Los Angeles (AFP) – A haggard woman walks on the pavement and is nearly hit by a car. Men and women, some in rags, come out of tents set up on the sidewalk: in the heart of Los Angeles, Skid Row has been the American “capital” of the homeless for a century.
A mural sums it up: “Skid Row, population: too many people”. About thirty blocks away, about 2,000 people, three-quarters of them African-Americans, live in makeshift tents or on the sidewalk.
Skid Row is the refuge of those who cannot fall lower in the United States. And despite a litany of aid programs, nothing has changed in this stricken neighborhood.
The vast majority of them are alcoholics, drug addicts, physically or mentally disabled.
“As soon as I leave my end of the sidewalk to look for work, I find my torn tent. It has been stolen several times,” said Chesterlas Nelson Jr, a singer nicknamed here “The Artist”.
“My wife and I make a living from recycling but we are tired. Sometimes someone walks up to you and hits you. Skid Row is dangerous, even in broad daylight,” added another homeless man, Eunice Carr.
“In Skid Row, people do not have running water, no toilets and they do not even have garbage cans”, denounces General Dogon, member of the Los Angeles Community Action Network association, himself a former Homeless.
This is the paradox of the City of Angels: “We have the most millionaires, the most mansions, but we also have the most extreme poverty in the country”, notes Gary Blasi, professor of law at UCLA university and specialist homelessness issues.
For this lawyer, Skid Row is the consequence of deindustrialization associated with a lack of housing and the cost of the most expensive housing in the country compared to average incomes.
Skid Row, literally “the neighborhood of those who slip”, is also the place where all those left behind, the out of line, those whom the authorities no longer want to deal with, fail.
A few years ago, the country was scandalized by the case of an old demented woman wandering in a hospital gown in the neighborhood and of a paraplegic abandoned in her excrement on a sidewalk. Two hospitals, Kaiser Permanente and Glendale, had been ordered to pay fines for getting rid of sick homeless people.
– A few meters away, luxurious lofts –
“Arizona put homeless people on buses and sent them here, it’s proven,” said Herb Smith, director of the LA Mission, a large center for homeless people in the neighborhood. “And the dirty secret of early release programs from overcrowded California prisons is that ex-convicts end up here.”
“Suddenly, the violence has increased,” he adds in the crowded hall of the center where people are waiting for a hot meal or a consultation.
“Since the 1970s the city has opted for a policy of containment,” explains Gary Blasi. In the middle of the warehouses of the district, the homeless disturb less than in other more residential districts.
Despite a long list of rehabilitation programs, the most recent of which, “Plan for hope”, was presented to Los Angeles City Hall on Monday, the neighborhood is constantly repopulating the homeless.
For some bums, Skid Row presents good sides compared to other areas of Los Angeles where there is no infrastructure for them. “We eat every day!”, Positive Eunice Carr, who has lived here for 15 years with his wife.
Here, they can also benefit from reintegration and assistance programs, mainly private and financed by charities. Above all, all hope for real accommodation.
“Your chances of ending up in the ER are multiplied by five when you live on the streets. ERs are horribly expensive, you can easily spend 5,000 dollars in a day in the ER, whereas with that, you pay for housing for two years.” , argues Gary Blasi.
According to associations, all municipal aid focuses mainly on the police presence, accused of harassing the homeless. According to them, what really risks changing the face of Skid Row once and for all is the real estate pressure exerted by developers with, a few blocks away, the prices of lofts soaring.