SCENES FROM SKID ROW

It’s almost as if this part of town — not far from Los Angeles’ business district a few streets north, and Little Tokyo a few blocks east — has been completely forgotten. Even as a photographer living in the city for 25 years, I had been reluctant to visit. But after spending a few days in the area known to Angelenos as Skid Row, I realized that some of the men and women living there are eager to have their stories seen and heard. Here are from of their stories…

-Photo essay originally photographed or the Intercept, focusing on the issue of homelessness in the city of Los Angeles. Original articles can both be found here and here

Charles Jackson is a homeless man living in Los Angeles who’s been struggling to stay off the streets for many years now.

The problem of homelessness doesn’t just stay in the area of Skid Row. Even in more suburban areas just outside of Downtown Los Angeles, such as near Alvarado St. and Temple St., homeless people find shelters under bridges or freeway overpasses. In this area there are problems such as drug use and crime but these areas tend to a bit more safe and isolated.

Stephanie Williams, in her 40s, says she has been living here by choice for a year. She has set up a place where people can learn sewing and do other arts and crafts. She was a victim of police brutality; she says cops broke her leg in a wrongful case of trespassing. “I’m not struggling. I’m not needy. I’m just here to spread the word,” she said. “Let the people know what the police are doing. They’re hurting us. I’m gonna retire here. I’m gonna be the little old lady on Fifth and San Pedro. Still sewing. Helping out. Giving back.”

San Pedro Street, between Fifth and Sixth Street, is one of the busiest areas of Skid Row and home to the nonprofit Union Rescue Mission

People use tents, makeshift plastic coverings and blankets as shelter in a block-long encampment that runs down San Pedro Street.

A look inside one of the tents set up on the streets of Skid Row.

This man, 47, goes by the name Black. “These are good people,” he says of his neighbors. “Of course, you gotta try to help yourself. Sometimes, you get lost out here. But as an individual, you gotta be able to help yourself still. I still wanna keep healthy. I still wanna try to do things and do better. But mentally, anybody can be mentally strained. A lot of people are not capable or competent of helping themselves. It could be periodic. One moment, I can be talking to you like this. And next thing you know, I can be going through something totally different which I can’t help myself. It’s just the mental aspect. But you try to keep fighting, you try to get better.”

People often move from one spot to another. An area might become too dangerous because of crime or drug use, several explained, or the police might force them to relocate.

Signs are posted across Skid Row reminding the people that it’s illegal to live on the streets. Even so, the problem of homelessness is rampant across the area.

The intersection of Crocker and Sixth features a mural painted in 2010 by artists RETNA and El Mac, in collaboration with photographer Estevan Oriol. This mural sits in the heart of Skid Row, adding a little color to the community.

A percentage of the homeless community living in Skid Row are often immigrants with very little family that they can reach out to for help.

A homeless woman waits outside her tent on the corner of 6th Street and Julian Street.

San Julian and 6th Street is one of the most populated homeless regions of Skid Row. Many will find solace at the Midnight Mission, a non-profit organization that offers people job training, 12-step programs and other resources in order to help them have more productive lives.

Roy Evensen, also known as “Cowboy,” is 66 and was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He’s been living on Skid Row for six years. After time as an Army sniper during the Vietnam War and a soldier in the 70s, he told me he had difficulties adjusting to civilian life. “I got out of the Army just about 1980. Things were going up and down for me. I couldn’t adjust right. If I hear something or dropped something, I hit the pavement, looking around, you know. We didn’t have PSTD. They called it combat fatigue, the willy nillys, or whatever. The doctors would give Valium. I didn’t want to get hooked up on that stuff. So I started drinking beer and it made me more relaxed.”

Local church groups gather in the early afternoons in order to provide some hope and smiles to the locals.

The 5 Breads 2 Fish project was started by Oaks of Righteousness Ministry, a Non-Denominational Christian Organization founded in June 2009, who’s mission is to provide food distribution, community service and outreach.

A homeless woman holds her favorite book “Beauty and the Beast” . It’s one of the few things she has left in her belongings.

William J. Perkins III, also known as GSTA, says he has been living on the streets since May 2015. “I never was homeless,” he says. “Me and my wife moved from Philadelphia ’cause they had treatment for her out here here in Los Angeles. She had lung cancer. Stage Four. So the medical expenses were a little cheaper. So when we came here, they gave me temporary housing in a drug-infested zone over there by San Julian Street. We stayed three months.” His wife passed away last year and he plans to move out of the area. “You never really thought that in America, the most powerful country, we’ll be doing that. I fought for this country. Look where I live at. They don’t take our lives seriously when we put our life on the line for this country.”

Drug paraphernalia is a common sight among those living in the center of Skid Row.

A homeless woman was beaten up during the afternoon. This type of event is a normal occurrence in the community.

Monty, 48, lives on Towne Avenue. His encampment is covered in papers, books and self-written notes. He explained, “I work my ass off. I’m smarter than most motherfuckers on this block. You see my paperwork, I memorize half of this shit. I can look up a movie and tell you what casting director did that. That’s what I do. That’s what these are. Casting directors, producers, directors, writers, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, CraigsList, YouTube.” His goal, he said, is to save money to go back home to Indiana and apply for a university theater degree.