Think of L.A. What image does your mind conjure up? A beautiful exotic paradise, laden with beaches, bikinis and board walks, the sun high in the sky and cocktail bars lining the white sand. To be honest, you wouldn’t be too far from the truth. LA is just like any post-modern city, except on the coastline; sprawling, urbanised and ultra-modern. There are high-end districts as well as the normal style ‘city-scape’ you would expect to find, with the residential, social and economic patterns emerging in this industrial paradise are not too dissimilar from other rapidly expanding cities. But do you know the story behind some of these districts? And why are certain areas within the gridlocked wasteland of downtown LA among the more impoverished and desolate in the modern world? In particular, why has nothing to been done the help the ‘lowest of the low’. The people in the place called Skid Row.
Now, I haven’t been to LA, or even to America. I’ve actually never been out of Europe. But whilst revising for my human geography exam, I delved into the contrasts of this city in a lot more detail, and it made me wonder who – out of all the people I know who have been or are going to LA – are actually aware of life behind the boulevard. I found out that LA isn’t all beach babes, surfers and high flying actors…and although there is always sunshine, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the atmosphere of the entire place. There are real people there, people leading normal lives…and then there are the people that society has forgotten, the people known as the ‘lowest of the low’. The people who reside in a place called Skid Row.
Skid Row‘s official name is Central City East, and occupies a homeless population of approximately 3000 out of a total population of around 17000 (although this can vary according the season). Skid Row harbours the problems the rest of LA have swept there: street corners house drug dealing and taking, open prostitution, homeless disabled and mentally ill citizens, as well as high levels of unemployment and around 40% of its inhabitants still living under the poverty line. For a global hub such as LA, with a prime location for trade along the Pacific coast and one of the most well-known industries in the world, poverty to this extent should not be occurring. These people – ex-Vietnam War veterans, single mothers, disabled people who have been shunned by society and mostly black African or Latino – have descended into a cycle of depravation: a lack of jobs means lack of money, lack of money means turning to informal or illegal industries such as prostitution, illegal industry leads to misery, misery leads to an escape, and an escape is taking hard and illegal drugs. And then a job prospect becomes virtually impossible, and the cycle starts all over again.
However, as with many stories of misery, there is hope and evidence suggests that Skid Row has improved in recent years. The number of permanent residencies has increased, social service facilities have expanded and improved, and many schemes are underway to improve healthcare and decrease alcoholism/drug addiction. Whilst the problems of Skid Row were at their most prominent throughout the 1980s and 1990s, during the 21st Century a number of initiatives and charities have set up premise along the dismal streets in order to help the forgotten people there along to a clean, fresh start on life. There are faith-based organisations, such as Volunteers for America, as well as out-based houses for women and children and organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Skid Row is one of the forgotten places of the Global South. There is still a long way to go, both in terms of renovating the area and helping all those affected by its abuse. However, raising awareness is one of the main ways in which the people of Skid Row can be helped.