The homeless capital of North America: The Corsair inside Skid Row
Tents spill from the sidewalks of downtown Los Angeles where glassy-eyed, street nomads wander the city blocks. Jagged pieces of glass, paper bags, and other discarded refuse litter the alleyways and roads that wind their way through Third and Seventh, and Alameda and Main. This is Skid Row, hub of homelessness, drugs, violence, and rampant, uncontrolled chaos. This dark section of the city, sitting in the shadows of high, looming skyscrapers, serves as the antithesis of the glitz and glamour promised by Hollywood. The movie sets and TV shows, featuring sprawling beach panoramas and bikini clad girls underneath imported palm trees tell nothing of the decrepit streets and suffering that lies just beyond. Adam Henriksson and I decided that we would go down to the Skid Tow to tell that story.
We started by meeting at 6th and Maple. We were both a little apprehensive on the way over due to not knowing what to expect. What comes to mind when hearing the words ‘Skid Row’ in the past is sayings like "Don’t go there!," "all you’ll find is violence, drugs, and crime," and my personal favorite, "don’t get shot." It was a little unsettling to think about, but we were eager to see for ourselves and the time for hearsay was over.
Before long, we came to a road scattered with locals, evidenced by their tents and sleeping bags. A man in a black baseball hat was laying on the sidewalk next to his wheelchair. Something in his hand caught the glare of the sun and glinted out from where he laid. We decided to approach him and see what the object was. As approached him, our vision sharpened and it became clear that the shining object was a knife. In this world of violence and lawlessness, a blade like that could mean the difference between life and death. His name was James Chavez. He was a heroin dealer from El Salvador, and he would be the first of three locals to take us inside the world of Skid Row.
“You got beatings. You got stabbings. Cops see it; they just keep going,” said Chavez. “This is a drug-infected area also, for all downtown, but this is like the heart of everything.”
The rules are different there, different than they are in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica. They are rules of the street, not of law. The other two locals, Archie the Ten Dollar Bill, who introduced himself by saying, “At one time, I was Skid Row’s most wanted,” and Reverend Edward Merida, an older man with the aura of wisdom emanating from his words, told us similar stories that reinforced Chavez’s words.
“A lot of people still want to live on the streets. They don’t want any housing,” said Merida. “Those you won’t be able to help. Some of them really want help.”
When we asked Chavez about getting off Skid Row, he said, “Skid Row will help you out in whichever way they can, but you got to do the footwork. You got to do the steps. It’s not going to happen like that. Its going to be like, takes a little time.”
Adversity is imminent for the many who live in circumstances like those that affect the people of Skid Row. However, hope and triumph is just as potent as adversity there. While there are many that embrace the difficulties of living on the street, there are just as many who choose to fight, who choose to persist, and who choose to rise beyond the adversity that looks them in the face everyday.