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Miracle On Skid Row 

Monday, Dec 10 2007
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“He didn’t know nothing about it, but he wanted to be part of the hair industry,” Kidogo remembers. “I didn’t know he was setting me up to take my business. I’m a man of God, but I don’t forgive him. Maybe I can lean into that.”

Kidogo means small in Swahili, he tells me, and he is, standing about 5-foot-6. He’s thin and wearing well at 64. He holds a steady gaze. Unwavering. Endless brown eyes. He’s still got game in a brown leather baseball cap, black hoodie under a thick brown sweater, a copy of Harold Waldwin Percival’s Masonry and Its Symbols: In the Light of Thinking and Destiny tucked under his arm.

But the hair industry took its toll on Kidogo’s body and he had to move on. “I can’t hold my shoulders up no more. I hadda find something different. Years of cutting hair and using rollers and things, it damaged those very delicate muscles and they became inflamed,” he says. “Now it hurts badly when I hold my arms up.”

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Kidogo’s been at the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row for about a year. He was sleeping in the dorm on Sunday at 3 a.m. when the fire alarm went off. “I’m a late-night person. I read a lot. I be up late. I be reading,” he says. “I was reading The Egyptian Book of the Dead by Gerald Massey. A European author that told the truth about our history.”

Kidogo and everybody else at the Union Rescue Mission were paraded out into the streets after the alarm set off the sprinklers, the result of a fire set by a burglar covering his tracks after robbing the safe on the second floor.

“About $100,000.00,” Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission tells me the morning of the break-in. “They took all the savings of the men in the Red Badge program.” The money was a percentage of the paychecks of men who live at the mission and work jobs elsewhere. They put aside some each week to build a prudent cash reserve as part of the plan to get back on their feet.

“One guy was saving 70 percent of everything he made,” Bales says, “He was saving to visit his family in Arizona. Maybe move closer to his kids. Some of the guys had $4,000 each in that safe. Months and months of hard work.”

Rumors and whispers abound in the mission hallways. The word is that a guy from the mission stole the cash. That the cops have him in custody. Maybe he still has the cash? Maybe he’ll give it back.

“It’s the Grinch factor,” Bales says. “The Grinch shows up before Christmas.”

But in a way, Christmas has come early this year at the Union Rescue Mission, wrapped in a big red PR bow. The street in front is lined with news crews in those vans with the giant antennas on the top. Everybody’s covering the story. Jimmy Stewart could climb out of his grave and run and up down San Pedro Street yelling “It’s a wonderful life!” and you couldn’t spin it any better.

Union donations that will put a dent in the damage are pouring in, including $10,000 from Fabio Nunez, Speaker of the California State Assembly. There were also three safes donated.

“Better than the ones we had,” Bales beams.

Up on the second floor things are still a little chaotic while mission staff waits for news from the police. The carpet’s drenched from the sprinklers; chairs, boxes and trash cans are up on desktops, but these people love Christmas and this setback isn’t going to stop the holiday bliss. A gathering at the far end of the floor, a sort of tradition at the mission, gets under way. Three women ring a bell mounted on top of a wooden cross every time they receive a donation over $25,000. This time it’s a big one. Sixty large ones, earmarked for Hope Gardens, the Union’s new supportive housing facility for women and children from skid row in Sylmar. The party breaks up with a prayer, and it’s back to the business at hand — waiting until the case is cracked.

“We worked all day Sunday and finally came up with a name at 9:40 last night,” Bales tells me later. “Everything checked out. The police called me and said, ‘Yeah, you led us to the right guy.’ ” The guy is Alvin Snyder, 44, who was caught on video by the mission’s surveillance system. Snyder, having previously bedded down at the mission, wasn’t hard to ID.

Bales is already leaning into some forgiveness.

“I’m gonna pray that his heart changes. .?.?. Think about a guy that would take people’s money who are in the same straights that he is,” he says. “That he’d break the hearts of all these guys that are working so hard. I’ll shift to the mercy mode when he writes me a letter from prison. If he calls me in 10 years, I’m sure I’ll give him another chance.”

Kidogo isn’t worried about getting his cash back. He just recently started working again over at the Staples Center while studying culinary arts.

“I don’t need a lot of money down on Skid Row. Cigarettes. Maybe I wanna go out and have a different dinner, something like that, you know? Lets say for example if I wanted to go take a girl out for dinner,” he says. “Nothing extravagant.”

Kidogo’s modestly seems fitting for a guy whose name means small.

“I chose that name, Kidogo,” he tells me. “At one time everybody wants to have something that belongs to them. You get a lot more respect on this earth when you carry something that belongs to you. Like a name. By stature, I’m a small man. Giants are made from the heart up. Not the feet up.”

Reach the writer at sam@samslovick.com

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