By Brenda Elizondo
April 23, 2021
SKID ROW, CA— A neighborhood of approximately 50 blocks has become one of Los Angeles notorious tent cities and epicenter of the homeless crisis.
As you walk down San Pedro Street toward the heart of Skid Row, you instantly become overwhelmed by the smell of urine, excrement, and spice marinating under the burning Los Angeles heat. It is difficult to overlook the morbid living conditions as it’s easy to become a witness of crime, drug addiction, mental illness but above all, chronic homelessness—a growing epidemic that is prevalent within the Black and Brown community.
A Racial Disparity.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), released a total count that revealed a 13% increase in homelessness in Los Angeles County and a 16% in the city of Los Angeles alone in 2021. A result where they reiterate “the unacceptable and persistent overrepresentation of Black people among the population experiencing homelessness is a troubling reality.”
The staggering numbers reported within the minority communities are even more shocking.
According to the 2020 Census, Black people made up 8% of the Los Angeles population yet make up 34% of its homeless population and another 36% from the Latinx community.
Andres “Andrew” Linares, 33, is an alumni from The Midnight Mission, a non-profit organization located in the heart of Skid Row that provides services to those experiencing homelessness and is currently employed as the organization volunteer manager.
“The minority population doesn’t get that much effort as other nationalities. Whether it is low pay, less hours, or whatever the case may be. But in Los Angeles alone, rent is being raised up everywhere and a lot of people can’t afford to pay with minimum wage. And as a Latino I had to go through those experiences,” said Linares.
In the midst of the pandemic, the annual homeless count in Los Angeles for 2021 was cancelled because of safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Having said this, an accurate calculation of homelessness will remain unclear.
After being a member to becoming an employee of The Midnight Mission, Linares found an unfortunate observation,
“For every 135 individuals that we help get off the streets, 153 end up on the streets, and that’s the sad part. No one expected it to get out of hand the way it has been in the past decade.”
In 2019, the homeless population in Skid Row was 4,757. Many of which suffer from drug addiction, disabilities, sever mental illness, and have been released from prison.
“These are men and women just like you and I. If there is anything that we can learn from this pandemic, is that homelessness can happen to anybody. Whether you have mental health, drug addiction or just hard times. And that’s a hard fact,” said Linares.
Kevin Ford, a former gang member, is part of the Skid Row Clean Team, a program that employs homeless or formerly homeless people of the Skid Row community.
“Everybody got a story out here, you know? I got a story. I didn’t see myself here last year. I just did thirty-two years in prison. I knew it was time to get the ground running and work. No more hustling and dealing. It’s my time to give back and make amends for all the stuff I did wrong” said Ford.
Many people, like Ford, seek a second opportunity at life. Specifically those who were let down by the system, a perspective that allowed him to view the homeless community differently.
“There are good people out here. We got mentally ill people, you see kids out here where they get kicked out of the foster system, some just have a bad past. There’s some of everything so you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Unfortunately, many of the unhoused residents at Skid Row have a criminal record as the homelessness epidemic and justice system are deeply intertwined. The homelessness-jail cycle continues to be overrepresented within the Black and Latinx community because of the systemic and structural racism in housing, criminal justice, employment, and other systems.
Reports from The Sentencing Project Organization state that,
“African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, and they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences. African-American adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than whites and Hispanics are 3.1 times as likely. As of 2001, one of every three black boys born in that year could expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as could one of every six Latinos—compared to one of every seventeen white boys.”
“You have to have people willing to be hands-on and help these people, the city just wants to have them right here. You see all this homelessness right here, the police station is right there. They don’t give a damn about what’s going on down here. Some of these people just need help,” Linares said.
“It cost too much to rent. Some of them go home to a tent and got a job. California is really bad for not looking out for their mentally ill patients, they just kick them out to the streets. It’s a sad story, it’s ridiculous. I never thought this would be happening. You got all that money down there, but right here .. it makes no sense.”
But, why is this happening?
Undoubtedly, there has been a persistent overrepresentation of Black and Latinx people within the unhoused community. Ending homelessness requires a deeper understanding of how to dismantle racism and its racial disparities within the African American and Latinx communities.
A significant factor that consistently contributes to the homelessness issue derives from the inequality of housing through the racist policies and practices prior to the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Redlining is a systematic way of discriminatory housing through government-funded Home Owners Loan Corporation that drew color coded maps of every metropolitan area in the country, where these maps classified neighborhoods by levels of “desirability,” which in most cases neighborhoods with large racial concentrations were labeled as “hazardous,” and securing loans to buy a mortgage here was nearly impossible.
In contrast, rich white neighborhoods were classified with higher desirability, which enabled residents for easy access housing loans.
It has been over 50 years since the banning of redlining. Still, the lingering effects of redlining continue to create a racial disparity within the Black and Brown community as the racial homeownership and wealth gap persist today in Los Angeles and in the United States.
In 2017, the Federal Reserve reported “white families today have nearly 10 times the net worth of black families and more than 8 times of Hispanic families.”
Reports from the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority said, “This year’s Count revealed that two-thirds of the unsheltered adults experiencing homelessness were homeless for the first time last year, and 59% of them cited economic hardship as the cause.”
In 2017, the Federal Reserve reported that white families today have nearly 10 times the net worth of black families and more than 8 times of Hispanic families.”
Where LAHSA adds,
“In addition to the enduring impact of systemic racism, an inadequate housing supply, and income inequality drive inflows to homelessness. Homelessness starts rising when median rents in a region exceed 22% of median income and rises even more sharply at 32%; in Los Angeles, the median rent is 46.7%.”
Fire Station 9, mainly dedicated to serve the community of Skid Row, is the busiest firehouse in the entire nation with over 120 calls a day, an average of over 43,000 calls a year.
Mason Patrick, 26, is one of the 19 firefighters that serve for the community of Skid Row at station 9, where he encounters different types of emergencies that are sadly seen in the streets of Skid Row everyday.
“Here at Skid Row, we see everything. From overdoses, medical calls, tents on fire, mentally ill people, everything is different.”
Unfortunately, for most, calling 911 is their health provider as they cannot afford basic humans needs like health care. Not only that, the racial disparities within the Black and Brown homeless communities prominent from housing, the criminal justice system, down to basic everyday needs, like water.
In Skid Row, there are only eight public water fountains where in most cases, they are not functional.
Avery Dukes, 22, is a student at USC and an executive board member and the Director of Volunteer Operations at Water Drop LA.
“The thing about the water fountains in Skid Row, is that most of them are not usable because they’re broken or extremely dirty” said Dukes.
“The city is not doing enough and I think they should step up.”
The homelessness crisis is at its worst in Los Angeles. A little step goes a long way. But what can you do to help?
Donate To Water Drop LA
Donate To The Midnight Mission