By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“After that I wanted to do a candlelight vigil. I wanted to get it on camera. I started talking to other kids. I guess I started talking to them about how does it feel on Skid Row. I play around a lot. I was just playing with the camera. Asking kids. Acting like I was on the news and it just turned into a movie.”
Franklin could have just as easily picked up a gun, or a crack pipe.
“I never really been ashamed,” he says. “I was the only kid in Carver [Middle School] with an Afro. A dirty, dingy, dusty Afro. I never really felt shameful. Really. I’ll ask a kid for a county ticket in a quick second.”
A county ticket is a meal voucher for a public-school lunch.
“Man, I used to collect county tickets and a lot over there cuz I sure wasn’t gonna eat over here,” he tells me. “I ate over here every once in a while. But I got food poisoning. The L.A. Mission has some good food. The L.A. be screaming. The Midnight has some crab salad. That was bomb. My moms be cookin’ on a hot plate with a little skillet. And a pot.”
Christina is a pretty 13-year-old with an openness that defies her circumstances. She and her mom and six siblings got evicted from their apartment in Hollywood, moved in with her grandmother, and then Grandma got evicted too.
We sat down in Tim Peters’ office at the Central City Community Outreach, where she was hanging out with Adam and Joel.
“We had known about downtown,” she says. “It was no surprise when we came down here. We stayed at the Union for two weeks; then we started to get hotel vouchers. My mom would talk to most families down here and they were like, ‘There’s no way out.’ I was 8 or 9.”
“I seen people jumping out hotel windows with my own eyes,” she says. “It’s weird. I just couldn’t be down here if it’s gonna be like that. I’ve seen murders inside of hotels. I’ve seen kids being kidnapped. .?.?. At my hotel there was a woman who was stabbed to death in front of the hotel and the guy shot himself. Yeah. There’s some crazy stuff down here. It hasn’t really affected me cuz I don’t pay attention to downtown.”
“My mom knew what people were doing,” she continues, “so she would just turn your head and say, ‘Keep walking. Don’t look. It’s not good.’ I was thinking these people are crazy. I need to get out of here. The first hotel we went to was the Huntington Hotel. I was relieved. I was happier than I was in the mission because you didn’t have to wake up so early, like 5 a.m. I was around 10. I was downtown about three years. We were homeless for approximately five years.”
Christina’s mom went to downtown mental health services for depression. Tim Peters and CCCO walked them through the seemingly endless application process and waiting lists for long-term housing with supportive services. Now, they live in an apartment in Pico-Union and Christina goes to Carver Middle School. She gets, “A’s and B’s and C’s .?.?. well, really only one C. I wanna start modeling. Maybe do cosmetology. Volunteer at a place. Acting too. There’s a whole world out there for me.”
Christina has a few suggestions for anyone who might find themselves in the same spot.
“You gotta try to get shelter as fast as you can, especially if you have children. Down here people want you in gangs, no matter how hard you are. No matter how old you are. Down here they like to give kids drugs in the hotels. They [Child Services] take away your kids. I be like, do whatever it takes to not get taken away from your mom cuz there’s a 50-50 chance that she’s not gonna get you back. Thank God I didn’t get taken away.”
The Ford Hotel was built in 1925. The target of a city task force on slums in 1999, it was declared a public nuisance and ordered to get its shit straight and get rid of needles and condoms, upgrade security and evict lawless tenants. That was around the same time a mother threw her 9-year-old daughter out of a sixth-floor window before jumping herself. Both died. It’s not a new story.
In 2003, the hotel changed hands and is now owned by Ford Hotel LLC, a company headquartered in Arcadia with a managing partner named Kumar Koneru. In a 2004 piece in the Los Angeles Times, K.K. said he was “especially mindful of addressing the needs of children.” He noted that a ground-floor space had been set aside for a learning center with donated computers.
Despite that amenity, the Ford is jacked up. Even with four janitors, three armed guards and two desk attendants, this squat would make Bukowski run for Topanga’s hills. Kumar’s “mindfulness” amounts to a room in the lobby with Tickle Me Elmo poorly rendered on the door where only the heroic, nonprofit, mobile educators, School on Wheels, dare conduct tutoring sessions. A sign prominently posted in the Ford’s lobby reads: “Toxic substance warning: This area contains chemical substances including tobacco smoke known by the State of California to cause reproductive toxicity and other reproductive harm.”
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