder why they stay. Public health and mental health policy in this nation is in the medieval ages, at some point society has to make some hard decisions on what to do about the chronic mental illness and chronic drug addiction in these populations. If you cannot decide well then just leave it be, continue to ignore it and stop writing about it.

  • Hubba Bubba

    So glad when I see frank articles about this topic that address actual homeless people, not just “the experts.” Glad also that gentrification is mentioned here. Now that rents are going up (while wages are going down), I would be interested to know how many vacancies exist down there, acting as business write-offs for owners who won’t lower their rates to accommodate reality. IMO, that is one of the things that should be addressed in this housing crisis – the many incentives to keep people out of homes.

  • Angela Cobos

    id like to see more action done for the homeless families more programs to prevent homelessness…for those who really need it

  • skidrow_neighbor

    According to the the statistics provided by LAHSA (http://www.lahsa.org/homelesscount_spa) : The 11,681 homeless individuals mentioned in the article are actually located in the WHOLE METRO LA Area, and NOT in the .4 square mile region of Skid Row, as the article above is stating. The Information is inaccurate and misleading. However, it is true that Skid Row has the largest number of homeless individuals. But it’s way below 11,000 according to the statistics.

    • CaitlinKCRW

      Thanks for catching that. You’re right and we’ve corrected the post.
      – Caitlin

  • skidrow_neighbor

    Thank you for correcting the article. It is incredibly important to always provide accurate, objective, neutral and balanced information while doing journalistic work. I appreciate good journalistic work and wish to see more of that in the future.

  • Where are L.A. County’s homeless? Almost everywhere.

    44,000 – under 100,000 homeless and LA = pumping out 13,000 new homeless a week!

    Mouse over the map to learn how many homeless individuals and vehicles and encampments occupied by the homeless were counted in your census tract.

    Points are randomized in census tracts. Long Beach, Glendale and Pasadena were excluded from the survey because they conducted their own counts.

    http://graphics.latimes.com/homeless-los-angeles-2015/

  • giordan

    Skid Row is a haven for people that psychically cannot function in day to day society.. Usually followed by hardship of some sort, they feel that they fit in with the people that live on the streets and so therefore they flock there themselves. A large majority of people living on Skid Row suffer from a mental illness and heavy drug abuse (as drugs are so readily available on Skid Row) contributes to mental behaviors and crime that are showcased in this 54 block region. As downtown LA develops further the issue of cleaning up the streets becomes more prevalent and it is something that the California Government is taking into serious consideration by doing things like putting more police officers onto Skid Row. Since the majority of the population is mentally ill what most of the homeless need is proper medical care so they can eventually get back on there feet. The people that simply stick around Skid Row for the drugs and community crime aspect should be criminalized for their illegal behavior.