One Step Away
"There is nothing like Skid Row anywhere else in the country," says Reverend Andy J. Bales,
CEO of Los Angeles' Union Rescue Mission (URM) - one of the largest private homeless
shelters in the United States. "It's the biggest manmade disaster in the U.S."
It's in the heart of Skid Row on San Pedro Street that URM provides shelter to up to 1,100
people. Add to that the provision of three meals a day, mental health counseling, a legal
clinic, learning center, medical clinic, dental care, and a year-long addiction recovery
program, 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, and you get the sense of the scale the mission
Skid Row takes up 50 square blocks near Downtown Los Angeles and, according to the Los
Angeles Homeless Services Authority's 2016 homeless count, is home to 3,691 men, women
and, despite the best efforts of advocates in the area, sometimes children.
This year, for the first time in the organization’s 125-year history, the majority of those
seeking services are women and children. "For a long time, me and the county made sure
that no children were on the streets of Skid Row," says Bales. "But they slip in now. People
don't just come in at night and then leave in the morning. They're with us all day long."
Bales says one such exception was a mother with a 2-year-old who initially refused to
come in to the shelter. "It took us weeks to get her off the streets," he says.
While hope is a hard thing to find on Skid Row, Bales says the organization has seen its
share of success stories. About 18% of URM's staff are either former guests at the shelter or
went through URM's programs.
Among those success stories is a former guest named Alex, who came to the URM 11 years
ago to sign up for the shelter's one-year recovery program in order to escape a jail sentence.
After graduating from the program, Alex reunited with his family, got married and now
serves as one of URM's major donor representatives. "We have many stories like Alex," says
Bales. "I get to see walking talking miracles."
79 videos of testimonials from people such as Alex can be watched on the URM's YouTube
channel, featured as part of their series, Stories from Skid Row.
LA'S HELL ON EARTH or a
STEPPING STONE TO A BETTER place
B Y A DA M S E N N OT
C O U R T E S Y O F
S PA R E C H A N G E N E W S
| I N S P . N G O
P H OTO S B Y Z E N G Z H E N G WA N G
Daytime on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles.
Photo by ZengzhengWang