One Step Away
because at night there aren't any bathrooms for people to use. "During the daytime, there's a
public [restroom], and then at night time we pretty much do it out here. That's what goes on
at Skid Row."
Skid Row resident Anthony Fox says he wants "to get the hell out of here as soon as possible"
and that the area often smells. "It's like a toilet bowl," he says. Despite the smell, homeless
people from all over the country wind up living here. "There's a lot of people that are homeless
here that are not from California," Fox adds having met people from Ohio, Indiana, Florida,
Texas, Las Vegas. "And they say people over there don't tolerate none of this."
Last September, Los Angeles declared a state of emergency on homelessness, and since, Fox
says it has become much easier to get housing. Pretty soon, he says his wish to leave Skid Row
will come true. "They're going to house me in Hollywood, two blocks away from Runyon
Canyon. I'm going to be rubbing elbows with the movie stars."
Fox's friend, who identifies himself as Johnny Rox, has been living on Skid Row for about
six years and says it's become his home. "It's my neighborhood," Rox says. "I wouldn't want
to go anywhere else… I came from a nicer community,
but when I go back to that community now, I
don't feel a part of that because this is who
I am today."
Along the way, Rox says he's gotten
to know nearly 200 people living on
"I like to call everybody my
friends," he says. "On every street I
know a lot of people." He adds that he
has seen a significant impact on his
community since the city declared its
state of emergency on homelessness.
"Everybody's signing up for housing
now," Rox says. "You used to walk the
streets around here and it would be
packed with people, and now there's a
whole lot less people on the streets."
Rox also says the city is offering emergency
shelter to the homeless as well. "If you don't
want to be homeless you don't have to be at
all," he says. Though he does like Skid Row and
appreciates the relationships he's developed there,
Rox says he's also planning on signing up for
housing. "This week I'm going to be signing
up and going the way of many others."
While some of the residents have formed
friendships and a sense of community
with one another, Bales cautioned
against romanticizing Skid Row. It's
a very dangerous place, he warns.
Predators and gang members
gather there, and women are
routinelymolested, robbed, and
beaten. "Drug dealers target
the area and prey on the vast
amounts of people suffering
from addiction," he adds.
"Gangs prey on the addictions,
and they brutally collect on the
money owed to them, "It's hell on
earth," Bales says.
While the URM is one of the largest private shelters in the country, it isn't the only faith-
based mission on Skid Row.
The Midnight Mission has also been offering services to those living on Skid Row for more
than 100 years, says Joey Weinert, community events coordinator. The mission offers three
meals a day, Monday to Saturday, and breakfast and dinner on Sunday.
One of the goals of the organization is to create a sense of community that will enable the
homeless to "look at the Midnight Mission as somewhere they can call home," says Weinert.
Residents of Skid Row are permitted to list the Midnight Mission as their address to receive
letters through the shelter's mailing center.
"That's very important for people that don't have an address that are possibly trying to take
advantage of any social services or maybe even try to get a job, or even just to let your family
know where you are," Weinert adds.
The Midnight Mission also offers a courtyard and a day room where people come in and just
kind of hang out throughout the day. The day room has several flat-screen TVs donated to the
mission, giving people a place to pass the time.
"They'll sit there and watch TV and hang out, whether they're waiting on housing or waiting
on their next check, wherever that may be coming from," Weinert says. "Some people are
waiting on their next hustle; some people are just probably just sitting there waiting for…
they don't know what's next."
At night, the chairs in the day room are replaced with 32 cots. Those seeking a cot must
sign up for one in the morning, and be in the day room by 8 p.m. "We call that safe sleep,"
says Weinert. The shelter is limited to only 32 cots in the day room "because of the possible
spreading of tuberculosis. The one requirement of safe sleep is they have to have their TB card
from one of the county facilities in the area."
About 150 people also sleep in the Midnight Mission's courtyard every night in sleeping
bags, on blankets, on cardboard, or just on the ground. They must arrive before the security
guard locks the gate at 9 p.m., but once they arrive, they have a safe place to sleep. "Once
they're in, they're in," Weinert says.
The Midnight Mission also offers a recovery program for men battling addiction. The
program is so intense that its newest participants are only allowed to leave the shelter to
attend pre-scheduled meetings at night.
"The first couple of months you're here, that's the only way you're leaving is by going to a
meeting," says Weinert. "Once you've been here for 60 or 90 days, I believe, you're able to
start taking passes so you can go check in on your family, maybe handle some legal issues or
whatever the case may be, and focus on your treatment plan."
Everyone that enters the program gets a "work therapy" job designed to teach them to be
accountable. There are a wide range of jobs available throughout the shelter, including kitchen
work, security, building maintenance, and administration work.
Participants also have access to the organization's education department, which helps with
G.E.D. training and computer literacy. After a year, if graduates have not found a place to
live, they are allowed to stay a little longer in two-man dorm-style apartments on the shelter's
"We have 14 of those, and they cost $250 a month," Weinert says. "Which is an awesome
price for any guy who's working towards maybe getting something better."
About 26% of the men who complete the program have a job, have reconnected with their
children and families, and are back to being productive members of society a year after they
graduate. "If you look into any rehab or healthy living program or anything like that, [26%] is
a substantial amount," says Weinert.
Despite the valiant efforts of both missions, the sidewalks outside and along nearby streets
are lined and dotted with tents and makeshift homes for people who were unable or unwilling
to sleep inside.
One such resident is Tracy Mac, who says she has been living on Skid Row for about five
years, but she mostly keeps to herself. "I don't talk to anybody," Mac says. "I kind of just stay
to myself, 'I don't want to talk to nobody'."
Mac says she was living on her spot on East Third Street because "over here I don't smell
so much raw sewage." One of the reasons why Skid Row smells of raw sewage, she says, is
SKID ROW IS HOME TO 3,691 MEN,
WOMEN AND DESPITE
THE BEST EFFORTS OF ADVOCATES IN
THE AREA, CHILDREN.