Los Angeles' Homeless Crisis Manifests in Skid Row

Los Angeles, a City of Contrasts

Los Angeles is a city that attracts tourists from around the world, but its streets are filled with the desperation and squalor that defines homelessness. But nowhere in California does this crisis manifest in more stark, unmistakable fashion than in Skid Row, a gloomy downtown neighborhood that's been an enduring fixture of LA's social landscape for a century.

The Struggle in Skid Row

Skid Row — named for the log roads that transported wood used to build railroads in the mid-1800s — is an area of 50 city blocks where between 8,000 and 11,000 people live a precarious existence at the margins of society. At any given time, some 2,000 to 3,000 people sleep on the street in what's known as the "tent city." Others live in shelters and a few remaining single-room occupancy hotels built during the city's early days of urban renewal.

A Vicious Cycle

The streets are littered with discarded clothes, shoes, and blankets. Many of the occupants are addicted to drugs and need medical help. In an effort to curb the number of people living on the streets, Los Angeles has centralized public services in Skid Row. But that's not working, and the neighborhood is growing in population.

Seeking Solutions

As Skid Row continues to grow, many social service agencies are trying to figure out how to accommodate the increasing homeless population while maintaining a healthy environment for residents. Some are doing this by focusing on services, while others are concentrating on housing. By concentrating the efforts of social service agencies and low-income housing providers in one section of the city, the city can keep the homeless population stable. This policy also helps to maintain the city's reputation as a safe place to live for all.

A Persistent Crisis

Despite these efforts, the situation is still grim and Skid Row remains the epicenter of LA's drug crisis. Every year, more than 12,000 meth and heroin addicts pass through the area, causing thousands of overdoses. Fire Station 9, which covers Skid Row, is the busiest firehouse in the county.

A Beacon of Hope

Some of those who live on the street are mentally ill or physically disabled, and there's no telling whether they will ever be able to find permanent housing in this blighted neighborhood. But there are some who aren't willing to give up, and they're putting their money where their mouth is. Pastor Kevin Haah, who has worked with the city's homeless community for the last 20 years, co-founded New City Church with a mission to unite both loft dwellers and Skid Row residents in one house of worship.

Creating a Safe Haven

When it comes to homelessness, he says, "I believe that there should be a place for everyone. And it should be a place that's clean and safe." He wants to create a network of supportive housing to ensure that homeless families can have a safe place to stay while their children get help. He wants to establish an affordable shelter for homeless veterans and increase funding for programs to assist those who have addiction problems.

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