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1 Apr, 2012 04:04

Down and out in Skid Row: Homeless in the City of Angels

Los Angeles is widely seen as the capital of America’s movie industry and home of upscale neighborhoods such as Beverly Hills. But right in its underbelly, lies Skid Row – a mecca for the city’s homeless.

Homeless numbers have been on the rise as unemployment and foreclosures forced people out on the streets throughout the country. “I was working as an assistant manager at an autopart shop, I just kinda left the ledge and I don’t have anywhere else to go,” Joshua, a man now living in Skid Row, who had lost his job two years ago and was unable to pay the bills, told RT’s Madina Kochenova. The neighborhood is located right next to the bustling city center of Los Angeles. Estimates show that over 4,000 homeless people inhabit it, making almost 25 per cent of its total population. But living conditions for this most vulnerable segment of the population have been quite tough in the streets of LA. The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has called the city of angels the “meanest city” in terms of how it deals with its homeless. The NCH says city authorities have tried to rid Skid Row of down-and-outers without properly providing them with shelters. The way they did it was  by making arrests for petty crimes such as jaywalking and loitering. The Los Angeles County Community Action Network reported that on one occasion police attacked a petite homeless woman, who may have been mentally ill, with handcuffs and pepper spray. Though homeless figures did drop, most homeless people, the NCH reported, simply dispersed into other neighborhoods of the city. “Unless you get a place to go, they’ve got to go somewhere…” the NCH quote one homeless man as saying “They’re going to disperse. You hit a bunch of marbles in the middle, they splatter.” But in 2007 the city did make some concessions to the homeless, though they were hardly helpful. It settled one case, in which homeless plaintiffs challenged a law that prohibited sitting or lying on the sidewalk  by allowing the homeless to stay where they were until it built 1,250 units of permanent housing. But some activists said that even this number would only aid less than 3 per cent of the city’s homeless population. And General Dogon, a homeless man living in the streets of Skid Row, says city officials don’t want low income people out on streets as they want developers to come and in and gentrify the neighborhood. He went  on to say that the government is giving a lot of attention to foreign policy issues, but was casting a blind eye on what is happening at home.“America is running around playing Captain Save-the-World when they haven’t cleaned their own backyard, right here on Skid Row, there is the largest population of homeless in America,” Dogon noted to RT “You have the largest mental situation going on right here. I mean, it’s just hell”While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of homeless people in America, some studies have been done to estimate that figure. For example, in 2007, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty stated that approximately 3.5 million people were likely to experience homelessness within a given year.