From Steve Lopez’s current 5-part series in the LA Times on skid row.
I’m talking to her, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appears. He had called
me earlier about a young heroin addict I wrote about in the first part
of this series. She died with no veins left for the paramedics to tap.
He was also shocked by our story about the Porta-Potties being used as
a brothel, just a block away from an LAPD station. He said he wanted to
hit the streets with us Monday night.
How could I object? The whole point
is to get some attention for the abomination we call skid row. It’s
like the set of a Third World refugee camp, backlit by the L.A. skyline.
I had been telling Villaraigosa that
if you spend any time on skid row, you’ll see people lighting crack
pipes and shooting up right in front of you. And now a man sitting on
the street sticks a needle into the crease of his arm, looking for a
vein he hasn’t already worn out. A few feet away, a man in a wheelchair
lights a crack pipe.
Some of these folks are aware this is the mayor of Los Angeles standing here. To the junkies, it doesn’t matter who he is.
It’s the first time I’ve seen Villaraigosa speechless.
Many of those on skid row are mentally ill. If mental illness
precipitated their fall to skid row, then living there homeless can
only make it worse. Obviously there’s huge drug problems too. But
people can come back from addiction. I know people who were on skid row, got clean and sober, and now have
homes and jobs. It can happen. It does happen. But not if we throw them
away and ignore them, letting them rot in Third World conditions in one
of the wealthiest cities in the world.
An overwhelming number of those on skid row are people of color. Would
there be such little help available if they were mainly white?
Sometimes, racism is implicit, rather than explicit. But it’s still
I wonder, do European countries have skid rows this ugly, or do their
socialized health systems and safety nets provide better care?