Loading...

Where the Sidewalk Ends 

Faith, hope and clarity on Skid Row

Thursday, Oct 6 2005
Comments
Photo by The Cobrasnake
Distraught, displaced, dispossessed individuals walk in a zombie-like daze. Others threaten to jump out of their skins. Agonized cries juxtapose with maniacal laughter. The smell of putrid waste, body fluids included. Shit happens on Skid Row — a bust, a score, a feud, a death. Makeshift homes threaten to blow away and unkempt kids look for missing parents. Yet there’s an overlay of defiant hope that determinedly overshadows the vicissitudes of human peril. Although the odds overwhelm, survivors dwell in these parts and, baby, they have stories to tell within these 40 square blocks that lie from Third to Seventh streets, and from Los Angeles Street to Central Avenue.

Mollie Lowery, past executive director of Lamp Community, which provides shelter and services to the poor and homeless confronting mental illness, has been dubbed the Mother Teresa of Skid Row. In 1985, she co-founded Lamp Community’s forerunner, the Los Angeles Men’s Place.

“In the mid-’60s,” Lowery recalls, “the powers-that-be in L.A. decided to preserve its Skid Row and provide the basics to survive so that the folks there would not venture into other areas of the city and county. This policy continues to this day.”

The voices of Skid Row express the same hopefulness that characterizes the rest of Los Angeles. Here, hope may manifest itself in the desire to evolve, transform or merely get through another day battling demons, real and imagined.

I began my regular excursions here five years ago, associating myself with members of Lamp Community who harbored one shared want: to be heard. Many of Skid Row’s denizens are mentally ill and labeled “crazy” without acknowledging the other qualities they possess. If you look closely and listen with your heart, you’ll find the best of L.A. in many individuals who call the Row home. Whether that home is a cardboard box, tent or room at one of the hotels for those who are transitioning into a more conventional zone, these folks defy the stereotype that routinely reduces them to subhuman status.

Skid Rowers share many of the other traits that typify Los Angeles’ most revered citizens: determination, resilience, humor, political consciousness, sexiness, daring and artistic impulses that spring from the need to be treated with a certain degree of respect and dignity. Has-beens and comebacks, falling stars and more than one Phoenix rising. Crazy? You betcha, but craziness that is often characterized by a lack of self-pity and a surplus of self-awareness.

I spend several hours a week at the St. George Hotel, encouraging many of the neighborhood’s residents to express themselves through writing and performing. The St. George was once trumpeted as “the headquarters for theatrical people” in a 1914 newspaper ad. Nearly a century later, the hotel’s theatricality is in high gear, my dear. Theatrical as in mad, outrageous, often fearless and always colorful.

After a dramatic fall, in which the hotel became one of downtown’s most notorious buildings, the St. George had a major face-lift, thanks to the efforts of the Skid Row Housing Trust. Currently offering shelter for 88 individuals, the St. George also features supportive services, including substance-abuse rehabilitation and medical and social programs. Services are provided by 12 partnering agencies in a model program called the Skid Row Collaborative, and are funded by a federal initiative.

Certainly the generosity of Angelenos’ contributions to those suffering in the aftermath of Katrina will likely eclipse any potential donations that are desperately needed by the destitute in our own back yard. Will it take an earthquake to shake our sensibilities and realize some of the best of L.A. can be found on Skid Row?

Michael Kearns can be contacted at www.michaelkearns.net

Related Stories

  • El Condor Review: An Old Silver Lake Mexican Joint Gets Tarted Up — But at What Cost? 4

    My oxtail taco has alfalfa sprouts on it. In many ways, this is just about everything you need to know about El Condor, the new Mexican spot in the old El Conquistador space, from the folks behind L&E Oyster Bar and Covell Wine Bar. How you feel about El Condor...
  • What to Expect at FYF 4

    In the 11 summers since it sparked its first mosh pit, FYF has morphed from a free and feral punk festival into a beloved August ritual within the L.A. music archipelago. Its 2014 lineup might be the strongest yet. Headliners The Strokes and Phoenix are signed to major labels, but...
  • Sunny Sushi Becomes WTF Sushi in Silver Lake

    Sunny Sushi on Hyperion Ave. in Silver Lake was a little bit sad. Tiny, rather dingy and usually empty, the restaurant was a place to go when you wanted easy affordable sushi and didn't care too much about ambiance. And then it went away.  Last week, a new sushi spot...
  • Best Live Music in L.A. 7

    Los Angeles has some of the best live music venues in the city. Take these, for example.  But what if one prefers to enjoy bands in the cozier settings of a bar or restaurant?  Here, then, are the 10 best L.A. bars and restaurants with live music.  10. Casey's Irish Pub...
  • Hipster Lakes Battle 9

    Whether you wish to join their ranks or avoid the nuisance, the precise location and behavior of the phenomenon known as "hipster" seems to be a matter of dire importance to all Angelenos. These gentrifying, culture-conscious creatures can be found preying on vintage purses, foraging for craft beers, avoiding basic bitches and...

Related Content

Now Trending

  • L.A. Porn Production Shuts Down Over HIV Report

    The adult video industry's trade group today called for a moratorium on production after a performer might have tested positive for HIV. The Los Angeles-based Free Speech Coalition said in a statement that one of the facilities used by porn stars under the industry's voluntary, twice-a-month STD testing protocol "reported...
  • Here are the Winners and Losers in California's $330 Million Film Tax Subsidy

    Jerry Brown, California's skin-flint governor, acceded Wednesday to an increase in the film tax credit to $330 million. Brown is a well-known skeptic of Hollywood subsidies, but the combined forces of organized labor, multinational entertainment conglomerates, and B-list celebrities proved too powerful to resist. The industry didn't get the $400...
  • Woman Fatally Struck by Vehicle at Burning Man

    A woman was fatally struck by a vehicle at Burning Man today, organizers said. The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office in Nevada identified the deceased as 29-year-old Alicia Louise Cipicchio of Jackson, Wyoming. Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham said she fell under a bus or "large vehicle" that was carrying participants early today. See...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets