Area of police shooting long a haven for the destitute

AP News
Posted: Mar 02, 2015 7:26 PM
Area of police shooting long a haven for the destitute

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Skid Row section of Los Angeles, where police officers fatally shot a homeless man on Sunday during a fierce struggle captured on video, is notorious as one of the nation's most gritty and depressing areas.

An estimated 1,700 people go to sleep on its sidewalks or in its bushes and alleys each night, while thousands more seek shelter in missions and modest hotels.


Skid Row is roughly 50 square blocks of liquor stores, warehouses, charitable missions and a few modest businesses. Sidewalks and one small park accommodate hundreds of tents.

It's all located within walking distance of such prominent Los Angeles landmarks as City Hall, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art.


Once an agricultural area, Skid Row began to take shape as an urban center in the late 1800s when its location near rail yards spawned flophouse hotels, bars and houses of prostitution to service agricultural workers.

During the Depression, the area was flooded with a new wave of migrants, including many escaping the Dust Bowl desolation of the Midwest. Folk singer Woody Guthrie, who spent time in Skid Row, declared it "the skiddiest of all Skid Rows" in his 1943 autobiography "Bound For Glory."

The area later became populated by drug addicts and alcoholics seeking day work in warehouses, a phenomenon chronicled by poet Charles Bukowski in the 1990 documentary "The Best Hotel on Skid Row."


With numerous agencies, missions, nonprofits and other organizations dedicated to helping the homeless, Skid Row has sometimes been a dumping ground for hospitals releasing patients with nowhere else to go.

Glendale Adventist Medical Center settled a patient-dumping lawsuit in 2014 by agreeing to pay $700,000 while acknowledging no wrongdoing.

In an essay published in the Los Angeles Downtown News last June, police Lt. Deon Joseph, who has patrolled the area for 17 years, complained that the number of mentally ill residents is reaching dangerous proportions. Many are law-abiding citizens victimized by criminals, Joseph said, while others "begin to self-medicate on the plethora of illicit narcotics being sold throughout the area."


Police have tried to get homeless people to remove their tents, sleeping bags and shopping carts from sidewalks each day to discourage living on the street. Homeless advocates went to court to block the effort.

In recent years, the nonprofit SRO Housing Corp. has purchased and refurbished several structures, turning them into modest but clean apartments for homeless people.


Gentrification has creeped onto the edges of Skid Row. Several upscale apartments and condo buildings now ring the area. An art gallery, pet-grooming business and a handful of boutiques, hipster bars and restaurants have actually moved inside its outer edges, pushing the homeless population deeper into the core of the neighborhood.