I’ve come to learn a few things in life – A great punchline goes a long way, always being on time is never a bad thing, and develop a healthy routine of any kind.
I’ve also learned that people are conditioned to defend themselves and each other first – no matter how unprepared or intimidated they may be. That defense can be as subtle as an unmistakable glare to a physical show of force. Even when faced with few solutions, defense isn’t just a choice, it is a natural reaction. Homeless people know how and have a need to defend each other.
In the time that I’ve lived in downtown Los Angeles, I’ve made an effort to engage with people in a way that I’ve never done before. Public transportation and my bike have been my preferred mode of transportation – successfully — and I am very proud of that. I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I lived here before. I came back for some of the same reasons and — to learn a few more things about myself. Monthly art showcases, new restaurant openings, a designated bike block party once a year and many more community and coalition building events in the most diverse part of the county of Los Angeles.
Skid Row is by far, the most politically challenging issue that I believe the city faces today and there are no clear answers. Downtown is divided into 4 sections – North (Disney Concert Hall, MOCA), East – (LA River), South – (LA Live, Staples Center) and West – (Financial District) – where I live. Skid row is on the eastern tip of the city and unless you get lost, you probably wouldn’t find it (although, downtown has a very similar economic layout to most cities – the further west, the better it gets / the further east, the less desirable).
What do you do with a community of people who can’t, won’t or don’t have the ability to elevate themselves from poverty? Skid Row is about 2.5 miles from the building I live in, but it seems so much farther away. It is literally like another world. If not for paved sidewalks and familiar surroundings of an urban street, you wouldn’t believe you’re in the heart of one of the largest economies in the world. It has the distinct feel of a 3rd world country, a tent city or a squatter community; people who’ve survived an invasion or a hurricane (to a degree, they have survived an economic invasion already). 10 years ago, Downtown Los Angeles began a very ambitious plan of urban renewal and re-gentrification and it succeeded. The area is a pool of young professionals, artists, small business owners and USC grads, living and working in this very vertical stretch of the city. Naturally, the opinion on the homeless population varies greatly among the people who live and work here. There’s a leveled tolerance that many people understand is necessary if you choose to live here, but there’s a growing position that it shouldn’t be tolerated. People shouldn’t ask for help and you shouldn’t help them. I don’t subscribe to that belief.
In the times that I’ve gone to Skid Row on my bike, I get the sense that there’s a feeling of containment which may or may not put many of them at a disadvantage. The disadvantage being that the area is cuddled by a heavy police presence at times, which discourages many predatory opportunities but falls short of real long-term solutions. As downtown re-mixed into a tourist destination, Skid Row has become strategically & politically invisible.
On a recent trip this weekend, the stark reality of human suffering struck me in a way that I haven’t experienced before. Living on the street is hard. Seeing people live on the street is even harder. It is so hard that I didn’t dare take a photo. I didn’t dare because, their dignity deserved to be preserved. Also, we are all humans and we should all defend each other.
I am grateful for plenty in my life, but I also live with my window shade up – so that I can look out and see the human experience everyday and give, in some small way to help raise that experience – but most certainly – defend it.