Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Trendy" Skid Row

By Desiree Perez

I was reading an article in the Washington Post the other morning. It caught my attention because it mentioned Skid Row in Los Angeles, and that’s close to where I live.

The article said Skid Row was becoming, well, trendy. L.A. is infamous for its trends and celebrity, but that’s near Hollywood, Beverly Hills or Rodeo Drive – not Skid Row.

What Skid Row is famous – or infamous – for is homelessness, poverty, drugs and crime. That neighborhood, contained by 3rd Street and 7th Street from north to south, and Main Street and Alameda Street from west to east, is tough.

And apparently, it’s exactly that edginess that’s drawing the new influx of trendsetters. Hipsters, art dealers and the rest of the pseudo–counterculture are migrating to the seedy streets of Skid Row in droves, searching for that sketchy bohemian lifestyle.

When I read this, I thought, "Sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll go check it out when I get home." But then a short paragraph caught my eye: it dealt with the displacement of the homeless population in Skid Row. That’s when my experience at Street Sense kicked in.

There are a lot of homeless people in Skid Row. Within its borders, there are roughly half a dozen homeless shelters and transitional housing buildings. Churches do outreach ministry, and even run clean needle distribution centers.

However, as more of the industrialized neighborhood is converted into warehouse lofts for the 20– to 30–somethings with a couple million dollars to burn, the homeless population will be forced to look for aid elsewhere.

What’s even more outrageous is the city’s assessment of the situation. They’ve upped the police force in Skid Row by 50 officers over the last year. The cops, though, seem to have more incentive to hassle the homeless than anything else.

The mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is drawing attention to the opening of big chain supermarkets in the neighborhood rather than to the fact that more money is spent harassing a vulnerable population than helping them.

It would make a lot more sense to use the funds to expand housing and care programs for the homeless. Instead, that money is used to beef up the police force to kick the homeless out.

What’s more, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton acknowledges the displacement, but brushes it off as a necessary – and minor – problem. "Is there some displacement? Certainly," Bratton said. "But what’s wrong with that in some respects? Why should one square mile of the city be impacted by something that’s effectively a countywide problem?" He continued, "So if there is displacement, all well and good."

Mayor Villaraigosa takes a more compassionate approach, stating that the Safer City Initiative will maintain affordable housing in the places where it is most needed. It’s clear, however, that the burgeoning city renaissance does not include taking care of homelessness. Rather, it sweeps it under the rug and out of Skid Row.

Before working at Street Sense, I would have probably overlooked the bigger picture. The development of Skid Row and the increased police force would have seemed like positive and welcome initiatives. Since becoming familiar with the people and the issues here, though, I’m able to see the real problems at stake.

Desiree Perez is from Corona, Calif., and is a fall intern with Street Sense through the Fund for American Studies.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

The safer city initiative is the best thing to ever happen to downtown los angeles, but maybe that's hard to understand all the way from a suburb like Corona, CA.