Skid Row - Our Community

Los Angeles is a city of contrasts -- both great affluence and vast poverty. Just blocks from the gleaming high-rises is skid row, the hub of social services including drop in-centers, missions, shelters, job training centers, HIV/AIDS services and the nation’s largest homeless concentration. UCEPP has been working in this community since 1996.

The stereotypical image of skid row is all too familiar: derelicts, winos and drug addicts, men who supposedly choose a life on the street surrounded by soup kitchens and missions. Yet in Los Angeles, as in other cities, this stereotype has changed dramatically in the last decade as families with children, the working poor, and people in recovery from addiction represent a large portion of this community’s population. Living in this part of town makes sense for them – economic sense, as housing is affordable, and geographic sense, as housing is close to their jobs. In addition to residents and children, this community has a high level of business activity including wholesale fish markets, food manufacturing, garment and toy factories as well as other types of manufacturing.

Many problems affecting the safety and livability of this neighborhood are related to alcohol and other drug use. In addition to extreme poverty, a major challenge confronting our community is rampant drug dealing and use. Although the Central Division of the Los Angeles Police Department is also located in the heart of the community, many illegal activities are overlooked. This in part is due to the challenge of addressing the complex social problems linked to poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse. Therefore, it is imperative to develop creative social-organizing strategies to address them.

Despite overwhelming obstacles, a community has formed and is thriving. Proof of its existence is visible through community efforts to improve the quality of life, designate the area as the largest community in recovery, and challenge institutional neglect. This neighborhood is comprised of a mosaic of people: homeless, working poor, immigrants, seniors, domestic violence victims, families with children, the mentally disabled, and those in recovery. Although others have written off this part of town we have found that a tremendous potential for change exists here. Residents have been victorious in their effort to hold area business owners accountable for condoning illegal conduct, including alcohol and other drug sales and use as well as prostitution. Their participation comes despite incredible odds; many have overcome addiction, abuse and/or homelessness. They are not the typical neighborhood to take action, however, as a result of their activism; policy-makers have taken note of their concerns.

Our long-range goal is to create a permanent self-sustaining constituency to improve the community – a community that is perhaps the largest “community in recovery”. We want to help give voice to the residents, give them access to forces that can help them reclaim their community, and equip them to become advocates for change.