When I lived in LA, last year, I worked downtown – basically, right in this area, in the old Sewing District, about a block from the Grand Central Market to the north and east, a few blocks from Pershing Square and the LA Gas Building to the north, and a block from Skid Row to the south.
The whole place is a mess of dilapidated and abandoned businesses. The entire downtown core is neglected and forgotten. There are two basic centers of legitimate employment â€” the large corporate towers that cluster near Pershing Square, and City Hall/the police headquarters.
â€œDowntown LAâ€ is kind of a misnomer â€” LA has no true core, no heart. It is a loose confederation of towns that sprawled into each other, interstitched by freeways. Downtown LA is, generally speaking, a ghost town and a leper colony.
Downtown swarms with the homeless â€” but these arenâ€™t your ordinary homeless, by and large. There are certainly a great number of functionally homeless individuals who arenâ€™t too strung out or nuts to go about their day-to-day needsâ€¦ securing food, shelter, hygene, et c.
Whatâ€™s really going down there is that there is this truly massive number of totally hopeless people. Hopelessly addicted to drugs, no concern for their health and welfare, alternately aggressive and totally withdrawn. Its like walking through Bob Dylanâ€™s â€œHard Rainâ€, or maybe the way I picture 1st century Jerusalem, choked with lepers and madmen. The streets are littered with amputees. Half of the homeless get around by wheelchair; it is really surreal. Toothless mouths in perpetual sneers or screams. There are open wounds, boils, sores. It has to be seen to believed. People screaming, just constantly screaming, with no rhyme or reason. People openly urinating and defecating in the gutter â€” or the street. I saw a woman bathe her baby in a plastic bucket, dabbing the washcloth in the filthy runoff. I was routinely approached with offers of crack, sex for money, et cetera, by utterly hopeless people.
The more â€˜togetherâ€™ and functional homeless seem to cluster together in families and tribes, impromptu tarp-tent cities along the sidewalks, et c. Many of these individuals are also multiply addicted, and handicapped, in wheelchairs. More amputations, poor hygene, inability to maintain basic needs.
It is also choked with squads of private security guards on bikes, hired by the nearby corporate interests â€” the banking district is right nearby, and thereâ€™s a bunch of streets just lined with jewelry stores, some kind of jewelry district â€” who patrol in purple shirts, on bikes, trying to rein in the worst of the excesses, calling in the cops when it gets too heavy.
The actual LA cops here donâ€™t even seem to care about something so ordinary as drug dealers selling product on the corner â€” theyâ€™re too busy stopping the all-too-frequent fights and beatings that seem to be routine amongst the dispossessed here.
To call it â€œheart-breakingâ€ defies the true power of this place. It literally defies description. It really did a number on me â€” thereâ€™s no real SANE way to cope with it, other than the time-honored solution of total apathy, rejection â€” pretending these people donâ€™t even exist.
It isnâ€™t like a city like Boston, where you can â€˜come to termsâ€™ with the homeless you frequently see â€” striking up conversations, sparing cigarettes and change, taking time to treat them like the human beings that they are.
To an extent, some of the homeless in downtown Los Angeles seem hell-bent on rejecting their own humanity, on being desocialized, on becoming wild, feral, and savage within the heart of one of the most wealthy cities in America, if not the world. Skid Row exists within an easy walk of City Hall, of the celebrated Gehry designed Disney Opera House, of the Museum of Contemporary Art, of a cluster of corporate clustersâ€¦ total squalor in the midst of utterly lavish wealth.
A lot of the abandoned buildings have been converted into loft space for artists and similar. I worked in one of those buildings â€” aside from our production company, the building was crowded with bohemians and starving artists (metaphorically starving, generally).
Downtown LA is one of the craziest places Iâ€™ve ever seen with my own eyes. I spent something like eight months of lunch breaks there.
I used to walk the neighborhood and find some cheap place to eat lunch, or walk through the masses offering me crack, cheeba, h, as I wandered up the steep hills to the LA Public Library to consult their remarkable offerings.
I sort of never ever want to visit it again. But that wonâ€™t help â€” because I know all too well that it exists, will always exist as it does in my mindâ€™s-eye; choked with misery, self-destruction, hopelessness; the sick, the dying, people literally rotting on the ground, urine-soaked gutters and streets hazarding human feces. The Third World in the heart of the First.