Skid Row, Los Angeles
Central City East
|County||County of Los Angeles|
|• City Council||Kevin de León|
|• State Assembly||John Pérez (D)|
|• State Senate||Gilbert Cedillo (D)|
|• U.S. House||Jimmy Gomez (D)|
|• Total||0.431 sq mi (1.12 km2)|
As of a 2019 count, the population of the district was 8,757. Skid Row contains one of the largest stable populations (about 9,200–15,000) of homeless people in the United States and has been known for its condensed homeless population since at least the 1930s. Its long history of police raids, targeted city initiatives, and homelessness advocacy make it one of the most notable districts in Los Angeles.
Covering fifty city blocks (2.71 sq mi) immediately east of downtown Los Angeles, Skid Row is bordered by Third Street to the north, Seventh Street to the south, Alameda Street to the east, and Main Street to the west.
The term "skid row" or "skid road," referring to an area of a city where people live who are "on the skids," derives from a logging term. Loggers would transport their logs to a nearby river by sliding them down roads made from greased skids. Loggers who had accompanied the load to the bottom of the road would wait there for transportation back up the hill to the logging camp. By extension, the term began to be used for places where people with no money and nothing to do gathered, becoming the generic term in English-speaking North America for a depressed street in a city.
In 2019 the total population was 4,757. Between 2018 and 2019 there was an 11% increase in total number of persons residing in the area. In the neighborhood, the population was spread out, with 7.78% under the age of 18, 1.38% from 18 to 24, 60.94% from 25 to 54, 19.49% from 55-61, and 10.41% who were 62 years of age or older. Veterans make up 9.90%.
The 2019 racial makeup of the neighborhood was 12.66% White, 58.21% Black/African American, 2.06% American Indian/Alaska Native, 0.63% Asian, 24.53% Hispanic or Latino, 0.79% Native Hawaiian / Other Pacific Islander, and 1.11% from other races.
The per capita income for the neighborhood in 2000 was $14,210. About 41.8% of the population were below the poverty line. In 2008, the median household income for Skid Row and the surrounding areas was $15,003.
1880s through 1960s
At the end of the 19th century, a number of residential hotels opened in the area as it became home to a transient population of seasonal laborers. By the 1930s, Skid Row was home to as many as 10,000 homeless people, alcoholics, and others on the margins of society. It supported saloons, residential hotels, and social services, which drew people from the populations they served to congregate in the area.
It became "an enclave of small hotels, movie theaters and cheap eateries that served transient workers in seasonal industries and nearby railroads".
The population is probably more motley than that in a similar district of any other American city. Jews, Greeks, and Italians in the doorways of pawnshops and secondhand clothing stores vie with one another to lure the unwary passer-by inside. A fat German runs a beer parlor and just across the street a dapper Frenchman ladles up 5-cent bowls of split pea soup. A large, blond woman named Sunshine, born in Egypt, manages one of the cleaner rooming houses. A few Chinese practically monopolize the hand laundry business, and Japanese the cheapest cafes and flophouses. American Indians barter for forbidden whiskey. Chattering Mexicans loiter on the steps leading up to a second-floor hotel. Dapper Negroes, better dressed than any other vagabonds, wander by in riotous groups.
Huston Irvine, Los Angeles Times (March 26, 1939)
In June 1947, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) chief Clemence B. Horrall ordered what he called a "blockade raid" of the whole Skid Row area. Over 350 people were arrested. Assistant Chief Joseph Reed, who claimed that "at least 50 percent of all the crime in Los Angeles originates in the Skid Row area," stated that there had been no "strong arm robberies" on Skid Row as late as one week after the raid. Long time residents, however, were skeptical that the changes would last.
In the 1950s, the area "evolved into a place where alcoholics and other people down on their luck could get a meal and a bed". In 1956, the city of Los Angeles was in the midst of a program to "rehabilitate" Skid Row through the clearance of decaying buildings. The program was presented to property owners in the area as an economy measure. Gilbert Morris, then superintendent of building, said that at that point the provision of free social services to the approximately one square mile of Skid Row cost the city over $5 million per year as opposed to the city average of $110,000 per square mile annually. The city used administrative hearings to compel the destruction of nuisance properties at the expense of the owner. By July 1960, the clearance program was said to be 87% complete in the Skid Row area. With increased building codes during the '60s, owners of residential hotels found demolition to be more cost-effective than adhering to repairs. The total number of these units is estimated to have dropped from 15,000 to 7,500 over the following decade. Many residents of the area found themselves homeless with the loss of half of the affordable housing provided by hotels.
Skid Row was established by city officials in 1976 as an unofficial "containment zone", where shelters and services for homeless people would be tolerated.
During the 1970s, two Catholic Workers — Catherine Morris, a former nun, and her husband, Jeff Dietrich — founded the "Hippie Kitchen" in the back of a van. Over forty years later, in March 2019, aged 84 and 72, they remained active in their work feeding Skid Row residents.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, many veterans of the Vietnam War found themselves drawn to Skid Row, due to the services and missions already in place there, and feeling outcast from other areas. Like those after World War II, many of them ended up on the streets. It was around this time that the demographics of Skid Row shifted from predominantly white and elderly to those there today (see: Demographics).
In February 1987, LAPD chief Daryl Gates, backed by then-Mayor Tom Bradley, announced plans for another crackdown on the homeless on Skid Row. Police and firefighters conducted a number of sweeps through the area but the plan was abandoned due to opposition by advocates for the homeless.
When Gates announced in May that the crackdown would resume, Los Angeles City Attorney (and future mayor) James K. Hahn responded that he would not prosecute people arrested in the planned sweeps. Hahn stated that he was "not going to prosecute individuals for not having a place to stay. I simply will not prosecute people for being poor, underprivileged and unable to find a place to sleep until I'm convinced that a viable alternative to sleeping on the streets exists." Gates, still backed by Bradley, responded: "As the elected city attorney of Los Angeles, Mr. Hahn has a responsibility to file prosecutable cases which are presented to him by the Los Angeles Police Department."
A few days later, then-Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky introduced a proposal that the city stop enforcing its anti-camping laws on Skid Row until adequate housing could be found for all its residents. The council rejected Yaroslavsky's proposal, but after hearing testimony from Assistant Police Chief David Dotson describing the LAPD's intended crackdown methodology, the council passed a motion asking Gates not to enforce the anti-camping laws until adequate housing could be found for the area's residents.
In September 2005, hospitals and law enforcement agencies were discovered to be "dumping" homeless people on Skid Row. Then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ordered an investigation and William Bratton, LAPD chief at the time, claimed that the department was not targeting homeless people specifically, but only people who violated city ordinances. The Los Angeles City Attorney investigated more than 50 of about 150 reported cases of dumping. By early 2007, the city attorney had filed charges against only one hospital, Kaiser Permanente. Because there were no laws specifically covering the hospital's actions, it was charged, in an untested strategy, with false imprisonment. In response to the lack of legal recourse available to fight patient dumping, California state senator Gil Cedillo sponsored legislation against it in February 2007.
Since Mike Feuer took office as City Attorney in 2013, he has settled eight additional cases of patient dumping with various hospitals around Los Angeles. These cases have been a part of a larger attempt to solve the issue, in addition to working with some hospitals on long term solutions. The total settlements from all eight have been over 4 million dollars.
2000 to 2009
In 2002, newly appointed LAPD Chief William Bratton announced a plan to clean up Skid Row by, among other things, aggressively enforcing an old anti-camping ordinance. A man named Robert Lee Purrie was cited twice and arrested for violating the ordinance in December 2002 and January 2003. His possessions, consisting of his tent, "blankets, clothes, cooking utensils, a hygiene kit, and other personal effects", were thrown into the street by the police.
In April 2006, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in its suit against the city of Los Angeles, filed on behalf of Purrie and five other homeless people, finding that the city was in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and sections of the California Constitution guaranteeing due process and equal protection and prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment in referral to Robinson v. California. The court stated that "the LAPD cannot arrest people for sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks in Skid Row." The court said that the anti-camping ordinance is "one of the most restrictive municipal laws regulating public spaces in the United States."
The ACLU sought a compromise in which the LAPD would be barred from arresting homeless people or confiscating their possessions on Skid Row between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. The compromise plan, which was accepted by the city of Los Angeles, permits sleeping on the sidewalk except "within 10 feet of any business or residential entrance" and only between these hours.
Downtown development business interests and the Central City East Association (CCEA) came out against the compromise. On September 20, 2006, the Los Angeles City Council voted to reject the compromise. On October 3, 2006, police arrested Skid Row's transients for sleeping on the streets for the first time in months. On October 10, 2006, under pressure from the ACLU, the city tacitly agreed to the compromise by declining to appeal the court's decision.
Safer Cities Initiative
The Safer Cities Initiative was a 68-week policy implemented in 2006 by the Los Angeles Police Department dealing with homeless encampments in Skid Row. The policy, led by former police chief William Bratton, assigned approximately 50 police officers to the Skid Row area to enforce stricter policing of offenses in accordance with the broken windows theory of policing. Through policing these offenses (including non-violent offenses such as jaywalking or littering), the LAPD sought to establish a heightened appearance of public order as a punitive deterrent for criminals. One study by the LAPD claimed that four years post-implementation, crime rates had reduced by approximately 46%, while deaths dropped approximately 34%.
While the Los Angeles Police Department has stood by the policy's effectiveness and its impact on the local community, one study suggested that while crime rates have reduced, higher incarceration rates were a contributing factor to the area's increasing homeless population. These claims have been echoed by local activists, who argue that the initiative's frequent use of arrest warrants and tickets prevented individuals in-need from acquiring long-term housing.
2010 to present
In 2012, the Skid Row Running Club was founded by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell, as an effort to improve the livelihood of those in the area. A documentary, entitled “Skid Row Marathon” was made about the group, which includes homeless people, police officers, and convicted felons.
The city came to an agreement in May 2019 that removed the limit on the number of possessions kept on the street in the neighborhood. The agreement allows the city to still seize any items that threaten public safety and health, as well as large “bulky items.” This includes most pieces of furniture or appliances. Items that do not fall into those categories will be stored for 90 days. If an item is deemed important enough, such as medication, it must be able to be claimed within 24 hours.
Skid Row is home to many artists. Due to its location bordering districts such as the Historic Core and the Arts District, Skid Row often hosts events that cross neighborhood borders. In 2019, a performance group called the Los Angeles Poverty Department began providing artistic resources to Skid Row, primarily in the form of theater classes and performances. Los Angeles Times journalist Margaret Gray claimed that audience members "somehow felt like part of a family" when the performers were on stage and noted "while many charitable organizations focus on warehousing and policing homeless populations, LAPD attempts to remind them of their unique humanity, to empower them to take collective responsibility for their neighborhood and one another's health and safety". Since 2009 the organization has also sponsored the Festival for All Skid Row Artists.
The "Skid Row City Limits Mural" was created solely by volunteers to express the community's feelings about the history and modern state of the neighborhood [see Landmarks]. The "Dear Neighbor Mural" is another Skid Row art piece, aimed at making housing a right for all citizens. In addition, Skid Row Karaoke is a long time tradition of residents, which is weekly and open to all.
Within the first two years of the 2006 implementation of the Safer Cities Initiative in Skid Row, 18,000 arrests were made and 24,000 citations were given for non-violent offenses such as jaywalking, littering, and sitting on the sidewalk. This is 69 times the rate of policing in the rest of Los Angeles.
Between July and October 2019, the crime breakdown of 997 reported crimes within 0.5 miles of Skid Row's center was 21.97% vehicle break-in/theft, 27.08% larceny, 24.67% assault, 1.04% sex crime, 13.14% robbery, 6.12% burglary, 4.61% motor vehicle theft, 0.6% arson and 0.4% homicide.
Government and infrastructure
The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) serves the neighborhood with Station No. 3 in the Business District, one in the West and Station No. 9 in Skid Row. Station No. 9 operates one engine, one truck, two ALS rescue ambulances, and one BLS rescue ambulance. It currently is the busiest firehouse in Los Angeles. Fire engines and ambulances serving the neighborhood have historically had "Skid Row" emblazoned on their sides. On June 1, 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that fire officials planned to change the legend on the vehicles to read "Central City East". Many residents supported the change, but it was opposed by firefighters and some residents who take pride in the sense that they live in a tough area.
Services for homeless people in Los Angeles are centralized in Skid Row. Examples include the Volunteers of America, the Union Rescue Mission, The Jonah Project, Downtown Mental Health (a branch of the Department of Mental Health), LAMP, Downtown Women's Center, The Weingart Foundation, Los Angeles Mission, Fred Jordan Mission, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul's Cardinal Manning Center, and Midnight Mission. In 2007, Union Rescue Mission opened Hope Gardens, a facility outside of Skid Row which is exclusively for women and children.
The community is served primarily by 8 Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus lines:
- Line 16 – Downtown Los Angeles to Century City (via Fifth and Sixth streets)
- Line 18 – Koreatown to Montebello (via Fifth and Sixth streets)
- Line 20 – Downtown Los Angeles to Westwood (via Seventh Street)
- Line 51 – Carson to Westlake/MacArthur Park (via Seventh and San Pedro streets)
- Line 53 – California State University, Dominguez Hills to Downtown Los Angeles (via Fifth and Sixth streets)
- Line 60 – Artesia Station to Downtown Los Angeles (via Seventh Street)
- Line 62 – Hawaiian Gardens to Downtown Los Angeles (via Fifth and Sixth streets)
- Star Apartments, a residential housing complex opened in October 2012, built specifically for the needs of the homeless.
- Indian Alley is the unofficial name given to a stretch of alley, in reference to the significance the area held for indigent American Indians from the 1970s to the 1990s. Indian Alley comprises a block of Werdin Place, running south from Winston Street to East 5th Street. It is bounded to the west by Main Street and to the east by Los Angeles Street.
- The Skid Row City Limits Mural is an 18-by-50-foot mural displayed on San Julian Street, created in 2014. It features a map demarcating Skid Row's officially recognized boundaries alongside an official-looking sign, replete with city seal, reading "Skid Row City Limit, Population: Too Many." This is the initial installation of a mural project that is planned to eventually cover the whole wall on the San Julian block north of 6th Street. Installed in compliance with the city's mural ordinance, the project was organized by Skid Row activist General Jeff Page with local street art crew Winston Death Squad, and carried out with the labor of Skid Row citizens. Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar's office has hailed the mural, saying, "It's community pride on the one hand, it's cleverly done and it creates conversation and debate, which often great public art does."
In popular culture
Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home, a feature length documentary produced by Agi Orsi, tells the story of eight homeless people, including an Olympic athlete and Harvard graduate, who navigate a world of poverty, drug abuse, and mental illness to build a sense of community. The film examines how the City of Los Angeles criminalizes homelessness by prohibiting Skid Row residents from standing and sitting for a prolonged period of time in a public place.
- Johnnie Ray – singer, songwriter, and pianist.
- Danny Harris – Olympic hurdler and silver medalist.
- George Takei and family – Japanese-American actor, director, author, and activist.
- Nathaniel Ayers – Juilliard trained multi-instrumentalist found to have been schizophrenic and homeless, subject of the 2009 movie The Soloist.
- Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row by Forrest Stuart, 2016, University of Chicago Press
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- Homeless Bound LA Skid Row A cinéma-vérité film by Michael C. Clark about homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles, interlaced with interviews of the homeless inhabitants. Shot in Spring of 2013.
- L.A. Police Initiative Thins Out Skid Row - Washington Post
- History of Skid Row, published by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce
- Lost Angels A 2010 documentary picturing a number of inhabitants of Skid Row